The first time I ever tasted Cynar, the “artichoke liqueur,” I absolutely hated it. It possessed the sort of bitterness that makes you scrunch up your face and scrape your tongue on your teeth in an effort to get it off. But then bartender Matthew Biancaniello, back when he was working at the Hollywood Roosevelt’s Library Bar, made me a cocktail showcasing the Italian amaro despite my protests. And sure enough I became a fan. Leave it to him to make the spirit, which may make the uninitiated react with a softer Malort face, into something approachable and delicious.
His secret? Simply infusing it with coffee beans. Surprisingly the bitterness of coffee doesn’t amplify the spirit’s own bitterness, rather it rounds it out. And the two are a natural fit. “If you can get past the bitterness of Cynar there are some really strong chocolate cherry notes in there,” he said. “What a perfect thing to go with coffee.”
Now this recipe may be one of the easiest Biancaniello recipes ever for home bartenders to do. No special foraging required! In fact, all you need are things you probably already have at home: the two ingredients, a glass jar, and a coffee filter.
For coffee, he recommends using Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso: “It has a nice richness and chocolatey and cherry notes that really complement the Cynar.” But if that’s not readily available, a nice French roast will do.
As for how to drink this rich bitter ambrosia when it’s done, Biancaniello likes doing a flip with it and shaving dark chocolate over it for extra richness, or make a Little Italy cocktail. Me? I like it neat, especially right after a meal.
Fun fact: Our own Dining Editor Lesley Bargar Suter likes to make and bottle batches of coffee-infused Cynar to give away as gifts for the holiday.