I tried my first carajillo in Mexico City in 2021 and promptly drank an absurd amount. For java lovers, this coffee-based cocktail is impossible to resist, and being able to order one at just about any bar or restaurant felt almost too good to be true. I'd enjoy one at the end of brunch, during a Sunday afternoon happy hour with friends, or as a digestif after dinner. I didn't know exactly what was in the drink — some mysterious liqueur called Licor 43 — but it quickly became a new favorite.
"Carajillo is a Spanish drink combining coffee with brandy, rum, or similar spirits," says James Pergola, coffee ambassador for Nestlé Nespresso USA. "It is typical of Spain, and its origin dates to the Spanish occupation of Cuba. The soldiers of the troops mixed coffee with rum to give them courage ('coraje' in Spanish, hence 'corajillo' and most recently 'carajillo')."
These days, many carajillos are made with Licor 43, "a sweet Spanish liqueur with notes of citrus and vanilla," Pergola says. "The name is a nod to the 43 spices and botanicals used in its recipe."
Toward the end of 2021 and into 2022, as we slipped out of our COVID funk, espresso martinis became the hottest cocktail order (to the dismay of bartenders everywhere). Now, some TikTokers are realizing that, with the humble carajillo, they can get a sort of espresso martini dupe that won't make restaurant staff quite as miserable — and that they can even make at home with zero mixology skills.
I personally never expected that the carajillo would be so simple to make. If you have a way to brew fresh espresso, whether via a Nespresso machine, barista-style espresso machine, or simple stovetop coffee maker, you can make a carajillo. All you need are equal parts coffee and Licor 43, Pergola says, and unlike an espresso martini, you can enjoy it hot or cold. (If you're looking for an even stronger drink, some people opt to add tequila or mezcal.) That's it; it's the lazy girl's coffee cocktail dream come true.
However, if you would like to spice it up a bit and have a few extra ingredients, tools, and minutes, Pergola also offers a leveled-up variation on the recipe: "The Nespresso Carajillo Macchiato is a fun twist with the addition of milk foam, a dash of cinnamon, and a fancy sugared rim."
Because I prefer to drink my coffee black (and also don't own a cocktail shaker or milk frother), I opted to make the classic version of the carajillo. It turned out delicious, and I was still able to preserve that glorious layer of espresso foam on top despite playing it fast and loose with the measurements and directions. (You've gotta love a recipe that'll taste great no matter how much you wing it.) The Licor 43 has a warm, vanilla taste that reminds me of a sweeter version of spiced rum and pairs perfectly with coffee. Still, I find the carajillo to be less sickly sweet than espresso martinis, which often contain Kahlúa and sugar syrup to cover up the vodka taste. The only thing I'd do differently next time is use larger ice cubes so the drink doesn't get watered down as quickly. If you have a tray to make those giant whiskey ice cubes or spheres, that's the way to go.
Whether you want to enjoy a simple, classic carajillo or try your hand at Pergola's version, there's a carajillo recipe here for you. Either way, I bet you'll love it just as much as I do.
If you're using a Nespresso machine, Pergola recommends using one Vertuo capsule to produce a double espresso, or two Original capsules, which yield about 2.7 ounces of coffee. For the best results, "you'll want a coffee with a deeper or woody/roasted profile to stand up to the alcohol in the drink," he says, specifically calling out Master Origin Mexico (Vertuo) or Rio de Janeiro (Original).
- Classic Carajillo:
1 1/2 to 2 ounces brewed espresso
1 1/2 to 2 ounces Licor 43
- Macchiato Carajillo:
2.7 ounces brewed espresso
1 1/2 ounces Licor 43
2 ounces milk
Plate of raw sugar, about 1/4 cup
- Prepare an espresso. Set aside.
- Fill a rocks glass halfway with ice.
- Pour Licor 43 over the ice, and stir.
- Pour the espresso over the ice and liqueur.
- If the foam stays in the espresso glass, carefully spoon it over the top of the cocktail.
Nespresso Macchiato Carajillo:
- Froth milk (on cold setting, if possible).
- Prepare glass by wetting rim with a damp paper towel.
- Dip glass rim into sugar and rotate to coat. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, combine brewed espresso and liqueur in shaker.
- Fill shaker with ice, and cover. Shake until cold, and strain into prepared glass with fresh ice.
- Spoon foam onto surface of drink.
- Top with a dash of cinnamon. Enjoy!
- Drinks, Cocktails
- 1 drink
- Total Time
- 4 minutes, 59 seconds