Strong, sweet, and spiked with Licor 43, this easy recipe for Carajillo (Mexican Coffee Cocktail) is sure to be a hit! You’ll love the richness of strong coffee and the complex liqueur, with hints of anise, vanilla, and orange.
The Classic Mexican Coffee Cocktail
Carajillo is having a moment! This sweet, dark degustif (after-dinner cocktail) can be served hot or cold, and was originally from Spain before growing enormously popular in Mexico, and increasingly in the U.S. Once you taste it, you’ll see why this spiked coffee is a must-have in your cocktail repertoire!
Similar to Irish coffee and Italian caffe corretto, or “corrected coffee,” carajillo starts with espresso or strongly-brewed coffee. The better the coffee, the better the carajillo! From there, you combine it with a special liqueur known as Licor 43. What you’ll predominantly taste is vanilla, with hints of orange and licorice, which make it a wonderfully warming drink even when served cold. It’s a bit like coffee meets flan, meets alcohol. Yum.
What is Licor 43?
Licor 43 is a sweet Spanish liqueur that has a special blend of 43 different flavors, according to the makers of Licor 43. It is very aromatic and has a sweet vanilla taste with hints of anise, cocoa, orange peel and a mixture of spices.
It was invented in 1946 by the Zamora family and is famously used in Mexico to make a Carajillo! In some other Latin countries, a Carajillo may be made with brandy in place of the Licor 43. So while you can substitute in brandy, I wouldn’t recommend it. Brandy and Licor 43 are extremely different and will give vastly different results. If you are looking for a real Carajillo, make sure to pick up a bottle of Licor 43!
What You’ll Need
To make carajillo, you just need a few basic ingredients. No special equipment is necessary to make this little drink just right, but I do recommend having a cocktail shaker if possible.
- Ice: I know ice is such a basic item, but I do think that good-quality spring water ice cubes make a difference. Of course, if you serve carajillo hot, you don’t need any ice.
- Coffee: Espresso is preferred, but if you don’t have an espresso maker (stovetop or otherwise), then it’s fine to use strongly-brewed coffee. Either way, using the best coffee possible gives this simple drink a good base.
- Licor 43: It’s not really a carajillo without Licor 43, but you can use brandy instead, for a decent substitute. (Brandy is less sweet and has a different flavor than Licor 43.)
- Sugar: This is optional, but to make the carajillo sweeter, add ¼ cup granulated sugar.
- Shaker: Shaking the carajillo mixture allows you to get it foamy and light.
What Kind Of Coffee/Espresso To Use?
I highly recommend using espresso for your Carajillo for the best true flavor. If you are going to use coffee, I recommend making it extra strong to get close to that same flavor.
We like to use Cafe Bustello. It’s what I grew up drinking and it’s still my favorite today.
How to Make a Carajillo
Making carajillo is super simple, whether you’re serving it hot or cold. It’s perfect for casually mixing up after a meal, to encourage everyone to linger at the table and talk.
To Serve Hot
- Make the Espresso or Coffee. If using coffee instead of espresso, I recommend making it at at least double strength.
- Sugar the Glasses (Optional). If you like, you can moisten the top of each glass with a tiny bit of water, and dip them into the sugar to decorate. Alternatively, add the sugar to the coffee, or leve it out entirely.
- Assemble the Drinks. Pour a couple of ounces of Licor 43 into the bottom of the glass, and add the hot coffee. Stir.
To Serve Cold
- Make the Espresso or Coffee. Again, be sure to make the coffee very strong if substituting it for the espresso.
- Shake the Ingredients Until Foamy. In a shaker, combine the ice, espresso, Licor/brandy, and sugar (if using). Cover, and shake well for about 20 seconds.
- Serve. Add ice to 3 of your glasses, and pour the carajillo over the ice. Top with foam from the shaker, if desired.
Tips for Success
- Stirred or Shaken: If you don’t have a shaker, that’s fine! You can also combine the ingredients in a pitcher, and stir well.
- To Sweeten or Not to Sweeten: The sugar is optional! Many people don’t sweeten their carajillo, but it’s how I grew up having it! So if you prefer your drinks (or coffee) a little sweeter, add the sugar. If you prefer less sugar, skip it!
- Layered Look: To make a more traditional carajillo, you should not only omit the sugar, but pour the Licor 43 into a glass over ice, and then slowly top with coffee. Pouring slowly creates the traditional layered look.
What To Serve With A Carajillo?
Carajillos are traditionally served as an after dinner drink. So if you are looking for something to serve with it, I recommend dessert! Here are a few of my favorites that I think would pair well:
- Easy Tres Leche Cake
- Cinnamon Apple Empanadas
- Arroz Con Leche
- Churro Cupcakes
- Coffee Flan or Pumpkin Flan
- Churros with Salted Caramel Sauce
Looking For More Latin Cocktails?
Here are a few more of my favorites that I think you will love too:
Carajillo (Mexican Coffee Cocktail)
- 2 cups espresso or strongly-brewed coffee
- 6 ounces about 175 ml of Licor 43 (or brandy)
- ¼ cup granulated sugar, optional
- Add the ice, espresso, Licor/brandy, and sugar to a cocktail shaker. Cover, and shake well for about 20 seconds.
- Place ice in 3 to 4 glasses, and pour the cocktail over the ice. Top with foam from the shaker if desired.
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