If the old adage “the clothes make the person” were to take liquid form, then it’s safe to say that the glass itself makes the drink. Not only does it (quite literally) give the drink a physical shape — liquids, after all, are a state of matter that cannot be hoisted on their own — but the glass provides the sort of baseline form-meets-function personality that can tell you a lot about what you’re about to sip before it even hits your lips. And whether it’s the sleek nature of a martini glass, the twee charm of a floral-pattern tea cup or the bigger-is-better, neon-hued container for a Bourbon Street Hand Grenade, the glass a drink arrives in is as much a part of its DNA as a flamboyant garnish or floral aftertaste. Sure, you can technically drink any liquid out of any cup, but let’s face it: A Sazerac just doesn’t taste quite as satisfying if you stir it up in an old jam jar.
The importance of the drinking vessel itself is particularly crucial when it comes to breakfast drinks, where a small army of different types of ceramic, plastic and glass drinkware sits at attention in our cabinets just waiting for us to put them to good use. And if it’s a recovery morning that calls for a little hair of the dog, or an ultra-rushed workday when you’re just hoping not to spill anything, the perfect breakfast drink, in the perfect drinking cup, is waiting for you.
Spiked: Irish Coffee
When the term “Irish Coffee” is tossed about, different pictures crop up in people’s minds. Some might think it’s a green-tinged concoction rolled out on St. Patrick’s Day as a novelty bit for a party — but nope, no unnecessary coloration here. Others might think it’s morning coffee that’s been spiked with a little bit of whatever liquor is left over from the night before. And while a nip of something in your mug is definitely pretty Irish (and if that’s your thing, do you!), the drink itself employees a little bit more heft to make it the kind of slow sipper that balances “pep me up!” with “but make it boozy!” perfectly.
Created by Joe Sheridan in 1943 at an air force base near Limerick, Ireland that saw its fair share of celebrities roll in on international flights, the Irish Coffee was an invention of necessity. The story goes that a group of passengers were left stranded at the base after their flight was turned around due to weather, and needed something to take off the chill. The Irish Coffee was the fortifying drink Sheridan whipped up — combining Irish whiskey, coffee, sugar and cream — and it quickly became a hit both in Ireland and abroad. This is a drink with staying power: It’s still the most popular cocktail at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco, where bartenders serve a quarter-million a year.
The simple magic of the drink is that it’s sipped through the heavy whipping cream on top, creating a playful, milk-mustache-style experience and a buffer between the hot, liquored-up coffee and your tongue. (If you’re looking for a frozen version — which you can still, of course, sip for breakfast — the frozen Irish Coffee at Erin Rose in the French Quarter is the stuff of hangover legend.)
Alcohol Free: Coffee — anyway you like it
Ah, a good ol’ cup of joe: Is there any more classic breakfast drink? While I’m not here to tell you how to take your coffee — let’s save the mocha-frappa-whatever versus third-wave roasted-organically-in-a-boot argument for another day — I will say that a small step you can take toward having a little bit more fun as the sun is rising is by picking out coffee mugs that make you happy. Are you a campfire-loving, biking-and-hiking kind of gal? Speckled ceramic coffee mugs give off the perfect outdoor vibe even if you’re trapped indoors. Retro-obsessed? Fire King coffee mugs will be the TV Land throwback you crave. As for novelty mugs, eBay is your friend, offering weird Garfield mugs, mugs from places you want to visit, mugs that support your favorite cause and more. Think of your coffee mug as something that delivers a little bit of jump-starting joy each day (and also, uh, caffeine).
Spiked: Bellini or Mimosa (dealer’s choice)
If there were a cocktail that flashed the word “brunch” like a bright neon sign, it would be the Mimosa: that omnipresent combination of orange juice and sparkling wine that has been served, batched and spiked just about every single way known to man or beast. And, yes, Mimosas are delightful! It’s a drink that’s bubbly and citrusy and feels like sunshine in a glass.
For my money, though, there’s a drink that embodies all the charm of the Mimosa with a little bit more substance: the Bellini. Made from a combination of sparkling wine (traditionally Prosecco) and peach nectar (a fancy name for thicker peach juice), the Bellini feels like a down-to-earth, delicious cousin to the Mimosa that hasn’t quite hit a saturation point yet. Plus, the density of that sweet peach nectar requires a little bit more time to enjoy the mouthfeel, meaning you don’t blow through the drinks quite as fast as you do with the Mimosa (and end up out of commission for the rest of the day).
Alcohol Free: Sparkling juice
It might conjure up memories of New Year’s Eve as a kid, secretly coveting your parents’ champagne, but there’s actually a whole lot to love about sparkling juice. For starters, grape and apple aren’t the only games in town: There’s sparkling blood orange juice, sparkling raspberry juice, sparkling cranberry juice and pretty much every sparkling fruit juice in between. Served in a flute, it’s a gussied-up addition to any brunch table — or on a Monday morning, it’s a refreshing pick-me-up as you run out the door. After all, seltzer can’t be the only bubbles in our lives.
Spiked: Red Snapper or Bloody Mary (dealer’s choice)
At its core, the Red Snapper is simply a Bloody Mary made with gin — an option I didn’t know existed until famously cantankerous New Orleans bartender Paul Gustings whipped one up for me in a true moment of morning-after need. The herbal gin — when compared with a more traditional vodka option — allows the spices and earthiness of the tomato juice to really bloom, creating the kind of drink that feels learned; no piling on of bacon strips and other extreme garnishes required.
Alcohol Free: Tomato juice — straight
Now this is where you should go crazy with the add-ons. A highball glass is the perfect, sturdy vessel for supporting stuff piled on a stick, and there’s no better base than plain tomato juice for building a salad in a glass. Spice up your rim! Plop in some celery, carrots and a few olive orbs! Cheese cubes? Fine, go for it! Without the booze, you’re essentially getting all your nutrients for the day, first thing in the day, in the most lighthearted way possible.
Spiked: Brandy Milk Punch or Bourbon Milk Punch (dealer’s choice)
A staple of old-guard restaurants across New Orleans, the Brandy Milk Punch is just the right amount of wholesome-meets-naughty. Typically made by combining brandy (or bourbon) with whole milk, powdered sugar, ice and a dusting of nutmeg, it’s a breakfast drink that’s a wintertime treat — particularly if you’re partial to eggnog.
Selecting bourbon versus brandy is a personal choice (and you can’t really lose either way!) but brandy is a bit smoother and more traditional, creating a creamier cocktail without the back-end bite of the bourbon. Unlike many breakfast drinks — which are pretty easy come, easy go — this is a cocktail where you can’t fuss with the ratios: Cutting down on the milk and up on the brandy, or vice versa, is an invitation to some seriously out-of-whack tastes (and a stomachache).
Alcohol Free: Orange Julius
At first blush, an Orange Julius — the eponymous drink of the Orange Julius juice store where it was created in Los Angeles in the 1920s — seems potentially too funky. Made when orange juice concentrate, milk, vanilla, sugar, egg whites and ice are swirled together like a brighter, frothier smoothie, an Orange Julius has the appearance of a mash-up of all childhood breakfast drinks into one that might not work. Oh, but work it does. It tastes like a melted Creamsicle, and isn’t entirely bad for you (hello, Vitamin C, calcium and protein!)
Also, if you really feel like it, just drink a big glass of milk or your alternative milk of choice (oat, soy, almond — the sky’s the limit!) for breakfast. For some reason, drinking a cool glass of milk, straight up, has become relatively rare in our society, reserved only for school kids to do out of cartons or Marlon Brando to do in a movie from 70 years ago. Guess what, though? It still tastes good! And, if you’ve eaten a ton of spicy or fried food the night before, it helps to settle your stomach more effectively than pretty much anything else. (Trust me, I’ve experimented.)
Spiked: Absinthe Suissesse
It’s a special kind of morning when you can blend your eggs into your cocktail, whether you’re shaking (and shaking, and shaking) a Ramos Gin Fizz or a couple of Amaretto Sours. There’s one drink, though, that’s singular enough to make devotees (myself included) keep it on reserve for the holiest of holy mornings: Mardi Gras Day. Enter: the Absinthe Suissesse.
The Absinthe Suissesse brings together ingredients that, until fairly recently, were either really rare or downright illegal. Combining emerald-tinged, banned-from-1912-until-2007 absinthe with crème de menthe, egg white, half-and-half, Herbsaint and (the very recently revived) almond-flavored orgeat, this is a drink that’s blender-approved but feels completely novel, as if the smoothing nutty notes and minty tingles were balancing “revved up” and “chilled out” as you venture out into the day. And while it might not have the ubiquity of a Mimosa or Irish Coffee, when you feel the urge to roll it out around 6 am, you’ll know it’s needed.
Alcohol Free: Herbal Tea
Liquors that taste like you’re chewing on a stick of wintergreen gum aren’t for everyone, but those who love the complexities of herbaceous booze (like absinthe) will also enjoy a morning spot of tea — no fancy china required.
Tea has been made out to be the fusty, dress-up-only sibling to coffee, but it offers a range of options for drinkers who are trying to cut down on their daily caffeine intake or simply want to explore the wide range of tasting notes that tea has to offer: floral, fruity, chocolatey, crisp, mellow — it’s truly a rainbow of piping hot (or iced down) flavors.
And if you find yourself drawn to the ritual of a morning tea, but think it might need a little bit more pick-me-up by way of a glug of bourbon: Don’t worry, your secret is safe with us.