The Flaming Coffee-Rum Cocktail of Portland, Spanish Coffee

The Flaming Coffee-Rum Cocktail of Portland, Spanish Coffee
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There is nothing hotter than the Flaming Moe when it comes to drinks.

Generally speaking, Spanish Coffee is a peculiar drink, since the farther you are from Spain, both geographically and culturally, the more interesting and specific it becomes. You begin with a word like “hippopotamus” and by the end you are able to compose an English sonnet. This is similar to playing telephone, where you begin with a word such as “hippopotamus”.

Whenever you order a boozy coffee in Spain, you will receive a Carajillo, which consists of just espresso and a spirit, either rum or brandy. Whenever you order one in Mexico, you will also be able to order something called a Carajillo, but Mexicans have their own charming dessert version: That same espresso mixed with a sweet vanilla liqueur, called Licor 43. You will, however, receive none of these items if you order one in Portland, Oregon. Instead, you will receive a Spanish Coffee.

The oldest surviving restaurant building in the city, Huber's, sits on 3rd Avenue, an historic street in the heart of Portland, approximately a couple blocks west of the Morrison Bridge. As a restaurant, Huber's is the oldest in the city, but it can also be described as something of a spectacle.

Despite the restaurant's mahogany and stained glass, the staff uniform, wing-collared dress shirts, vests, red ties, and occasionally sleeve garters manage to manage miraculously not to seem costumed. It has been 50 years since Huber’s first served a Spanish Coffee, which is a flamboyant and flamboyant mixture of brewed coffee, triple sec, Kahlua and blisteringly high-proof rum.

There is a murky, unsatisfying and ultimately irrelevant history to the drink: James Louie drew inspiration from a boozy coffee drink of the same name at a nearby restaurant, now long closed, which itself was supposedly influenced by the Mexican Carajillo, which itself was influenced by the Spanish one (the telephone game). What matters is what Louie did when he brought it back to Huber’s, ostensibly creating the spectacle for which they have become known.

When you order the Spanish Coffee, your bartender will coat the rim of the glass with sugar first, then pour 151-proof rum and triple sec in big cascading arcs, twisting while pulling the bottle away from the glass until a stream of liquid is 3-4 feet long.

No drops of this liquid will fall on the ground despite the acrobatics. A neat little trick will be performed by the bartender, where he separates and lights one match from a matchbook with just one hand, then ignites the high proof rum by twisting and swirling the glass for a minute, caramelizing the sugar rim. The fire will be smothered by cold semi-whipped cream, which layers on top like a blanket, after adding a few more long beams of Kahlua and hot coffee. There are a lot of juggling teams or circuses that employ straight from juggling teams. It's pretty impressive.

Finally, the biggest surprise is how good Spanish Coffee is. It tastes like you're eating a phenomenal meal on an airplane, something you wouldn't have expected. In America’s Weirdest City, or for those of us currently in the dead of winter, this drink is perfect for its balance, warmth, strength and richness.

No one knows. It doesn't matter. Now quiet down, you're missing the show. "But what's the difference between rum, Mexican liqueur, and Dutch triple sec?" I hear you ask.

Spanish Coffee

  • 1 oz. 151-proof rum
  • 0.25 oz. triple sec
  • 1.5 oz. coffee liqueur
  • 3 oz. hot coffee
  • Semi-whipped heavy cream

In order for the top half-inch of the glass to be coated in sugar, moisten the rim of the glass with a citrus wedge or water and dip it into a bowl of sugar. The rum must be added and ignited, making sure the glass is tempered and able to withstand the heat of the fire. The sugar should be caramelized for 60 to 90 seconds, while you angle and turn the glass to see it done. After it has caramelized, add hot coffee liqueur, cream and cinnamon, and then add coffee liqueur to finish the sugar. Garnish with a pinch of cinnamon if you wish.


Courtesy of Luxe Digital

However, aside from that, the above proportions are almost exactly what Huber's will tell you, and they are perfectly reasonable as well. If you wish to test out whether Huber's pours just one ounce of 151 into your glass when you order a Spanish Coffee (or watch a video on YouTube), I suggest that you order a Spanish Coffee from Huber's (or watch videos on YouTube).

Huber's offers measurements that are completely independent of any kind of recipe you might be familiar with. For example, there are only two ounces of Kahlua in your glass. If you do not get it right to pour a long showy stream of liquid, it can be hard to get it exactly right. Huber's makes a drink that is absolutely incredibly powerful, but despite its strength, it is still tasty. If you get it wrong, it can be quite dangerous.

You can just go with whatever 151-proof rum you can find if you are shopping for it. You can just go with whatever 151-proof rum you can find if you are shopping for it. There is no doubt Huber's uses 151-proof rum at their establishment, but they don't seem to care which brand they use, either Bacardi 151 or Cruzan 151 appears to be used in both videos, and when I was there in October, I had seen Cane Run 151.

I have noticed that I have found that my favorite rum for this is just a bit short of 151 proof, but strictly speaking that's not necessary. I have found that 151 proof is not necessary in order for a spark to ignite. A 138-proof rum, the Plantation O.F.T.D (Old Fashioned Traditional Dark, or "Oh Fuck That's Delicious," depending on whom you ask), is in my opinion a very good rum that burns and sizzles just as well as 151 while adding a depth to the rum that I greatly appreciate.

The orange liqueur is what makes it a Spanish Coffee in the first place. Without it, it might get confused for its Irish cousins. Without it, it might get confused for a Bourbon. The orange liqueur is what makes it a Spanish Coffee in the first place.

If you're torn between triple sec and curacao, pick triple sec. I always recommend Cointreau or Combier as mixers, but they're expensive, but they're the best. It's not as crucial in this drink as it is in others, such as the Cosmopolitan. Huber's uses Bols Triple Sec in a 42-proof bottle, which is very effective. As I have mentioned a number of times before, one of the most important things to keep in mind when making cocktails is that they are only as good as their weakest ingredient, so a weak liquor can ruin an entire drink if it is very old and very crusty.

Kahlua is the coffee liqueur used by Huber's, and you should use it as well. I do not think that Kahlua is as good as its competitors for general purposes. In this case, the coffee liqueur does not need to be quite as rich and roasty as it would have to be when paired with a full 3 oz. of coffee. Color me shocked when I found that none of the third-wave hipster coffee liqueurs were as good as Kahlua. I tried Borghetti and Tia Maria in side-by-side tests, and they were all as good as Kahlua.

Similarly to the amazing Irish Coffee, the cream plays a key role in tempering the alcohol and reducing the need for precision when it comes to sweetness and proof, just like with the incredible Irish Coffee. In order for the mix to thicken, you need to semi-whip it with a whisk, or else you can shake it in a jar for 30-60 seconds, until it increases by at least 50 percent. You would then layer it on top of the mix until it becomes light enough to thicken but still be pourable.

There are several reasons to use pre-ground nutmeg at Huber's, but in the end, it does not seem to benefit much from fresh ground nutmeg's peculiar intensity. Mixologically, fresh nutmeg is a must, but as it turns out, the nutmeg in Huber's is not a great match for this particular drink. In my opinion, a pinch of powdered cinnamon would complement the orange and coffee better. It is also not necessary to garnish it at all. It doesn't really matter how much it is.

There is a theory that the name is derived from the long "escanciado" pour of Spanish ciders it is distinguished by. Is it necessary to pour all the cider on your body? Of course it isn't. But unless you have a lot of practice or lots of spare booze, I wouldn't recommend it unless you have plenty of practice.

What is the importance of lighting it on fire? There are two reasons why I do not think that it is important: 1) Torched alcohol has a distinct taste to it, but once it is dressed in orange, Kahlua, coffee and cream, you cannot tell the difference; 2) setting the 151 on fire for 60 seconds does not reduce the alcohol as much as you think it will.

In spite of the fact that it is very beneficial to warm the glass and the liquid mixture, it only lowers the proof from 151 to about 142, which isn't that significant; if you were to reduce 151 to 50 percent alcohol, you would have to burn the 151 for three to four minutes in order to achieve this goal. It is true that both the sugar rim and the fire are wonderful, but neither is vital to a delicious Spanish Coffee. You are still able to enjoy it without the sugar rim and fire.

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