Both the espresso martini and the carajillo are coffee-based cocktails that highlight the bold flavor of espresso. However, they have some key differences in their ingredients, preparation methods, and presentation that distinguish one drink from the other.
What is an espresso martini?
An espresso martini is a sophisticated cocktail that combines vodka, espresso, and coffee liqueur for a pick-me-up drink with a caffeine kick. While the exact origins are debated, London bartender Dick Bradsell is often credited with inventing the espresso martini in the 1980s.
The key ingredients in an espresso martini are:
- Vodka – The base spirit that provides alcoholic punch.
- Freshly brewed espresso – Gives the cocktail a strong coffee flavor.
- Coffee liqueur – Adds sweetness and extra coffee notes, such as Kahlua or Tia Maria.
An espresso martini is made by combining the vodka, espresso, and coffee liqueur in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. It’s shaken vigorously to blend and chill the ingredients, then strained into a chilled martini glass. The foam and crema from the espresso float to the top creating a frothy head on the cocktail.
Espresso martinis often contain simple syrup as well, to slightly sweeten the drink’s strong coffee bitterness. They may also be garnished with coffee beans or a twist of orange peel.
What is a carajillo?
A carajillo is a Spanish coffee drink made with espresso and brandy, whisky, or anisette liqueur. The name means “little coffee” in Spanish. It’s traditionally served as an after-dinner digestif in Spain and some Latin American countries.
The key ingredients in a carajillo are:
- Espresso – Freshly brewed hot espresso is the base.
- Brandy, whisky, or anisette liqueur – Typically added in equal parts to the espresso.
To make a carajillo, espresso is brewed hot and poured into a short glass like a shot or small tumbler. The brandy, whisky, or liqueur is then added and the drink is immediately served. The ingredients are not shaken or stirred – the carajillo is simply tos
While both cocktails highlight espresso, the espresso martini and carajillo have several key differences:
Type of drink
Espresso martini: A cold, shaken cocktail typically served straight up in a martini glass.
Carajillo: A warm, mixed drink usually served in a short tumbler and meant to be consumed quickly.
Main alcoholic spirit
Espresso martini: Vodka is the primary spirit.
Carajillo: Typically brandy or whisky is used.
Other main ingredients
Espresso martini: Includes coffee liqueur as a key ingredient, which adds sweetness.
Carajillo: Generally just espresso and the alcoholic spirit of choice.
Espresso martini: Sweeter due to the added coffee liqueur and optional simple syrup.
Carajillo: Bitter with no sweetener added to balance the espresso.
Espresso martini: Shaken hard with ice to emulsify, blend, and chill.
Carajillo: Espresso and liqueur simply poured together in a glass.
Foam and texture
Espresso martini: Thick, frothy, creamy foam from shaking espresso.
Carajillo: No foam – thin and liquid.
Espresso martini: Stronger due to a higher total alcohol content from vodka.
Carajillo: Alcohol content moderated by serving espresso and liqueur in equal parts.
Espresso martini: Robust espresso blended with spices and vanilla notes from coffee liqueur.
Carajillo: Pure espresso taste highlighted without added flavorings.
There are numerous variations of both drinks that play with ingredients and presentation:
Espresso martini variations
- Vodka or gin – Gin can be substituted for vodka depending on preference.
- Liqueur – Different coffee liqueurs such as Mr. Black or coffee-flavored options like Kahlua can provide unique twists.
- Syrups – Flavored syrups like vanilla, cinnamon, or salted caramel may complement the espresso.
- Foams – Some bars use foamed milk to add textural contrast.
- Liqueurs – Ouzo, rum, and amaretto offer their own flavor profiles.
- Spiced rums – Fuller-bodied dark rums can hold up to the espresso nicely.
- Cream – Some carajillos are made as a “carajillo cubano” with added sweetened condensed milk.
Occasions for Each Drink
When are each of these coffee cocktails most appropriate?
The espresso martini is often thought of as a sophisticated cocktail suited for:
- Date nights
- Intimate lounges or candlelit bars
- Special occasions and parties
- Late evenings when you want to extend the night
The carajillo has a more casual, everyday vibe that’s great for:
- Morning energy with breakfast
- Quick pick-me-up any time of day
- Post-dinner digestif
- Informal get-togethers with friends
Due to their very different ingredients and serving sizes, the nutrition facts for an espresso martini versus a carajillo differ significantly:
|Nutrition Facts||Espresso Martini (3.5 oz)||Carajillo (2 oz)|
|Carbohydrates||12 g||0 g|
|Sugar||10 g||0 g|
|Fat||0 g||0 g|
|Protein||1 g||0 g|
As you can see, the espresso martini has significantly more calories, carbohydrates, and sugar due to ingredients like vodka, coffee liqueur, and simple syrup. The carajillo offers the pure espresso taste with far fewer calories and no added sugars.
Caffeine levels can also differ quite a bit between these two coffee cocktails:
- Espresso martini: Approximately 150-200mg caffeine per serving
- Carajillo: Approximately 80-100mg caffeine per serving
The espresso martini generally contains more caffeine because it uses a greater volume of espresso. A carajillo is a smaller, more concentrated serving of just 1-2 oz espresso. However, the exact caffeine content can vary based on the specific coffees and serving sizes used.
Due to the premium ingredients like vodka and coffee liqueur, an espresso martini will typically cost more at a bar or restaurant than a carajillo:
- Espresso martini: Often $8 to $14 on a cocktail menu in the U.S.
- Carajillo: May cost $3 to $5 since it uses less liquor.
However, as drinks made at home, the cost difference is negligible. The base spirits used in each are relatively inexpensive. So the price point comes down mainly to your choice of coffee and any specialty liqueurs or syrups.
Both drinks have grown in popularity and recognition over recent decades:
- Espresso martini: Skyrocketed to become a trendy cocktail menu staple around the world.
- Carajillo: Remains a classic Spanish and Latin American digesitif, but less widely consumed than in the past.
The espresso martini has clearly gained more widespread fame and followers. Its versatility as either an after-dinner drink or a pick-me-up any time of day makes it appealing to a wider audience. The carajillo remains ingrained in its traditional role.
While both feature espresso, the overall flavor experiences of an espresso martini versus carajillo are quite distinct:
Espresso Martini Flavor Profile
- Strong espresso – Prominent coffee flavor from freshly brewed espresso
- Vanilla and spice notes – From coffee liqueurs like Kahlua
- Sweetness – From added sugar syrup to balance bitterness
- Creamy, frothy texture – From shaking espresso into a luxurious foam
Carajillo Flavor Profile
- Pure espresso – Forward dark roast coffee taste
- Alcohol bite – From brandy or whisky
- Slightly bitter – No added sugar
- Thin body – Liquid state rather than thick foam
The espresso martini offers a more sweet, creamy, and multidimensional coffee experience. The carajillo is simpler – just strong espresso and alcohol.
Certain foods pair well with each drink’s particular flavors:
Espresso Martini Pairings
- Chocolate cake or lava cake
- Creamy cheeses
- Vanilla gelato or affogato
- Almond biscotti
- Cuban cigars
- Spanish flan
The espresso martini matches nicely with desserts that complement its vanilla notes and sweetness. The carajillo pairs well with foods like churros that don’t clash with its strong bitter coffee taste.
How to Make an Espresso Martini
Looking to shake up an espresso martini at home? Here is a simple recipe and method:
- 2 oz vodka
- 1 oz freshly brewed espresso, chilled
- 1 oz coffee liqueur like Kahlua
- 1⁄2 oz simple syrup
- Coffee beans for garnish
- Brew espresso and let chill completely, at least 1 hour.
- Fill cocktail shaker with ice cubes.
- Add vodka, chilled espresso, coffee liqueur, and simple syrup.
- Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds.
- Fine-strain into chilled martini glass.
- Garnish with a few coffee beans.
- Serve immediately.
How to Make a Carajillo
To make an authentic carajillo at home:
- 2 oz espresso
- 2 oz Spanish brandy
- Brew espresso.
- Pour hot espresso into tumbler.
- Add an equal part brandy.
- Stir gently and serve while hot.
While both cocktails are coffee-based drinks, the espresso martini and carajillo offer very different drinking experiences. With its silky foam, touch of sweetness, and vanilla undertones, the espresso martini is a sophisticated blended cocktail. The carajillo is a simpler combination of pure espresso and brandy for a strong, bitter pick-me-up.
The martini is shaken and chilled, while the carajillo is quickly mixed and served hot. Vodka adds more alcoholic impact to the martini versus the lighter splash of brandy in the carajillo. Their ideal drinking occasions also diverge, with the martini better for special nights out and the carajillo preferred as an everyday after-dinner tradition.
Yet both elegantly highlight the bold, rich flavor of quality espresso. So whether you’re looking for a lively cocktail or a little coffee bump, either drink offers a chance to savor some java in liquid form.