What is a pousse-cafe?

pousse_cafe

From Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book, How to Mix Drinks

Popularized in the mid-1800s, a poussé cafe is a multicolored, layered drink taken as a coffee chaser. In French, poussé literally means “to push,” as in, to push down the coffee. The differing specific gravities of each liqueur keeps the layers separate, though you have to be careful to pour slowly over the back of a spoon to achieve the Missoni-like layered look. At some point, these concoctions must have been popular.

The 1862 edition of seminal bartender Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks lists three poussé recipes under the heading “Fancy Drinks,” including Pousse l’Amour, pictured here. To make the drink, you start with maraschino liqueur, then add an egg yolk (believe it or not, this was fashionable back then), vanilla liqueur, and brandy on top. Then sip the drink, layer by layer.

Side note: A century later, in the 1960s, Duke Ellington wrote the music for a Broadway show called Pousse-Cafe. It flopped, much like the cocktail would on a bar menu today. That egg yolk, and all that sugar! But it’s an interesting piece of cocktail ephemera, nonetheless. Cheers!