Carajillo cocktail with coffee and rum
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This National Coffee Day, unwind with a two-ingredient coffee cocktail from Mexico: the Carajillo. Or try an updated take that adds some warm spice for chilly nights.

The Original Carajillo

espresso beans


What began in Spain as a blue collar cocktail that gained popularity among soldiers during the Spanish occupation of Cuba around the 19th century, the Carajillo—a bittersweet two-ingredient coffee concoction—has become one of Mexico’s most ubiquitous and iconic drinks, today embraced by forward-thinking bartenders across the country.

Originally built from coffee spiked with brandy, whiskey, or rum, soldiers downed the potation for an extra flavorful caffeine fix, which “help[ed] get them happily through a day’s work” by providing them with “more courage to do labor-intensive jobs,” states Mexican spirit expert and Montelobos Mezcal brand ambassador Camille Austin. Which explains the tipple’s suggestive name: coraje is the Spanish work for courage.

Modern Interpretations

It’s not exactly clear when the Spanish brought this boozy number to Mexico, but approximately a century or so ago locals began swapping in Mexican-made Licor 43—a saccharine, syrupy vanilla and citrus-flavored liqueur—for the hard stuff.

“Today in Mexico City, this is anything but a working class drink” explains Austin, who credits the beloved digestif’s resurgence to the city’s many hip restaurants that serve improved versions built from quality ingredients.

Licor 43, price & availability varies on Saucey

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But perhaps one of the most interesting and balanced renditions out there is Austin’s chilled mélange of espresso and Ancho Reyes chili liqueur in a one to one ratio, shaken until cold and dusted with cinnamon.

Ancho Reyes Carijillo (Mexican cocktail)

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Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur, price & availability varies on Saucey

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The liqueur’s sweetness offsets the espresso’s bitterness, while its smoky, earthy, peppery poblano chili notes enhance the coffee’s depth of flavor. An optional garnish of cinnamon complements and ties the moderately-sweet coffee cocktail together, also adding a seasonal, warm baking spice spin—yet decidedly not another pumpkin spice concoction.

This National Coffee Day (and beyond), for a simple—but unique—bittersweet after-dinner drink, try the Ancho Carajillo. Or, for ambitious imbibers adept at mixing and muddling beyond a couple ingredients, go for Austin’s elevated version below.

The Ancho Carajillo

Serves: 1
  • 2 ounces Ancho Reyes
  • 2 ounces espresso
  • ground cinnamon and or/cinnamon sticks, to garnish
  1. Add Ancho Reyes and espresso to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake 15 seconds and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Sprinkle cinnamon atop and decorate with cinnamon sticks if desired.

Carajillo Poblano

Serves: 1
  • 1 ounce Ancho Reyes
  • 1/4 ounce Giffard Banane du Bresil Liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce cinnamon syrup (see recipe below)
  • 1 espresso shot
  • zest of lemon
  • ground cinnamon and or/cinnamon sticks, to garnish
  1. Add Ancho Reyes, Giffard Banane du Bresil Liqueur, cinnamon syrup, and espresso to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake 15 seconds and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Express a lemon peel atop then sprinkle cinnamon atop and decorate with cinnamon sticks if desired.

Cinnamon Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large cinnamon sticks
  1. Heat water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add sugar and cinnamon and stir until sugar has dissolved. Remove three cinnamon sticks and discard. Let mixture cool with remaining cinnamon stick.

Whichever way you go, good coffee is obviously a must, so check out our guide to the best coffee subscriptions, and read up on why an espresso machine might be a good investment. But for the closest you can get to espresso at home without one, a Moka Pot is the way to go.

More Uncommonly Delicious Ways to Get Your Caffeine Fix

6 Coffee Drinks You Never Knew Existed but Should Try ASAP

The original version of this story was published in 2017. It has been updated with additional images, links, and text.

Header image courtesy of Carmen and Lola.

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