Carajillo cocktail with coffee and rum

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.

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.

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. 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.

This holiday season, for a simple—but unique—bittersweet after-dinner drink, try the Ancho Carajillo. Or, for ambitions imbibers adept at mixing and muddling beyond a couple ingredients, go for Austin’s elevated version below.

Ancho Reyes Carijillo (Mexican cocktail)

Digital Hunter MX

The Ancho Carajillo

Makes 1

2 ounces Ancho Reyes

2 ounces espresso

ground cinnamon and or/cinnamon sticks, to garnish

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

Makes 1

1 ounce Ancho Reyes

1/4 ounce Giffard Banane du Bresil Liqueur

1/4 ounce cinnamon syrup*

1 espresso

zest of lemon

ground cinnamon and or/cinnamon sticks, to garnish

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

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.

Header image courtesy of Carmen and Lola.

See more articles