Like clothes and music, cocktails go through periods of being fashionable and periods of being hidden away. But many old school cocktails are having a renaissance, and the pousse-café could be next
We like cocktails because they refer us back to a more decadent era, when there was more time to linger and love, to think and create, to impress friends with a thing of beauty. Few cocktails sum this up more than a pousse-café, yet it’s largely unheard of these days.
What is it?
A French tradition dating back to the 1800s, it translates almost literally as "coffee chaser". A digestif served with the coffee course after dinner, it included grenadine, cherry liqueur, crème de menthe, crème de violette, yellow Chartreuse and brandy. These ingredients were designed to help settle the stomach after a rich meal.
What do I serve it in?
A pousse-café has many distinguishing elements, first off is the glass. It’s a very specific vessel, rather like an oversized shot glass. A pousse-café glass, once a staple in any self-respecting dinner service, is rather hard to come by these days so you could use a straight champagne flute, or a slender tumbler.
It’s so pretty...
To create that beautiful layered effect, the ingredients must be poured, gently and slowly, over a bar spoon and down the side of the glass in an exact order – the heaviest spirit first, otherwise they will all sink. If you’ve ever made a coffee float, the technique is much the same as pouring the cream. If you are not using a traditional pousse-café recipe you can check this specific gravity chart to see the weight of the spirits or liqueur you are hoping to use.
Once you have the layering down, you can have a bit of fun with the weight. Why not make your final shot slightly heavier so it drops down through the layers. If you get this right it can create an eye-catching pattern; but just like learning to pour a silver fern on a flat white, it takes practise. Another way to impress is to light the cocktail with a bar torch. This will change the flavour, giving the spirit at the top a nuttier taste – and don’t forget to slam your hand over the glass to put out the flame before you drink it!
Try a B-52, a simple pousse-café style cocktail that makes a great after-dinner treat.