LEISURE LETTER 47: THE CARAJILLO | A BEVERAGE OF COURAGE
There’s a very special drink which deserves mentioning here. I first tried it in San Pancho, Nayarit, on a day of staggering heat, when I sat at the beachfront bar with the eminent photographer, Yacco Monti, who had been shooting photographs in the rainforest a week straight under the exacting direction of Tecate Jack, a quiet man sent down to Mexico by the overlords up on Floor 109, to shoot this new line of clothing as cheap and efficient as possible, while adhering to the dreamlike aesthetic of profound pictorial poetry. Yacco Was grumpy.
The friendly bartender approached our corner to inquire about our needs. I ordered a modelo, as usual. But Yacco had other ideas. When it was his turn, he turned to the bartender and said: Carajillo, por favor.
This is what the bartender did:
He procured the modelo, which I dressed with lime and salt.
He procured a stout cocktail glass in which he dropped 4 substantial rocks.
He procured from the rickety rack of liquors a bottle of Licor 43 from Cartagena, Spain.
He procured one shot of the most robust espresso.
He poured over the sweating rocks 2 oz of Licor 43, an aromatic symphony of 43 ingredients whose dominant flavor profile consists of citrus and vanilla.
He poured over the rocks and 43 one shot of the most robust espresso.
That was it. I sat there transfixed by the mere appearance of this drink – the dark and robust espresso resting over the light amber licor. Yacco stirred it to a creamy dark brown, mixing in the foam of the espresso. He took a sip and grinned. He then began to dance and sing. That’s when I knew there was something special about this dazzling digestif.
According to the hallowed lore of olden days, the carajillo was first poured in Cuba, during the Spanish occupation. Soldiers drank it for coraje, which means courage. Other versions place the origin in Catalonia, where the Carajillo was also consumed for its stimulating effects. I’ve come to admire one variation in particular: it is said that in Catalonia, a very long time ago, some very smart people would consume their licor together with their coffee, pouring one into the other and eliciting the Catalan phrase: Ara Guillo (Now I leave in haste). Here the carajillo becomes a matter of speed, efficiency, achieving a modicum of practical utility now long forgotten.
If you find yourself among colder climes, take your carajillo hot. I prefer mine on ice, as I tend to drift from one oven to the next, unafraid of sweat, nurturing shades of tan worthy of the Greek Gods and their many virtues. And if you really want to liven things up, order the Carajillo Menta, which comes with a splash of fernet. This is one drink you will never forget.
After we left San Pancho, having spent the day at the beach, and composed ourselves in the shade by the pool, we cleaned up and made our way to a gourmet restaurant on the water in Sayulita, Nayarit – there I witnessed a miracle. The photoshoot turned out to be a success, made apparent by the smug look of Tecate Jack who sat at the table enjoying his cool libation. Once again Yacco Monti was on deck to order. He turned to the waiter and paused, thinking about something. The dance of candlelight flickered over his broad handsome face. And then he began to speak:
“Carajillo por fa–” he paused. He smiled to himself and began speaking again. “Uno carajillo mezclado con pina colada por favor!”
The waiter looked shocked. Clearly Yacco was some kind of madman. But the waiter went with it. We could hear the bartenders laughing where they worked. This must have been the first carajillo pina colada ever made . . . Something of a creamy tropical coffee smoothie only a madman or a god could create. When it finally came to the table and Yacco took a draw from the straw, he smiled brightly and once again began to sing and to dance. He then stood up, curtsied, and went on singing and dancing down the cobblestone streets of Sayulita, Nayarit. The rest is history.
I have written all of this from a balcony in Mokuleia. The tradewinds are ripping across the island of Oahu, and over on the North Shore the big swells from the Bering Sea are beginning to pound the perilous reefs. From this perch I can nearly hear the thunder of the waves and the awesome blasts of seaspray. There is tremendous mana here, of which I am merely an atom, waiting to be blasted. It just now occurs to me that I might enjoy a Carajillo myself. Where I intend to go I will need all the courage I can get.