The Best Coffee Cocktail Setup with Aireus Robinson

We chat with the coffee cocktail mixologist about some essentials for a home setup.

BY TANYA NANETTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Photos courtesy of Aireus Robinson

Aireus Robinson (he/him) is a well-known face to many in the specialty-coffee world. The Atlanta-based barista and mixologist has been featured on James Hoffmann’s YouTube channel through Gilly Brew Bar, in addition to being a Glitter Cat DiGi2TiON finalist for coffee cocktails. He has also worked with other coffee professionals like Michelle Johnson, and cafés like Bluestone Lane, Ritual Coffee, and Red Bay Coffee.

Aireus Robinson's coffee bar.
Aireus Robinson’s home coffee setup is geared toward coffee cocktails too.

An Alchemist Before a Barista

Aireus considers himself not a “proper” home barista, but more of an alchemist and artificer (because beside coffee, he’s a Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder enthusiast) or a mixologist. Whether at work or at home, Aireus is always experimenting with ingredients to create something new for both traditional cocktails and coffee cocktails.

Getting Resourceful

His coffee home setup developed the way a lot of baristas’ setups do: with resourcefulness and a designated budget for the essentials. It all started by taking whatever his current employer was getting rid of—he got baskets for portafilters he didn’t have, but also mugs, grinders, and paper filters.

Outside of that, though, Aireus started with his basics—a Baratza Encore, a Fellow kettle, an AeroPress, and a French press from IKEA to froth milk. But it was at this early stage that his setup started to differ from that of many other baristas. He soon began to dive deep into creating homemade syrups, spices, and oils, and nowadays has an entire shelf dedicated to ingredients for potential infusions. Plus, he also has pounds of sugar reserved for making simple syrups, but he also aspires to research more sugar alternatives.

The Essential Cocktail Tools to Help You Make Coffee Cocktails

If Aireus were to choose the tools that cannot be missed in a coffee cocktail kit, he would start with something strictly cocktail-related first.

  1. A pair of Boston tin-on-tin shakers. “Skip the more complicated shakers,” he recommends. The Boston method leaves you with fewer parts to clean and can help improve your flow as a mixologist, even at home.
  2. A Hawthorne strainer. “It’s your shaker’s best friend and long-term companion,” he affirms, “used to remove liquid from your shakers while retaining any solids that you don’t want getting directly into your drink, like extra ice or muddled berries.” 
  3. A simple strainer. “While a mesh strainer is necessary for many drinks with fine, grainy particles, the more basic level of straining can be done with cheesecloth or using a fine mesh kitchen strainer,” Aireus explains.
Aireus Robinson's coffee grinders and coffee on a shelf.
Aireus Robinson’s setup is practical because, like many professional baristas, he doesn’t own a home espresso machine.

Work With What You’ve Got

Apart from all of this, Aireus firmly believes that you have to use what works for you when it comes to your favorite styles of coffee. For example, with Glitter Cat, Aireus used an espresso machine because that’s what was required. However, when he develops recipes for his coffee mocktails, he tries to make them as accessible as possible, suggesting practical brewers like cold-brew makers and the AeroPress. After all, he’s been a barista for five years, and he still doesn’t have a costly espresso machine at his house.

Some smaller practical items that Aireus recommends for coffee cocktails include Cafiza, an all-purpose cleaner that can be safely used alongside it, some small transparent bottles to store syrups, and a bar mat for when the creativity starts flowing and your station gets messy, along with a spice rack. 

Aireus Robinson's spice rack for making coffee cocktails.
Aireus says that people have been using spices in coffee for centuries. Why shouldn’t we be doing it now?

Go Bold With Spices

Aireus uses organic cane sugar for his homemade syrups, but might switch to a combination of a healthier monk fruit-erythritol blend. Regarding spices, he suggests that we should not be afraid of mixing our spice cabinet with our coffee. Throw some ginger in there along with some cardamom or chicory. “Hell, why not some MSG?” he asks. And never forget the most important thing of all: Be sure to have good ice. It’s another mixologist-recommended priority that could be an essay of its own.

Taking Notes in Your Head

And what about a brewing log to store the cocktail recipes? Most of it, Aireus confesses, is simply stored in his head. Often, he doesn’t measure things in the moment, nor does he care to, until he reaches the desired product. That being said, he does have a coffee-specific waterproof journal that was given to him by Alicia Adams when they worked together at Red Bay Coffee. It has many helpful sections, such as a cupping form and a flavor wheel, but his primary uses for it are to take cupping notes and draft out ideas in the moment, when his mind gets too cluttered to remember all the variables of a new drink. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanya Nanetti (she/her) is a specialty-coffee barista, a traveler, and a dreamer. When she’s not behind the coffee machine (or visiting some hidden corner of the world), she’s busy writing for Coffee Insurrection, a website about specialty coffee that she’s creating along with her boyfriend.

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