Once again at Master of Malt we are on-trend in our cocktail making. Last week was all about the French 75 but this week we’ve been mainly drinking the Carajillo, the drink de jour among the fashionable people of the internet.
Why, even top drinks connnoisseur and hat wearer Neil Ridley was making one on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch recently and he dubbed it the drink of 2024. He’s backed up by the data-loving funsters at Google Trends who have reported that searches for the word ‘Carajillo’ have doubled in the past year. According to top American drinks writer Jason Wilson, the Carajillo has supplanted “the Espresso Martini as a go-to coffee cocktail.” So that’s what the experts think, but what exactly is a Carajillo?
What is a Carajillo?
The Carajillo (pronounced something like ‘cara hee oh’) has its roots in drinks like the Caffe Corretto (a coffee ‘corrected with alcohol) that aren’t exactly cocktails, they’re just a way of making coffee even better by adding booze to it. So this might be brandy, rum, grappa or some sort of liqueur. In the case of the Carajillo the liquor of choice is Licor 43, usually called simply ‘quarenta y tres’, a blend of alcohol, sugar, vanilla, orange peel, cocoa and various spices that dates back to 1924 Cartagena, the Spanish city not the Colombian one. The name comes from the number of botanicals used in the recipe.
Though a bit obscure over here, It’s hugely popular in the Spanish-speaking world and has spawned variations including Licor 43 Horchata, a creamy nut-based drink, and a coffee version called Baristo.
In Spain Licor 43 would be served alongside a hot coffee, or poured in the coffee. With the Carajillo, however, the Mexicans have taken things a bit further with the addition of ice which takes the drink into Espresso Martini territory. You don’t necessarily have to use Licor 43, Neil Ridley used Metaxa 12 Stars Greek brandy liqueur when he was on the telly recently which I’m sure was very tasty – though is it really a Carajillo? One for the philosophers to ponder.
How to make the perfect Carajillo
It’s usually made with a mixture of half Licor 43 and half espresso coffee. The most important thing is you want a nice crema on the top, like a proper espresso. The problem is that most of us don’t have an espresso machine in the house and while a stovetop mocha makes a nice strong coffee, it’s hard to get a good crema. I initially tried to make this with some strong filter coffee and it looked and tasted like a dog’s dinner – no crema.
I then reshook it hard with fresh ice and crucially two teaspoons of Nescafe Gold Espresso. Yes, instant coffee but instant coffee specifically designed to produce a crema. The results were dramatically better: a thick crema, the sweetness of the Licor 43 perfectly balanced by the strength of the not-entirely-first rate coffee. Delicious and invigorating too.
Right, here’s the recipe…
50ml Licor 43
50ml Freshly-brewered espresso coffee (or cold brew coffee with some added Nescafe Espresso, no one will know)
Shake the coffee and Licor 43 hard with ice in a shaker. Strain into an ice-filled tumbler.