Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Kapali Coffee Liqueur

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


Eleven months a year, Bottom Shelf research coordinator Emily and I have a fair, precise, and effective labor agreement: I do the shopping and the cooking, and she does the everything elseing.

This suits me fine because I like to cook. Or rather, I like to eat and drink things that have been prepared in my kitchen and to my specifications; that's the only way to ensure the Brussels sprouts get burned, the whiskey gets overpoured, and the mustard gets slathered on every edible surface. I would make eager and lasting peace with anyone who wanted to do all this for me, but I've met no such angels. So I make dinner for us on weeknights.

I always make enough for Emily to take the leftover leftovers (the part I don't eat with my hands while she does the dishes) to work for the next day's lunch. This is so convenient and frugal and thoughtful of me! It completely makes up for the fact that she alone among us requires lunch at work the next day.

But this arrangement falls apart in December, because insufficiently gluttonous office workers such as Em don't need lunches from home; they instead subsist on the cookies and cakes and other sprinkled and frosted items that lay around every corner in the sugar-infestived corporate environment. Not having to produce leftovers is helpful in that it expands my dinner repertoire to include delicacies such as fish and take-out, but it also robs me of a key component of my usefulness. I might have to start planting spiders around the apartment to earn the next couple weeks of my keep.

And the other downside is HEY NO ONE BRINGS COOKIES TO MY UNOFFICE. This is wildly unfair, and since my only coworker is a part-time research coordinator who has her own cookie needs amply met and doesn't bake or shop anyway, I don't see any way to restore justice. Wait, yes I do. I guess I could just start drinking during the day.

That's a fair, festive, and harmless holiday indulgence, right? I'm not talking about cracking Thursday morning beers or sipping whiskey throughout the day or anything savage like that. I've never really gotten the hang of the whens and whats of socially sanctioned off-peak drinking, but I'm pretty sure you're only allowed to drink early beers if you're camping, and I don't camp. The whiskey sipping might pass muster if I could sell it as some kind of old-timey writer affectation, but that's ruled out by my constitutional inability to sip things. I need something a little lower proof.

So now I'm leaning toward getting through these last couple weeks of domestic upheaval by finding just the right little something to sweeten my coffee. I don't drink a lot of things in the 30- to 50-proof range, but I think that's what this job calls for, and even though I didn't have any good memories of Kahlua, I figured that was the natural place to start the auditions.

I've always thought of Kahlua as something grandmas hide under the kitchen sink, and while of course I have the utmost respect for that heritage, I still don't really see myself as a Mudslide/White Russian kind of guy. But it could work for my newly specific purposes, since it is coffee-flavored and -colored, which means there's the possible flavor affinity plus plausible deniability in case my imaginary teetotalling boss takes a sniffing gander at my mug.

I put a little Kahlua in my coffee last Saturday night at bar-work and it went better than expected. But before I committed to a whole bottle of my own, I felt both personally and professionally obligated to test out the cheapest knock-off I could find, which was Kapali Licor De Café, a coffee liqueur imported from Mexico by way of Maine.

Kapali costs $10 per 750mL at a store that gets $18 for Kahlua. They're both 40 proof; Kahlua bills itself as a liqueur made of sugarcane—i.e., rum—and coffee beans, whereas Kapali makes no mention of the base spirit, though rum seems likely.

Emily had a couple minutes to kill between cookie parties, so she was actually available to coordinate some research for the first time all month: She served me a secret, unmarked shot of each. They were clearly going after the same flavor effect, and one was clearly superior in every regard.

Merry Christmas, bargain-hunting morning drinkers! Kapali is far better than Kahlua. It smells deeper and more complex, with strong coffee scents that are simultaneously sweet and roasted. It's very rich and thick, and has dark fruit notes under the pleasant wave of coffee. Kahlua's like that, but less so, and with a harsh booze bite where the dark fruit ought to be.