Caffè Corretto

{Two Ingredient Tuesday}

Coffee beans + Sambuca photo 2ITCoffeeplusSambuca_zpsc5b4fd1b.jpg

Here’s how I judge coffee: if the light passes through it, it’s not strong enough. I’ve always been that way, and so has everyone else in my family. I use a French press for my everyday cup of dark, evil, caffeine mud, but even the best French press coffee pales in comparison to a perfectly brewed shot of espresso.

When I studied in Bologna, I took a course in macroeconomics. The lectures were three hours long every Thursday afternoon in a cavernous wood-panelled hall. To make matters worse, Bologna is built over an ancient network of canals, so the humidity is outrageous in every season. It was hard to stay focused, no matter how passionate you were about fiscal policy.
Halfway through each class, the students insisted on a 10-minute pausa (in Italian time, that’s 25 minutes) to go outside and have a break for espresso and cigarettes. This suited the professor just fine; he was a British expatriate, and three hours of lecturing in Italian usually left him visibly exhausted.

Espresso and sugar spoon photo P1020997_zps24df0be3.jpg

Now, there’s a bar just around the corner from that lesson hall (out the door, make a right, walk past the line of 40 or so gleaming Vespa mopeds, and there it is). The proprietor is a friendly man who always called me bella mia. This was the bar where I had my first caffè corretto, a shot of espresso “corrected” with a shot of Sambuca.

No one out-classes the Italians when it comes to mixing uppers and downers.

Sambuca and espresso photo P1020990_zpse1a908c7.jpg

Let me tell you, economic theory + espresso + hard liquor makes for a fascinating academic experience. The espresso zips you to attention, but the Sambuca softens the caffeine high. It’s not for everyone, but if it’s for you, it’s for you. (For those concerned about mixing caffeine and alcohol, the quantities are small enough to be safe. Contrary to popular belief, espresso has a lower caffeine content than regular strong coffee.)

Sugar bowl with spoon photo P1020995_zps82be5075.jpg

Like most people, I don’t have an espresso machine. To make caffè corretto at home, I either brew a small double-strength cup in a French press, or I use my moka. These charming little coffee pots can be found on every Italian stovetop in the morning. Moka espresso can’t replicate the creaminess and intensity of machine-brewed espresso, but it’s pleasant in its own way, and a lot cheaper. They have a small chamber for water, a little aluminum cone for the coffee grounds, and the pot at the top where the coffee bubbles into.

I bought mine on the last day before I left Bologna—I had my heart set on the two-shot red moka, but I let a man go in front of me in line, and he bought the last one. I never quite forgave him for that, but I’ve grown to love my little one-shot green one instead.

Moka photo P1030010_zpsedd1ee4d.jpg
 photo P1030012_zps14adaca8.jpg
Moka grounds photo P1030021_zps235e7f96.jpg

For those who dislike the anise flavour of Sambuca, espresso can also be “corrected” with grappa, a deliciously potent Italian liquor (technically a brandy) made from the grape skins and stems left over from wine production. Grappa proofs vary widely, but most bottles fall in the 70- to 100-proof range, stronger than the average 84-proof Sambuca (vodka, by comparison, is traditionally 80-proof). Like any alcohol, you get what you pay for, and it doesn’t pay to skimp. Mike, the owner of my local wine shop, describes grappa’s flavour as “like drinking gasoline”—not an experience I’ve ever had with good grappa. Like any liquor, there’s a wide range of quality. You might as well get the good stuff.

Moka on stovetop photo P1030029_zps912deaa1.jpg

Notes & Variations: Most Italians drink their espresso well-sugared. I tend to agree. If you don’t have a moka, a French press is the next best thing, but very strong percolated coffee will work in a pinch. Fresh coffee grounds make a difference; it’s estimated that coffee loses most of its flavour within seconds of grinding, which is why those baristas are always in such a dreadful hurry.

Two-Ingredient Tuesday Rules: I place no limitations on the complexity of the recipe itself, but the entire dish from start to finish must contain two ingredients. However, there are four freebies that don’t count as ingredients: water, oil, salt, and pepper. I don’t count these because they act as integral seasonings and vehicles for common cooking methods, rather than acting as ingredients, and besides, everyone has them in their kitchen.

Caffè Corretto

Makes 1 shot

Coffee beans, dark espresso roast
Sambuca or grappa

Coffee grinder (preferably a burr grinder)

1. Disassemble your moka pot and fill the bottom chamber up to the safety valve with cold water.

2. Grind your beans coarsely and spoon them into a loose mound (a collina, or “hill” in Italian) into the cone, and put it back onto the pot.

3. Screw the top onto the moka, being careful not to spill the grounds. Put on a hot plate (preferable) or a very low gas flame. The water in the bottom chamber will boil, rise through the coffee grounds, and bubble into the top chamber as espresso. Wait for all the water to boil out before taking it off the stove.

4. Pour into an espresso cup and add an equal measure of Sambuca or grappa. Stir in sugar, if that’s how you roll.



  1. Eryka Kuusisto

    You really know your coffee! This sounds fantastic. My husband will flip for this. Can’t wait to try it!
    P.S. love your blog

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