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5 Coffee Shops Using Bitters For Cocktail-Inspired Drinks

From cold brew to lattes, these flavor extracts are enlivening espresso menus across San Diego
Courtesy of Dark Horse Coffee Roasters

By Marissa Kozma

Cafeina Cafe, San Diego, latte

Lavendar latte at Cafeina Cafe

Photo Credit: Andrew Benavides

Simple syrup or a sprinkle of cinnamon can add sweetness or spice to a morning latte, but baristas across San Diego have been looking to get more creative with their menus. Recently, local shops have begun emulating the masterful techniques of mixologists by infusing bitters—small bottles of spirits in which berries, roots, flowers, and barks have steeped—into espresso drinks for a boozy, botanical note.

Making the concentrated flavor extracts is a method that dates back to the 1800s, and today, there are various categories of bitters: herbal, spice, nut, citrus, and aromatic. And since espresso beans, with flavor profiles ranging from smoky (dark roast) to acidic (light roast), are complemented by the alcoholic additives, coffee shop owners are getting creative with their menus.

While a latte featuring bitters won’t get you buzzed, the morning “mocktail” of sorts is a nice pick-me-up no matter what time of day. Baristas also don’t need to search hard to find local bitters. R&D Bitters Co. and Boy Drinks World offer unique extracts like cherry apple, sasparilla, aromatic walnut, and passionfruit, and nearby, L.A.–based Miracle Mile Bitters Co. kicks up the flavor profile another notch with bottles of umami bitters, featuring red miso, persimmon, and other bold ingredients.

Espresso addicts, take note. Try your hand at creating your own bitters-infused concoction at home. Collins & Coupe in North Park is a one-stop shop for finding the bottled extracts and other cocktail-making supplies.

Or, simply check out these seasonal speciality drinks offered by coffee shops jumping on the bitters bandwagon.

Scrimshaw Coffee San Diego

Love Potion at Scrimshaw Coffee

Courtesy of Scrimshaw Coffee

Scrimshaw Coffee

Love Potion

For an energizing alternative to alcohol, Scrimshaw Coffee released a summer signature drink called the “Love Potion,” served in a swanky cocktail glass with a rock and garnish. It comes stirred with Strongwater ginger bitters and housemade lemon and chamomile syrup.

“It’s our take on an old fashioned, made with coffee. We’re currently using naturally processed, flash-brewed, iced Ethiopian coffee from our in-house roasting arm, Field Trip Coffee Roasters,” says manager William Remsbottom. “It’s refreshing as f*ck for a springtime afternoon, with a little jolt to get you through your day.”

5542 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego

Cafeina Cafe, San Diego

Rose cold brew at Cafeina Cafe

Photo Credit: Andrew Benavides

Cafeina Café

Rose Cold Brew or Lavender Latte

Inspired by floral bitters, manager Andrew Benavides got creative in the kitchen at Cafeina Café with a lavender latte, made with scratch-made syrups infused with the blossom. The organic lavender flowers are sourced from Summit Tea Co. and boiled with sugar and rose petals.

“After many failed attempts, we figured out the right ratio,” Benavides says. He’s also proud of their rose cold brew, which has just the right floral boost for iced coffee enthusiasts and features housemade rose petal syrup and oat milk.

4011 46th Street, San Diego

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters

Orange Old Fashioned at Dark Horse Coffee Roasters

Courtesy of Dark Horse Coffee Roasters

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters

Orange Old Fashioned

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters‘ La Mesa location is brewing up their own spin on a coffee-infused old fashioned, but with more of a citrus twist. Orange bitters are the main ingredient used to complement the acidic notes in the coffee shop’s signature cold brew, and the drink gets even more sophisticated with a whiskey-infused simple syrup.

Made at La Mesa location: 4350 Palm Avenue, Suite 104, La Mesa

Public Square Coffee House San Diego

Pandan Latte at Public Square Coffee House

Courtesy of Public Square Coffee House

Public Square Coffee House

Coconut Sesame Latte and Pandan Latte 

Inspired by his Filipino heritage, manager Aaron Henderson began the process of perfecting two speciality lattes: a black sesame edition featuring housemade black sesame paste, coconut cream, and maple syrup, and a pandan latte made with real pandan leaves that taste like young coconut. Both are found at Public Square Coffee House in La Mesa.

Experimenting with Asian ingredients has increased the coffee shop’s popularity, and Henderson is excited to roll out more drinks with bitters and other botanicals this summer. On the menu, customers can also order a “Not So Old-Fashioned,” made with espresso, calamansi juice (the Southeast Asian calamansi fruit is a tart combination resembling a lemon, a lime, and an orange), Angostura bitters, simple syrup, and ice.

8278 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa

Steady State Roasting

Cold Fashioned at Steady State Roasting

Courtesy of Steady State Roasting

Steady State Roasting

Cold Fashioned

The art of balancing bitters is no easy feat for baristas at Steady State Roasting, which rotates the extracts mixed into its coffee based on the blend of cold brew concentrate used (it changes often).

Founder Elliot Reinecke exchanged his knowledge of coffee to learn more about the art of making cocktails from his bartender friends at Campfire restaurant in downtown Carlsbad. The result was a coffee-based mocktail menu that Reinecke often chooses from to offer to customers but hopes to roll out in its entirety when the shop expands in the near future. A mainstay drink on the menu, however, is the Cold Fashioned, typically made with orange Angostura bitters or something fruitier like passionfruit bitters.

“We use numerous different bitters every couple months to pair with the coffee. If the coffee is more chocolate [in flavor], we will usually use something that works with the bitterness from the chocolate like walnut bitters or something,” Reinecke says.

2562 State Street, Suite G, Carlsbad

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