We’ve simplified things when it comes to after-dinner drinks: a little cognac, a touch of Grand Marnier, a snifter of Sambuca.
But 100 years ago, the ideal way among sophisticates to top off a meal was a bit more complicated. The rage then was the pousse-café, or “coffee chaser,” and done right, this layered drink is just as pretty to look at as it is fun to drink.
The idea is to pour portions of different liqueurs (and sometimes cream or syrups such as grenadine) on top of one another so that the densest is poured first, and then the next densest, and so on. The result is a multicolored drink that forms perfect layers as each liqueur “floats” on the one below it. The standard number was six, but smarty pants bartenders have been known to push that up to an astonishing 34 (served with a stretcher).
Traditionally, pousse-café is presented in its own special glass, similar to a cordial glass, that’s tall and narrow, making the most of the drink’s showiness.
Pousse-café seems to have developed in the late 1800s, and reached its apex around the turn of the 19th century, but the drink, and its many variations, is just as delicious now as then. All it takes to make one at home is a little bit of practice. Just be sure to pour over the back of a bar spoon carefully, and don’t jostle the glass or you’ll end up with a muddy mess.
Here are some recipes, but you can try your hand with your own concoction. It may take a bit of experimenting, but in general, add any syrups first, then liqueurs with lower alcohol content, then higher proof liqueurs, and finally, cream if using.
Good luck and have fun!
3/4 ounce Apricot Brandy
1/4 ounce heavy cream (OK, you can substitute light cream)
Pour the cream carefully over the back of a bar spoon to top the brandy.
For a variation, try different flavors of fruit brandy.