Important Note: When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Content, pricing, offers and availability are subject to change at any time - more info.
About 15 years ago, I was walking with a friend near the Mediterranean Sea in Barcelona when a torrential rainstorm came out of nowhere. It was March, so the rain was very chilly. My friend and I ducked into a small café to wait out the storm, as did a group of police officers who were patrolling on foot nearby.
We decided to get some coffee to warm us up. I noticed on the menu that was hanging on the wall that they had a coffee beverage called a carajillo with a choice of brandy or other liquors added to it. The woman behind the counter pointed to that and said it would warm us up. So, we ordered 2. The police officers were also drinking carajillos so we figured it probably wouldn’t give us a significant alcohol buzz. The patron suggested we get this warm espresso with cognac instead of brandy to really make us toasty.
I have to say, after we each had 2 of these espressos, we weren’t feeling the cold or the dampness of the rain. Once the weather calmed down, we ended up going back to our hotel and settled in for naps before heading out for dinner.
It is said that a carajillo was invented in Barcelona. At least that is what the Spanish believe. I came to learn later that Mexico has a refreshing iced cocktail version of a carajillo. It is a combination of espresso and Licor 43 served over ice. This drink is most often served as an after-dinner drink on a warm evening. Licor 43 is a proprietary spirit made from various fruits, herbs, spices, and vanilla that is suitable for sipping and is considered a digestif. The exact ingredients are apparently a guarded family secret. The 43 is in the name because it has 43 ingredients. This is the only liqueur that is used to make a Mexican carajillo cocktail.
I think it is important to use a good dark espresso coffee. The bitterness of the coffee is offset by the fruitiness of the liqueur. You won’t need any sugar or milk. Just 3 ingredients are in the drink: ice, Licor 43, and espresso. That’s it and it is super easy to make. The only equipment you need is an espresso pot and 10-13 ounce old-fashioned cocktail glasses.
- Ice cubes
- 4 ounces Licor 43
- 4 ounces of freshly brewed espresso
- Brew 4 shots of espresso or 4 ounces of strong coffee.
- Place about 4 ice cubes in 2 old-fashioned cocktail glasses (approximately 10-ounce glasses). The ice should fill 1/2 of each glass.
- Pour 2 ounces of Licor 43 over the ice in each glass.
- Slowly pour 2 ounces of the espresso over the liqueur so that the froth forms a decorative top layer.
- Serve with a stirring stick or small cocktail straw in each cocktail so you can mix the cocktail right before drinking it.
Notes and Tips
- I like to use a heavy cocktail glass that won’t crack if the espresso is too hot. You can use an Irish coffee glass if you prefer.
- You can place the glasses in the freezer for a few minutes so they are cold when the coffee is poured into them.
Substitutions and Additions
Licor 43: There is only one Licor 43. If you can’t find it in your local spirit shop, they may carry Tuaca. The predominant flavor in Licor 43 is vanilla. Tuaca is a vanilla-flavored brandy. If that isn’t available either, Galliano is almost always available. Galliano also has vanilla and citrus notes.
Espresso: I make espresso in an Italian stovetop moka pot to make espresso. If you don’t have an espresso pot or a fancy barista machine, just make strong coffee. While this is considered an after-dinner cocktail, or a digestif, you may want to use decaffeinated espresso if you don’t want the caffeine buzz at night. I always keep a small jar of instant espresso in my pantry. In a pinch, just use instant.
Sugar: Licor 43 is a little sweet. In some cafes, sugar will be offered to add to your carajillo for those who want a cocktail that is sweeter. This ingredient should be offered on the side.
Garnish: Because some of the 43 ingredients in this liqueur include vanilla, citrus, and spices, you could garnish the drink with one of these ingredients. Add a vanilla pod or a cinnamon stick. Or, place a slice of lemon or orange on the rim of the glass.
More Fun Coffee Beverages
I start my morning with a simple tea made with hot water and lemon to support my digestive organs and initiate a cleansing. While drinking that, I brew a pot of coffee to have while I start my work day. If I am feeling ambitious and like I need an extra boost, I will make a strong Turkish coffee or pour-over coffee. I am fond of really good organic and fair-trade coffee brands. The cleaner the better in my opinion.
While I don’t often put anything in my coffee, I do have some favorite coffee drinks that I will indulge in for a special treat. I think my favorite is an espresso con panna which is espresso with whipped cream spooned on top. Here are some of my other favorite coffee beverages and cocktails:
- Espresso Martini
- Sweet & Creamy Thai Iced Coffee
- Irish Coffee
- Coffee & Chocolate Potato Milk Smoothie
Storage & Reheating
The Mexican Carajillo Coffee Cocktail is best enjoyed fresh, as the ice will dilute the drink if it’s left standing for too long. However, if you find yourself with leftovers, follow these steps for storage and reheating:
- Store the leftover espresso and Licor 43 separately in airtight containers or bottles in the refrigerator.
- When you’re ready to enjoy the cocktail again, simply brew another batch of fresh espresso or reheat the stored espresso using a microwave or a small saucepan over low heat. Be careful not to let it boil.
- Prepare the cocktail following the original instructions, using fresh ice cubes and the chilled Licor 43.
This Mexican Carajillo Coffee Cocktail is a versatile after-dinner drink that can be enjoyed in a variety of settings. Here are some serving suggestions:
- Pair it with a light dessert, such as a fruit salad or sorbet, to complement the fruity and herbal flavors of the Licor 43.
- Enjoy it alongside a rich, chocolate dessert, like a chocolate lava cake or a chocolate mousse, to balance the sweetness and bitterness of the drink.
- Savor the cocktail with a cheese platter, featuring a mix of soft and hard cheeses, nuts, and dried fruits.
Common Dietary Restrictions & Diets
This Mexican Carajillo Coffee Cocktail is already suitable for most diets and restrictions, but you can make some adjustments if necessary:
- Vegan: The recipe is already vegan-friendly, but if you’re using a substitute for Licor 43, ensure that it is also vegan.
- Gluten-free: Licor 43 is gluten-free, but if you’re using a substitute, verify that it is gluten-free as well.
- Low-sugar: If you’re watching your sugar intake, try using decaffeinated espresso or opt for a sugar-free alternative to Licor 43. Additionally, avoid adding extra sugar or garnishes that could increase the sugar content.
Avoid these common mistakes when making the Mexican Carajillo Coffee Cocktail:
- Overly hot espresso: Ensure that the espresso isn’t too hot when you pour it into the glass, as this could cause the glass to crack. Allow it to cool for a few moments before pouring.
- Overdiluting the drink: Be mindful of the amount of ice you use. Too much ice can dilute the flavors of the cocktail. Stick to around 4 ice cubes per glass.
Health Risks & Benefits of This Recipe
- Benefits: The Mexican Carajillo Coffee Cocktail contains antioxidants from the coffee and potential health benefits from the herbs and spices in Licor 43. Consuming this cocktail in moderation can be a part of a balanced diet.
- Risks: This cocktail contains alcohol and caffeine, which may not be suitable for individuals with certain health conditions or sensitivities. Always consume alcoholic beverages responsibly and in moderation.
Recipe History & Context
The Mexican Carajillo Coffee Cocktail has its roots in Spain, where the original version was made with brandy or other liquors. The Mexican version of the cocktail features Licor 43, a unique Spanish liqueur, combined with espresso and served over ice. This refreshing after-dinner drink is perfect for warm evenings and is a popular choice for celebrations and gatherings.
You can substitute Licor 43 with Tuaca or Galliano. Both have vanilla and citrus notes, making them suitable alternatives. Keep in mind that the flavor profile might be slightly different from the original recipe, but the cocktail should still be enjoyable.
Yes, you can use strong coffee as a substitute for espresso. The drink may not have the same intense coffee flavor, but it will still be delicious.
To make a non-alcoholic version of the Mexican Carajillo Coffee Cocktail, you can try using a non-alcoholic vanilla syrup or a non-alcoholic herbal or fruity syrup. Experiment with different flavors to find a combination that suits your taste.