Friday, June 21, 2024

Why the Carajillo Is the New Espresso Martini

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The espresso martini had its moment. It all started in the ’80s, per Punch, when Dick Bradsell, a bartender at the Soho Brasserie in London, received a request from a customer for a drink that would both get her drunk and wake her up. And thus, the espresso martini was born — though back then most people actually called it a vodka espresso.

In the years since, the cocktail has cemented its status as a modern classic. In 2021, it experienced such a huge surge in popularity that bartenders were having to prep them in advance in order to keep up with the demand. “I’ve probably made more espresso martinis in the past year than in the rest of my career cumulatively,” New York bartender Ben Rojo told Grub Street that year.

But those days are in the past. Today another boozy coffee drink seems to have stolen the spotlight from the espresso martini: the carajillo.

Why the Carajillo Is the New Espresso Martini

Much like the espresso martini, the carajillo is an espresso-based cocktail. While espresso martinis combine espresso, coffee liqueur, vodka, and a splash of simple syrup, the carajillo just calls for one additional ingredient besides espresso, Licor 43. The Spanish liqueur is infused with citrus flavors and contains a unique blend of 43 spices and botanicals. According to the label on the bottle, the exact recipe is a trade secret, but most people speculate vanilla is one of the main ingredients in Licor 43, probably because you get a big whiff of it as soon as you take the cap off.

Considering the cocktail has only recently started to trend stateside, you might assume that the carajillo is a modern creation. But compared to the espresso martini, this cocktail is practically ancient. It’s been around for so long that there’s no record of its exact origins. According to Punch, historians have traced the carajillo back to the 19th century, with some saying it was derived from the coffee and rum cocktail that Cuban plantation workers would drink to give them “coraje,” or courage.

Others have said it was something Catalonian laborers would order at a bar when “in a hurry,” or “que ara guillo.” There’s also evidence to suggest that it was a product of the morning drinking culture in Andalusia, and was named carajillo because people would proclaim the curse word “carajo” before their first sip.

While the carajillo’s origins are debatable, the recipe is quite simple — in fact, its simplicity is perhaps what made it so popular. But despite its two ingredients, the carajillo isn’t one-dimensional in the slightest. Those 43 ingredients in Licor 43 do a lot of heavy lifting, bringing both complexity and a vanilla-forward flavor that’s sweet but not sugary, unlike simple syrup. Licor 43 also has a rich, surprisingly smooth consistency that really rounds out the intensity of the espresso, sort of like coffee creamer. Ultimately, drinking a carajillo is like drinking an espresso martini with more depth of flavor.

More flavor usually means a more complicated recipe, but that’s not the case with the carajillo. Those bartenders who were inundated with espresso martini requests back in 2021 surely won’t be as inconvenienced by the two-ingredient carajillo, which can just as easily be made at home.

How to Make the Carajillo at Home

To prepare it, you simply brew a double shot of espresso and combine it with an equal amount (two ounces) of Licor 43. If you can’t find Licor 43, you can get similar tasting results by substituting with vanilla liqueur and orange bitters.

Technically you can simply pour the ingredients of a carajillo over ice, but if you take the extra step of putting them in a shaker with some ice, you’ll be rewarded by a nice layer of froth on top.

When it comes to serving, make sure you grab a lowball glass rather than a martini glass. The garnish is a little different too: instead of three espresso beans on top, as is traditional with an espresso martini, carajillos are typically garnished with an orange peel, an orange slice, or a cinnamon stick to bring out the botanical flavors in the Licor 43.

It’s easy to customize a carajillo to your liking, and it’s even easier to develop a taste for it, especially if you already appreciate espresso martinis. Find a complete recipe below.

Kalea Martín writes primarily about food and cooking for PS, but as a former figure skater and hockey player, she covers fitness, too. Prior to becoming a lifestyle writer, Kalea covered hotels, restaurants, and travel for Luxos Magazine in Milan and worked in marketing at HarperCollins Publishers.



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