Kicking off the first in a new Square Meal series looking at the world’s best-loved cocktails, Ben McCormack traces the history of the caipirinha
First there was the margarita, then the mojito. Now Latin America has given us another hugely popular cocktail: the caipirinha. Its ubiquity has little to do with its hard-to-say name – pronounced
‘kai-purr-een-yuh’ – and everything to do with its ease of preparation and the current trend for all things Brazilian.
OK, so sipping this mix of cachaça, lime and sugar can’t promise to transform your garden barbecue into the Rio carnival or make you look like Giselle, but it is 100
per cent guaranteed to refresh you.
The word caipirinha means ‘little countryside drink’ in Portuguese. Although there’s no definitive version of how the cocktail was invented, its story is bound up with that of cachaça, the spirit
that Brazilians drink a staggering 200 million
litres of every year.
It seems likely that the caipirinha evolved as workers on Brazil’s sugar cane plantations looked for a palatable way to drink the cachaça they were helping to produce. An alternative story has it
that Portuguese slave traders returning to Europe would use limes to prevent scurvy, which they added to the cachaça they’d picked up in Brazil and combined with sugar for sweetness.
Like rum, cachaça is made from sugar cane, but it has a stronger flavour and aroma because its distillation process retains more impurities. Unlike rum, cachaça does not taste particularly good on
its own – although aged cachaça sipped over ice is an exception. But it tastes very good indeed when mixed with fruit, be it the limes or cashew fruit native to Brazil or strawberries and
blackberries closer to home.
Nothing could be simpler than making a caipirinha: muddle some lime wedges with sugar and add cachaça and crushed ice. But, as is the case with many simple recipes, making a bit of effort will
improve the quality. For example, rolling the limes before you cut them will help release their juices and aromatic oils. Most bartenders also prefer
to use granulated sugar rather than sugar syrup: not only does its rough texture help extract more juice and oils from the lime but the melted sugar adds a sweet chewiness to the finished drink.
If you’re too lazy to make a caipirinha yourself, head to one of London’s handful of Brazilian bars. The current leader of the pack is Mocotó, the swish new Knightsbridge bar and restaurant that
sells nine caipirinhas based on exotic flavours such as passionfruit and pineapple. For something a little less glitzy, try three-year-old Guanabara in Covent Garden, where the authentic Brazilian
flavours in its 12 caipirinhas include the superfood du jour, açaí.
But Guanabara’s general manager, Chris Maxwell, has a few words of advice. ‘The caipirinha is a small drink and the cachaça doesn’t taste very potent when it’s mixed with the other ingredients,’ he
says. ‘But it’s pretty strong stuff and customers don’t usually realise this until they’ve had three or four glasses and they’re wobbling all over the place.’
Then again, if this happens to you, you can always pretend you’re practising your latest salsa moves.
CLASSIC CAIPIRINHA RECIPE
1 fresh lime, cut into four wedges
1½ teaspoons of sugar
Muddle the lime and sugar together in a tumbler and cover with crushed ice.
Pour 50ml of cachaça over the ice, stir it a few times and it is ready to drink.
Recipe courtesy of Mocotó
WHERE TO ORDER A CAIPIRINHA
Boteco Carioca 93 Charlotte Street, W1 Tel: 020 7637 0050
Favela Chic 91-93 Great Eastern Street, EC2 Tel: 020 7613 5228
Guanabara Parker Street, WC2 Tel: 020 7242 8600
Made in Brasil 12 Inverness Street, NW1 Tel: 020 7482 0777
Mocotó 145 Knightsbridge, SW1 Tel: 020 7225 2300
Sabor 108 Essex Road, N1 Tel: 020 7226 5551
Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Spring 2007