Water’s just fine as a soup base if that’s all you’ve got, but why start there if you could use bone broth? That logic struck Jay Sanders, owner of Drastic Measures and Wild Child in Shawnee, Kansas, when he was making tea and coffee to add to cocktails. “We were like, ‘Why are we just putting water in this?’” Sanders says. “Chefs don’t make all the veal stock because it doesn’t add anything to the back end of the food, right?”
Consider coconut water a cocktail stock.
The same lightly sweet, funky flavor and rich texture that make coconut water so good on its own help it play nicely with New Orleans–style chicory coffee in The S’more Drink, a marshmallow foam–topped cocktail that Drastic Measures served thousands of last winter. Brewing coffee with coconut water makes a subtle difference, but according to Sanders, it “changes the exhale of the drink,” and “fills in the gaps in the flavor” and texture. Together with mezcal, agave nectar and banana, a coconut water cold brew also shines in Wild Child’s top seller, the funky Espresso Martini play called the Mezpresso Martini.
But it’s not just coffee that benefits from cold brewing with coconut water. The technique for cold-steeping coffee or tea (herbal or caffeinated) is straightforward: Simply replace the water with coconut water. Remy Savage, a co-founder of such bars as Shapes in London, says he started using coconut water for syrups when trying to find the perfect texture for an Old-Fashioned, which can easily err on the side of too sweet or too dry. Syrup made with coconut water brought a little richness, perceived sweetness and even salinity to the classic without adding too much sugar. The application was so successful that he now frequently tries water and coconut water side by side when working on new drinks.
Coconut water is a particularly useful medium for extracting delicate fragrances from ingredients like jasmine-scented white tea, which shows up at Savage’s Bar Nouveau in Paris in the Artemis, a heady, floral nonalcoholic cocktail that sometimes gets spiked with an ounce of sake or apricot eau de vie. “Because of its fat content, coconut water extracts more flavor than regular water,” Savage says.
For this method, he recommends keeping things as cold as possible, just as you would with any cold steep, so as not to overextract flavors. But if you’re only steeping tea or coffee briefly, you can also heat the coconut water in a saucepan or in an electric kettle, as Takuma Watanabe does at Martiny’s, his New York City bar, when making matcha for a drink called the Tea Ceremony. The powdered Japanese green tea whisked with hot coconut water adds a slight sweetness to the cocktail, Watanabe says, complementing Japanese whisky and white cacao liqueur. Tea Ceremony “tastes kind of like an iced matcha latte, but without the heaviness of milk, and it’s very refreshing with the coconut water,” he says.
All three bartenders agree that swapping out water in cocktails is easy enough that you should try it anywhere you might otherwise use a cold or hot infusion. That includes the orange pekoe concentrate for Bonnie’s Long Island Iced Tea and the matcha-lime cordial in Melon-Lime Soda, as well as any recipe that calls for cold-brew coffee, like the Wipeout, El Duque or Roman Holiday. In nonalcoholic drinks—from N/A Espresso Martinis to tea-based swizzles—the technique adds another welcome dimension.
“If normal cold brew is The Terminator, then with coconut water it’s like Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Everyone likes it more,” Sanders laughs. “At least in my house.”