The Art of the Perfect Affogato

Commonplace in Italy and catching on in coffee shops, restaurants, and scoop shops across the United States, affogatos are a simple summer treat. Translating to “drowned” in Italian, the classic preparation is a scoop of fior di latte gelato, which is simply milk flavored, topped with a shot or two of espresso. 

There are only two ingredients in an affogato: espresso and gelato or ice cream–so it’s important that each are of superior quality and complement one another. Coffee chains like Bluestone Lane and Blue Bottle Coffee choose plain vanilla ice cream to maintain a clean, simple profile contrasting rich, chocolate-y espresso with sweet, smooth ice cream. The classic affogato is still delicious, but others are coming up with creative riffs too.

Balancing Flavors

Affogatos are officially making it on the dessert menu at trendy new restaurants. Executive chef Enrico Merendino sticks with a housemade fior di latte gelato for the affogato at Magari in Hollywood. “As far as coffee goes, it should never be acidic,” he says. Merendino selected Danesi Caffé coffee for its mild, nutty flavor and serves it with a pasta di mandorle cookie, which is flavored with almond, from his native Sicily for dipping.

Graham cracker-flavored ice cream paired with Bradbury’s blend from Ruby Coffee Roasters.

“The perfect affogato is rich, velvety, and strong,” says chef Lisa Dahl of Pisa Lisa and Dahl & DiLuca in Sedona, Arizona. “The espresso must have a full body and smooth finish. I look for the right balance in tannins and espresso with creaminess on top.” At Pisa Lisa, she keeps it pretty straightforward with espresso, hazelnut gelato, and housemade biscotti. The affogato at Dahl & DiLuca is more adventurous and boozy, with a shot of limoncello poured over lemon chiffon gelato, plus a double shot of espresso on the side. “Most people tend to rotate between the lemon creation and the espresso so that taste buds are treated to a balance of sweet, tart, and bitter,” she says.

Clementine’s Creamery in St. Louis serves affogatos with locally roasted Goshen Coffee Roasters. Here you can double down with coffee ice cream and espresso, or pick a “naughty” boozy flavor like maple bourbon pecan, which contains up to 18% alcohol for a sweet adults-only twist on caffè corretto. 

Thinking Beyond the Classics

A proliferation of new coffee liqueurs like Mr. Black, Jägermeister Cold Brew Coffee, and St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur make it easy to spike your affogato. Botolino Gelato in Dallas has two affogato variations on their menu, one with espresso and coffee liqueur, topped with crunchy bits of burnt chocolate.

At ice cream shops like Morgenstern’s in New York City and Gelateria Uli in Los Angeles, guests can order an affogato with any flavor from the case, although some flavors pair better than others with coffee. At Gelateria Uli, sea salt caramel, stracciatella, gianduja, vanilla, and pistachio are especially popular options, complemented by Counter Culture Coffee espresso. “I recommend a horchata gelato affogato for guests looking for something more unusual,” says owner Uli Nasibova. “Just stay away from anything fruity or high acid flavors.”

Cafe Demitasse in Santa Monica is getting ambitious this summer with a new affogato. The artisan coffee roaster is making their own hojicha ice cream with a Cuisinart ice cream maker and garnishing the affogato with fresh strawberries and mint. Even if you aren’t able to make your own ice cream, putting an affogato on the menu can be a great opportunity to partner with a small-batch local ice cream brand—and the sky’s the limit when it comes to flavor combinations. 

Think outside the box with a matchagato, replacing espresso with matcha. Or add a sprinkle of cacao nibs on top for a crunchy accent. Consider serving your affogato in a chilled bowl to keep the ice cream from melting too quickly. Whether you keep it classic or get creative, affogatos are easy to execute and a welcome new addition to summer menus.

Amber Gibson graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and writes about travel, food, drink, and wellness for Saveur, Conde Nast Traveler, The Daily Telegraph, Hemispheres, Chicago Tribune, Vegetarian Times, The Kitchn, and many more.