This Mexican carajillo is a super simple, yet complex-tasting coffee cocktail, using the liqueur Licor 43. You enjoy it chilled, over ice, typically as an after dinner drink though it would be great alongside brunch, too. Delicious any time.
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I have been a coffee drinker since before I can remember, but I tend to be pretty simple in my tastes. I will typically go for a latte or maybe a shorter milk-based version like a cortado in Spain. If made in a French press, then either black or a splash of milk, no sugar in any.
Coffee cocktails, though, have never been my thing. I think partly as I tend to drink cocktails later in the day when I wouldn't usually want caffeine, but also because so many are sweet. And I'm not that big on sweet cocktails unless there is fruit involved.
The one exception was a simple spiked coffee I had a few times when I lived in Spain. I'm afraid I'm about to confuse you as that's not quite what I am sharing here, but don't worry, this is delicious, too.
What is the difference between a Spanish and Mexican carajillo?
In simple terms, a carajillo is a spiked coffee. It is often said to date back to the Spanish occupation of Cuba when apparently soldiers added rum to their coffee for courage - "coraje" means courage in Spanish which over time evolved to the name. Other stories say it originated in Barcelona as a drink given to slaves to motivate them.
Unlike an Irish coffee, for example, it is almost always only a spirit plus strong coffee, and maybe a little sugar - there's no cream or milk in there. And you generally only use one spirit, not a mix like an espresso martini, for example.
In Spain, you typically add brandy, though in some cases rum, and you drink it hot. The preparation can vary, though. Some add a little sugar before, others let the customer add it after. In some regions it's typical to warm and set light to the brandy first then pour the coffee in to put it out. This adds a little more caramelization and softens the spirit's flavor.
In other places, you might find other spirits used such as whiskey. In Mexico, the most popular combination is coffee with Licor 43 served chilled over ice.
What is Licor 43?
Licor 43, or Cuarenta y Tres, is a Spanish liqueur made in Cartagena on the Southern Mediterranean coast of Spain. The "43" refers to the number of ingredients used to make the liqueur.
The main flavor is vanilla, but you can also tell that there are other aromatics in there as well, such as a little citrus and cinnamon. It's sweet, but to me at least not as sickly sweet as some liqueurs, maybe partly because of the flavor profile.
Traditionally, it's considered a digestif. You might enjoy it straight up or over ice. However you can also use it in a range of cocktails, whether with it as the star or as an additional ingredient to give a slightly different profile (like in a 43 pineapple mojito).
The flavors pair particularly well with coffee so you'll find a few that combine the two. Though this is generally considered the original.
The traditional preparation
While this coffee cocktail has only two ingredients, traditionally, there's a set way to put them together.
You will normally be served the licor 43 in a glass with plenty of ice cubes with a cup of espresso on the side. You then add the coffee to the glass yourself.
If you slowly pour the coffee over the Licor 43 into the glass, it will form a layer over the top of the liqueur. So you get a pretty two-tone cocktail. Some may serve it this way as well. To drink, I'd suggest you mix it first to combine the flavors, though it's really up to you.
This Mexican carajillo is such a simple coffee cocktail to make, but one that feels that bit more complex. It is refreshing, gently sweet but not overly so, with a lovely aromatic flavor. Perfect to enjoy after dinner, or whenever fits. Cheers!
Try these other easy cocktails (also great for brunch):
- Strawberry bellini
- Lillet spritz
- Kir imperial (raspberry champagne cocktail)
- Plus get more cocktail recipes in the archives.
Mexican carajillo - coffee cocktail
- 2 fl oz licor 43
- 2 fl oz espresso (2fl oz = a double shot, approx), freshly made
- Ideally, chill a glass in the freezer for a few minutes before using. Place around 4 or 5 pieces of ice in a glass (so that it is around half full) and if you haven't chilled the glass before, let the ice sit a minute to help cool the glass down.
- Pour the licor 43 over the ice.
- Carefully pour the espresso into the glass - if you pour slowly, it will float on top of the licor 43 and give a nice layered effect. Mix before drinking (drink soon after adding the coffee).