Coffee has a reputation. And it's well-earned, especially in a society that practically reveres as something to kickstart the rest of the day. But you can give that dark brew a little edge—alcohol. And one Australian company has run with that and made it their forte.
Mr Black—the brainchild of Philip Moore, one of Australia’s foremost distillers, and Tom Baker, coffee-fiend and designer—made its Singapore appearance at the Asia's 50 Best Bars awards ceremony; with a range consisting of Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur and Coffee Amaro, it can be poured over ice and enjoyed during that morning meeting as you quietly sip with a cryptic smile on your face, some might even describe it as a 'shit-eating grin'.
We talk with Tom Baker about Mr Black and more.
ESQUIRE: Do you find any correlation between your past industrial design work to what you do now?
TOM BAKER: Once a designer, always a designer. While my day-to-day job now is very different from what it was, the approach is the same: thinking, iteration, and craft. Our goal is to make products that both taste great and speak to people and their desires. That’s what being a designer is, and I still do that every day at Mr Black.
ESQ: What’s the trickiest part of the cold brew-making process?
TOM: Consistency. The production of Mr Black is as much a science as it is a craft. Our Head of Coffee has a PhD in Chemistry—we’re that serious about it. We’ve made over 1,400 individual batches of Mr Black now, and we have an encyclopaedic knowledge on the impact of coffee varietal, seasonality, roast, and ambient temperature to name just a few variables. All of this rigour is in service of creating an exceptional and consistent bottle of coffee liquor each and every time.
ESQ: There’s as much thought that goes into the packaging as well as with its contents.
TOM: The goal of our packaging is simple: reflect our religious worship of the miracle of coffee, and do justice to the craft and care that goes into the divine liquid inside each Mr Black bottle.
ESQ: Is there any botanical you want to marry with the coffee in the future that you’re unable to do so now?
TOM: The biggest challenge we have is not with botanicals, but rather coffees. We’re always looking to explore the flavour of coffee through our spirits. By way of example, recently we’ve been working with naturally processed coffees which are subject to a light fermentation before processing. They make delicious hot brews, but their intricate flavour can be lost in a cold-brew technique. There are more isolated flavours in coffee than red wine—Mr Black’s goal is to take that world into the night.
ESQ: What is the worst thing you can do with a Mr Black cold brew or an Amaro?
TOM: People never believe me, but coffee genuinely works well in most drinks. It’s delicious with tonic, soda and ginger beer. With whiskey (to make a Cold Fashioned), it becomes boozy and nuanced. From a craft coffee cocktail before dinner to a neat Mr Black after, there is genuinely no right or wrong way to drink it. The worst thing people can do is not give it a try—Mr Black is truly delicious and has to be tried to be believed. Coffee works with everything—except fish. That’s a strange pairing—don’t do that!
ESQ: I don’t suppose the Mr Black line would have a decaf liqueur in the future? Or is decaf just anathema to the very idea of coffee?
TOM: Death before decaf! Mr Black has the perfect amount of caffeine in it. It’s low enough that it allows you to have one drink before bed without keeping you up all night. Equally, if you want to turn it up, have a few and you’ll start to experience the caffeine a little more.