A flood of guilt comes over me as I speak about espresso martini in vain, but next to the coffee cocktail work of Danny Wilson – they are nothing but basic.

Danny is currently the Australian Coffee Cocktail Champion looking to better his title when he takes on the world at the International Coffee in Good Spirits Championship in Brazil next week.

As I watched him train, spending day on end drowning in coffee and liquor I wondered if he had the best job in the world?

Moments later he asked me to take a seat and advised I would be on his judging panel for the day – duties including assessing each cocktail he served up. I took my seat with no arguments and just like that my aforementioned question had been answered. He didn’t have the best job in the world, I did.

Danny has been competing with the ONA Coffee team in comps for five years, though he found the Coffee in Good Spirits competition the most gruelling as he had to brush up on his bartending skills.

“Bar tenders are really good at balancing different flavours so everything I am learning has helped me become a better barista. There is also a lot of what I have learnt that I can bring back into the coffee industry,” Danny says.

The first round is called the Spirit Bar and it is conducted in an actual working bar building coffee cocktails. Danny will be given one of three alcohols as a core ingredient –  gin, a Brazilian spirit or rum – and has to be prepared for all three. The coffee to liquor ratio is substantially different for each one and after three months of non-stop cocktailing he has fingers crossed for gin.

“Spirit Bar is about making the cocktail quickly as if you were serving a customer,” Danny says. “Originally I was terrified about the gin because the intense botanical flavours are quite different to the coffee I am working with, but now it’s my favourite cocktail of the bunch. It has turned out really tropical, crisp and delicious with heaps of passionfruit flavours.”

For the second round, Danny will be coming in hot (and cold) using a Brazilian spirit called Cachaça. For this round he has chosen to run with a café culture theme.

“Cachaça reminds me of something half way between rum and tequila – it’s a pretty unique flavour profile. I will be making both a hot and cold cocktail using this ingredient. For this one I have a breakfast theme, I am trying to bring my café and coffee experience into a cocktail situation.”

We tried Danny’s Guji Cola & Irish Coffee cocktails. Both were complex in their flavourings and delivered artistically. After watching the alcohol content pour in I braced myself for the first sip. Both cocktails pleasantly surprised and were the most unique pairings I have ever come across in a drink. Unfortunately we can’t say much more because we want his methods to be top secret to take out the title in the world champs.

My main learnings from my coffee cocktail crash course was that unlike espresso martini (where you throw in some sugar, shake like a polaroid and serve in a cocktail glass), a coffee cocktail is designed to play to the flavour profile of the coffee. No matter how much alcohol you see in the mix, it’s all built around the coffee balance.

“A lot of what it makes it interesting is that we aren’t just making a delicious cocktail we have to make a cocktail which is showcases the qualities of the coffee. I am using an Ethiopian coffee with a lot of fruity characteristics and nice acidity – it’s my job to bring that back into the drinks and make sure the coffee isn’t just a lost ingredient.”

And lastly, where can you get your lips on one of these coffee cocktails?  The ONA team are looking to put the cocktails on the menu at a few of the ONA Cafes around Canberra – praise be.

Tell us below what ingredients you would use in a coffee cocktail for that chance to win a barista course with ONA Coffee. 

ONA Barista