How Italy 'Corrected' Coffee With A Shot Of Booze

Foodies everywhere owe Italy a great big "thank you" for pasta (obviously). But, the boot-shaped country also deserves a hand for its collection of lesser-known, avant-garde contributions to global gastronomy like the countercultural Negroni Sbagliato or the Italian Futurism-inspired Marinetti sauce. Today, we're deep-diving into another forgotten pearl: The caffè corretto. Where espresso martinis use vodka and Irish coffees use whiskey, the caffè corretto (aka "corrected coffee") is a coffee cocktail dream come true for people who love herbaceous liqueurs.

The "correction" part came from a slug of booze. But, unlike adding a few drops of water to open up the flavor of whiskey, the spirit in caffè corretto is more of a workhorse than a subtle enhancer. The drink originated in Italy sometime during the 1930s as a DIY way of getting around the steep espresso taxes instigated by Mussolini's regime, per Punch. Unable to purchase coffee grounds, Italian coffee fans began making substitutes out of chicory and orzo — and a shot of alcohol to improve (or mask) the taste. Still, the complex flavor of the bittersweet espresso combined with warming, spicy alcohol is something to talk about. Some folks even set the drink on fire to add a lightly toasted flavor (and impressive visuals).

High-class hair of the dog

Different regions opted for different spirits. Northern Italian foodies spiked their caffè corretti with sambuca, aquavit, or grappa. If you've never tried it, grappa is a spiced brandy made from grape pomace (aka parts of the fruit that are usually discarded, like stems and seeds) and it burns like tequila. In the north, the drink was enjoyed as a morning pick-me-up. Central and Southern Italians spiked their espresso with anisette and drank it as a post-meal digestif. In this way, the drink's ABV can differ depending on whether it's made with a liquor or a liqueur.

Today, caffè corretti have fallen out of popular flavor in the contemporary bevy scene, but they haven't disappeared entirely. Modern presentations of the caffè corretto are no longer purely utilitarian. The drink arrives in two cups: One shot of espresso and one shot of alcohol. It's up to the enjoyer to combine and sip or rip 'em individually. Caffè Marchio in Manhattan's Flatiron district serves caffè corretti spiked with Fernet Branca or Cynar, while Patrick Poelvoorde of Park Tavern in San Francisco makes a version of the drink that's essentially a caffè corretto-espresso martini fusion, right down to the espresso bean trio garnish (via Saveur). Ultimately, with two ingredients and no definitive measurements, this caffeinated piece of Italian history is both simple and flexible. Add more or less as you please.