Caipirinha (Kye-Pee-Reen-Ya!) is the traditional cocktail of Brazil, the drink that you will see on the table at every beach quiosque, being passed around any family Sunday churrasco, and the one that you will receive for free on any boat trip worth the name.
There are only three principal ingredients for a traditional caipirinha (four if you count crushed ice as an ingredient): freshly squeezed lime juice; white sugar; and cachaça (cash-ass-ah!), Brazil’s legendary sugar cane spirit. It is the easiest cocktail in the world to make, but also surprisingly easy to mess up. If you want to impress your Brazilian hosts and Brazilian friends, a good first step is to master the gentle art of making a good caipirinha.
If you want to practice on your own first, you can buy a socador de limão. This is the wooden mortar and pestle combination that is used to grind the juice out of the fresh limes. This needs to be done with a little care though. The lime juice takes the bite from the cachaça, while the sugar takes the tang from the lime juice.
To begin, hold your limes horizontally in front of you on a chopping board. Slice off both ends, not removing too much green flesh, just the green rind and the white pith. Put these two end-pieces on one side, you’ll need them later.
The open ends of the lime now show you the limewheel. The central core of the pith needs to be removed, as this is the bitter part. Check out the axis and cut just to one side of the core, halving the lime. One half of your lime should have core, one should be clean. Half and quarter and maybe eighth the clean part and place in your cup. Lay the other half on its back and again cut just to the side of the core. Now you should be able to cut the core clean away without taking any flesh with it. Halve and halve again your lime pieces, and into the cup with them.
With all your lime pieces, take the crusher and gently grind out the lime juice from each piece. Don’t crush the limes as this releases the bitterness from the pith. Whatever you do, NEVER make caipirinha in a liquidiser. This is a Crime Against Caipirinha, although this has only ever been encountered in Argentina, certainly not in Brazil!
Brazilians like to share caipirinhas, usually passing around a large glass or cup, so 3 or 4 limes can be used, perhaps 1 ½ for individual drinks, depending on the amount of juice. Add at least a couple of generous desert spoons of sugar and mix to a paste.
Caipirinha Tip 1 – if you prefer to have your own caipirinha rather than share with others, a sensible limit of three is recommended! They are so easy to drink that they can go down rather quickly, so three in row means that all that sugar and alcohol arrive together twenty minutes later. It can bring a flush to the face in many different ways...
Caipirinha Tip 2 – Brazilians like a lot of sugar in their caipirinhas. To avoid ingesting so much, drink through a straw from the top of the drink and never stir the layer of sugar at the bottom.
So... Open your cachaça bottle, don’t use an expensive one, the regular supermarket/corner shop brands a step up from rocket fuel are good enough for caipirinha. Better ones are for drinking. The pouring end is usually regularised, so counting to 10 as you pour should do it. Then a little more just to be sure – the chorinho, the little tear. If you can’t make a good caipirinha, be sure to make a strong one. Mix together with your paste, fill a glass with crushed ice and pour your caipirinha on top of the ice, filling up the glass, and you should be ready to hand it to your friends to try.
Cocktails are about appearance as much as content. A Brazilian caipirinha is usually a functional drink, invented to open the appetite before eating. If you want your caipirinha to stand out from the crowd, you need to decorate it. If you have nothing decorative to hand, or no imagination of your own at the moment of preparation, then the simplest way is to keep with the lime colour scheme. Placing a lime wheel or slice at the top of your glass is the obvious one, but we have a better idea.
Take the sliced end of one lime, cut this in half and then nick the two halves at the original centre point, around half a centimetre. Take the two sem-circles and attach them to the rim of your glass by the nicked part, back to back. You may be surprised by how impressed some people are by your borboleta decoration.
Enjoy your caiprinha!
Once you have mastered the traditional lime, you can try other Brazilian fruits. Maracuja (passion fruit) is about the best alternative, with a combination of lime and maracuja being the favourite of your writer (the caissara). Other fruits such as strawberry, kiwi and pineapple (or morango, kiwi e abacaxi if you prefer) work better with vodka, although this should be called a caipiroska or caipivodka. There is even a campaign in Brazil to reclaim the caipirinha name for cachaça-based drinks only.
A caipirinha should be made with cachaça after all.