Drinking Coffee: The Ube Abides

Sometimes a fun coffee cocktail starts out driven by a single ingredient. Other times it can be a zap of inspiration, or a node of cocktail history, or some other rabbit track. But when you cross two threads together the end result feels like a bolt of lightning, the creation of something that perhaps should have always existed, was always somehow meant to be.

So goes the purple ube White Russian, which—in tribute to the favorite drink of The Dude—we’re calling The Ube Abides.

I am reasonably sure (not entirely sure, but reasonably) that this is something like a drink of my own creation, fusing the round, profound flavors of purple ube yam with the singularly stochastic White Russian, a chaotic tipple more or less apart from the classic cocktail tradition and yet undeniably a cocktail classic. I do know, for sure, that when you type the phrase “The Dude Ubes” or “The Ube Abides” or any other variation of “Ube White Russian” such into Google with quotes around it, very little comes back.

ube white russian 5

A sweet purple yam hailing from the Philippines, ube has a long culinary history and many expressions, from cheesecake to flan, pudding to halo halo to jams, butters, and other spreads. Ube’s popularity in America has grown considerably in recent years (that beautiful purple color sure helps), and today it represents that rarest of phenomena: a social media star with real substance behind it, deserving of all the praise and attention. I am particularly enamored with the use of ube at Hood Famous Bakeshop, a wonderful bakery cafe in Seattle’s International District that makes riotously good ube cookies, mini ube cheesecakes, and a signature ube iced latte that is, in my opinion, a required purchase for visitors to Seattle, and among my very favorite specialty coffee drinks in the world. (Their durian white chocolate latte is also bonkers good).

Hood Famous sells their very own ube simple syrup, made in-house, and so on my last visit I picked some up with the intention of riffing on a traditional Daiquiri, maybe, or a Sherry Cobbler. But a few days later, quite by random chance, a friend of mine invited me to an outdoor screening of the Cohen Brothers film The Big Lebowski (the ardent fandom around this film is puzzling to me, but the film itself is funny and oddly beautiful to watch, with a great soundtrack). That’s when it struck me: let’s make a purple ube White Russian, inspired by His Dudeness’ favorite drink from the cult film.

The White Russian is a weird drink, most typically made with vodka, heavy dairy, and Kahlua. I have some questions about it. Namely, who wants to drink half-and-half in a cocktail?? Where does this fit in any reasonable set of expectations for a given evening? And Kahlua—does it have to include this? Can we use one of the many other emerging and interesting coffee liqueurs on the market, or is there something specific about Kahlua (a blend of coffee, rum, and spices hailing from Mexico) that’s inherent to the White Russian’s White Russianness?

ube white russian 3

So, we played—and along the way I developed a sort of unified theory of the White Russian that led to the creation of this (possibly, allegedly) new drink. When we talk about a White Russian we are talking about three things: sweetness, milkiness, and coffee booze. Those three elements can be supplied in myriad ways; they do not require you to hew exactly to the traditional White Russian paradigm in order to create a drink of the tradition.

In this version, the sweetness—and a lovely shade of purple—comes courtesy of a full shot of Hood Famous Bakeshop’s ube simple syrup. Yes, this will result in a sweet drink; it is supposed to be a sweet drink, this is required for it to feel like a member of the White Russian family. From there we’ll supply the coffee note not via a liqueur, but rather, by using some of my very own trusty homemade coffee vodka, which is easily made by combining vodka, whole coffee beans, and patience. (If you don’t have any homemade coffee vodka handy, there are several pre-made brands on the market.) Last, with apologies to Jeffrey Lebowski aka El Duderino, half-and-half is gross to me; instead we are going to use some nice creamy oat milk via Pacific Foods, with deference to Pacific’s very good Whiskey Oat Punch recipe developed by Maggie Davis.

Your build looks as follows:


1 oz purple ube simple syrup
2 oz coffee vodka [50 grams of whole bean coffee in 375 ML of good imported vodka, left to mingle for one week in a dark cabinet, then strained—or else use store bought.]
float of Pacific Barist Series oat milk

Combine your coffee vodka and ube simple syrup over rocks in a lowball.

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Pour oat milk over the top slowly, and perhaps have your camera ready, because the marble swirl poetry of purple ube and creamy milk looks incredible in this moment.

Drink it.

Isn’t that so yummy and interesting? Ube offers this wonderfully long, complex, round sort of sweetness that sits beautifully with the oat milk and coffee vodka. You are most definitely drinking a White Russian riff but it does not look—or taste—quite like any White Russian you’ve ever had. This is a good drink. The ube abides.

Drinking Coffee is a new feature series on Sprudge. Explore more unique drinks on Sprudge

Jordan Michelman (@suitcasewine) is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network, and the winner of a 2020 James Beard Award for drinks journalism. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.

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