Carajillo Cocktails Are A Lighter Take On The Espresso Martini

The Mexican carajillo brings all the delight of a boozy coffee, with a little less alcohol and sweetness than your typical espresso martini. The carajillo has a delightful depth of flavor making for complex and nuanced sipping without too heavy of an alcohol punch. If you have ever wanted a low-alcohol espresso martini, then the carajillo might just be your new go-to.

As nice as they are shaken up by a bartender, carajillos are also super easy to prepare at home as they only have two ingredients, plus ice! This cocktail uses equal parts espresso and Licor 43, also called Cuarenta y Tres which is just "43" in Spanish. Licor 43 is a Spanish liqueur with, as the name suggests, a proprietary blend of 43 different herbs, spices, and fruits with notes of vanilla and ripe citrus rising to the forefront of the palate. The spicy, botanical, and floral qualities make for an interesting sipper all on its own, and add appeal to a simple coffee cocktail. Licor 43 has nearly 10% less alcohol than the standard espresso martini spirit — vodka.

Licor 43 can be served straight up, over ice, or with mixers like ginger ale, cola, and of course, coffee. The carajillo cocktail's meteoric rise in popularity doesn't seem to be dwindling anytime soon, and for good reason. It's spicy, lightly sweet, well-rounded in taste, and gives you a pleasant buzz in more ways than one.

How to make a carajillo

There are two distinct ways to make a carajillo, and the method you choose really depends on your preference. Most commonly, this cocktail is served shaken. Measure equal parts coffee — espresso, cold brew, or very strong brewed coffee — and Licor 43 into a cocktail shaker. Add a big scoop of ice, shake vigorously, and strain into a rocks glass. Serve over ice if you want the cocktail extra cold and a little bit diluted, or skip it for a more stout flavor. When shaken, the coffee and the liquor emulsify, creating a creamy and slightly foamy texture. It looks like there's milk or cream in the drink, but this cocktail is totally dairy-free. Garnish with a dash of cinnamon, grated orange zest, a whole cinnamon stick, or a round of dehydrated citrus.

The other method yields a thinner consistency, but perhaps a more fun experience. First, brew a shot of espresso. Then, pour an equal amount of Licor 43 into a separate glass over ice. The drinker then pours the espresso into the glass of iced Licor 43 and stirs to combine. This is a perfect way to show off pretty, special occasion glassware, and get your guests involved.

What other kinds of carajillos can you make?

Licor 43 also makes chocolate, coffee, and horchata flavors of their signature spirit. Horchata is commonly known to be a chilled, Mexican, rice milk drink with warm spices, but the Licor 43 version uses lemon and tiger nuts — a tiny tuber that yields a nutty, dairy-free milk. If you are a fan of something extra creamy, try a Canary Island barraquito — an impressive-looking coffee cocktail that has distinct layers of sweetened condensed milk, Licor 43, espresso, and frothed milk, served with a delicate lemon wedge and a dusting of cinnamon.

Not a fan of the taste of Licor 43? Try a simple vanilla liqueur. Or maybe it's freezing outside, and a cold coffee beverage just doesn't sound appetizing. Add Licor 43 to your hot espresso — no ice needed. You'll have the original Spanish carajillo, which the more popular Mexcian version is based on. Don't feel the need for a lighter take? Try mixing up two parts espresso to one part Licor 43 and one part tequila or mezcal. There is no reason to limit yourself to just using classic Licor 43 for a delicious carajillo. Branch out and experiment until you find your perfect mix!