Apr 29th, 2020, 09:31 PM


By Paola Zea
carajillo, licor 43
Image credt: Alberto J. Rementeria
The mysterious origin and simple preparation of this treat

This emblematic drink has dominated Mexican meal times for years as it is so enticing. What a better combination than coffee and a sweet dessert liquor. However for most of the (Mexican) population that loves this drink, its origin to most remains a mystery I am here to resolve. This drink is composed simply of two ingredients,  a shot of Licor 43 and a shot of espresso on the rocks. Strong and rich tasting, taken over by the sweetness of the licor, enhanced by the coffee. There is no better duo. It gives you a great kick of energy while digesting a massive meal as we do in Mexico. 

We tend to make lunchtime last. What we like to call “the over-the-table” is a long pleasant meal that could go on from lunchtime till dinner and even longer. A very traditional tendency Mexicans put into action especially during the weekends, when your accompanied by your family and/or friends and want to make the moment last. When you are eating and drinking and having a great conversation why would you want it to end? So we extended, and gave it a name; in Spanish “La sobre mesa”. Once that big meal is over, (at least the lunchtime one) before you even choose a dessert, you drink a Carajillo. After so much time socializing and eating you need a kick of energy and this little drink will do just the trick, to motivate you to continue to enjoy the pleasant moment before it gets ruined by that food coma fatigue. As normal as this tradition may be among us, it is hard to tell who came up with it first, thus it is one hell of a story to discover. It is, in fact, a long term mix of Latin cultures; including, Spain and Cuba, and therefore influencing the rest of Latin-America.


Origin Possibilities:

It is important to understand before I explain the roots of this drink, the preparation consisted of liquor with coffee always. Nevertheless, different types of licor were used depending on the place of origin. These will be considered as options as they are both valid possibilities of origin. (I would bet my money on Cuba though). Both theories appear to be connected, although it is hard to know who came up with it first, one definitely influenced the other. Both origins are equally popular, I encountered, however, one of them is Cuba in the provincial era when the Spanish colonized them in the XIX century. The preparation was with high-quality rum or Jerez licor which was imported from Spain. They were accustomed to drinking the beverage before battle. For a kick of energy and courage, the name “Carajillo”, came up after calling it “Corajillo” from coraje (courage). 

If we focus on its Spanish decent, also in the XIX century, a different kind of culture had appropriated the drink: the transport workers in Barcelona, who worked in the France station. The men in a hurry would ask baristas to mix their alcoholic beverage without specification but probably along the lines of whiskey, Jerez licor, and perhaps rum. They would ask to have it mixed with their coffee as to consume more efficiently. The name of this emblematic beverage, therefore coincides with other roots. At the same time these workers would ask for their mixed drink with their coffee, they would exclaim, “que era guillo” which means “I gotta go”. Later on the phrase evolved to the same sounding word “Carajillo”. These origins are two different versions although both may be correct to some extent, as both of these cultures and countries were so intertwined at the time of the creation. Now the only question raised is where the Licor del 43 came into play with this drink.


Licor del 43

It is one of the top sold Spanish liqueurs and the Carajollo is one of the main reasons. Its origins are in Cartagena, Spain, the sole place where its production takes place. Invented in 1946 by the Zamora family. However, they were not the designers of this carefully composed beverage. In 209 BC,  when the Greeks conquered Carthago Nova, they discovered a marvelous elixir elaborated with fruits and herbs. It was a traditional drink from the area, which was then called, liqueur Mirabilis although, to avoid temptations the Romans forbade its consumption as well as its production. Nevertheless, the Carthaginians continued its production in secret, keeping this tradition alive. What is remarkable about Licor 43 is that they claim to still make it with the original recipe. They named the elixir 43 because, that is the number of ingredients it consists of.

The Zamora family, put in all their money into growing the business. They themselves, bottled the liqueur and worked long hours to make it work. However humble the business started, it was driven by pure passion. It shortly reached success all around Spain. In that time and place, advertisement was in full bloom, and the company flourished by focusing on their marketing strategies with graphic designs and audiovisuals. As the beverage became almost a tourist attraction, the company proceeded to internationally expand the product.

I conclude that there is no wrong or right way to make a Carajillo, it depends on the tradition you want to follow. It is almost a poetic story and a prime example of how Latin cultures have merged over time and how they adopt each tradition in their own way. However, there is a reason why Licor 43 dominated the way we make a Carajillo today. I highly recommend you to follow the Mexican mannerism to enjoy a long lunch (the over-the-table) with loved ones, or just some friends to have a nice time and a laugh. This drink ensures you will make the good time last.