I love coffee. It’s one of my favorite daily pleasures, especially upon waking in the morning and after an afternoon nap – the rich aroma of roasted beans grinding, the dark bitter liquid frothing in the percolator. It’s mouthwatering. The only thing that ever makes it better is the correction.
The caffe corretto is generally accepted as an Italian specialty. However, fortified coffee drinks have a long international tradition that goes far beyond the colloquial “spiking” of your coffee. Through the centuries coffee drinks featuring some form of local distilled spirit have provided soldiers, sailors, farmers, and urbanites energy and courage to face war, long sea voyages, the elements, and another day at the office.
In Italy, the caffee corretto involves adding bit of grappa or sambuca or brandy to an espresso for flavoring. In other words, the espresso has been corrected by the flavoring of the spirit, not that there is anything wrong with the espresso. Think of the corretto as a cousin to the macchiato or the cappuccino, it is simply another (much better) coffee drink. Depending on the barrista, the spirit can be added directly to the espresso, or served on the side in a shot glass. The “best” barristas leave the bottle at the table so you can add as much spirit as you like.
In Spain, a similar flavored coffee drink is known as a carajillo. A glass is prepared with brandy, whisk(e)y, rum, or an anise-flavored spirit. Lemon, spices, sugar or other sweeteners can be added, depending on the house style, but the coffee is almost always added last and the liquids often separate. In this way you get the coffee first and finish with the spirit.
In Scandinavia a similar drink is available as kaffekask, kaffedoktor, karsk, kask, kaffeplörö, or rotar, however, the percentages of coffee to moonshine, vodka, or Everclear are inverted so that the coffee is intended to give the spirit some flavoring. In some recipes sugar is added.
The Irish Coffee features coffee, Irish Whiskey, sugar and an un-whipped cream topper. It is served warm and drunk through the cream on top which softens the bitterness of the coffee and warmth of the whiskey. American versions of corrected coffee drinks can be as simple as adding a neutral spirit or flavored liqueur to a cup of coffee. (Though some recipes suggest adding canned whipped cream and cinnamon to the simplest versions of these drinks, this should be considered a poor life-choice.)
A German corrected coffee drink, the Rüdesheimer Kaffee, which is also very similar to the American Spanish Coffee, involves adding brandy to a sugar-rimmed mug which is then set aflame to warm the spirit and caramelize the sugar before the coffee is added. The German drink, like the American, can be topped with whipped cream and garnished.
The corrected coffee takes many forms and has a potential spectrum of flavors that include coffee, spices, citrus, and the warming effects of a spirit. In many countries, the fortified coffee drink is very much a part of the culture and traditions of the local coffee culture. Some of the beverages have remained true to their origins and are prepared the way they were decades and centuries ago, others have been modified with the times.
Whether you are a coffee drinker or a barrista, it is my intention with this article to entice you to add some version of corrected coffee to your menu. Obviously, the fun part is discovering which correction you prefer the most, and how much of what adds that special something to your coffee experience.
After years of travel and corrected coffee research, I have adopted a northern European model when correcting most of my coffee drinks: 2 to 3 parts flavored spirit (usually anise, however lemon, spices and brown sugar can add intriguing nuances to the coffee, especially if the beans and barrista are top quality); 1 part espresso (ristretto preferred). Sip, don’t shoot.
In fact, dear barrista, could you please just leave the sambuca with me?