Versus: The Story of the Ghosts

The Dish: Bhut jolokia, also known as the ghost chili, is said to be the hottest pepper in the world. So why on earth would anyone put it in a drink? We pondered this question as we sipped a ghost chili–spiked mocha and a fancy cocktail at two establishments in Seattle, wondering who used the spice most effectively. Did we die and go to heaven, or get totally burned?

The Rivals: Bedlam Coffee, 2231 Second Ave., 910-2300, BELLTOWN. This Belltown caffeine parlor is a fun and funky little space. The decor has a rock-star edge, and the staff couldn’t be friendlier. It’s a coffee shop that oozes character and individuality, but it’s a shame their coffee doesn’t live up to that standard.

The red flag rose as soon as we ordered the Bonfire Mocha ($3.50): a double shot of espresso, steamed milk, and Bedlam’s own Bonfire chocolate sauce made with ghost chilies. When we asked what brand of coffee Bedlam used, the barista told us it was “a secret”—never a good sign. If you use a quality coffee, you should be proud to tell customers. S-E-C-R-E-T spells C-O-S-T-C-O in our book. Regardless, they have a pretty great spicy sauce made from ghost-chili oil. We got a taste before they added the stuff to our mocha. Who knew that would be the best part of our visit?

We watched as our barista steamed our milk with the chocolate simultaneously. Again, never a good sign. Adding a heavy condiment such as chocolate weighs down the milk, reducing froth. What we were presented with was a pretty drink with not much flavor or body. It had a kick, but would have been better as a simple hot chocolate with whipped cream. The coffee just made it taste strange and unidentifiable. On a happier note, Bluebird on Capitol Hill has created an ice cream made with Bedlam’s Bonfire sauce. If we were you, we’d skip the cup and head straight for the cone.

The BalMar, 5449 Ballard Ave. N.W., 297-0500, BALLARD. We expected a martini. What we got was a stubby little glass with a straw, the perfect combo when it comes to a drink packing this much punch. The Morricone ($11) is a mixture of Cointreau, muddled cucumbers, lime, simple syrup, and ghost chili–infused Don Julio Blanco tequila. The bartenders cold-infuse the tequila by soaking three dried ghost chilies in a bottle of tequila for up to 20 hours in the freezer. The result is a fierce, biting liquid that wraps around your lips and throat until you scream uncle loud enough for everyone in the bar to hear.

Combined with the rest of the ingredients in the Morricone, however, the tequila makes for a tasty drink. The cucumber and citrus take a bit of the edge off the otherwise burn-your-mouth cocktail. What makes this drink successful is its size; no way in hell could we handle anything larger than this petite glass. It’s definitely a drink to sip and enjoy. Slowly.

The Champ: While chocolate and spice are a natural pairing, the ghost-chili-pepper mocha at Bedlam was not. The coffee (wherever it comes from) added absolutely nothing to the drink except a dull, nutty taste. Hence, we happily crown the BalMar the winner of this Versus challenge. The flavors of the muddled cucumber, lime, syrup, and infused tequila quenched our thirst for hotness. We’re looking forward to visiting this ghost again soon. Now who’s got some ice cubes we can borrow?

Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing