The origins of Cafe Brulot are murky at best. Antoine’s Restaurant claims that its first owner, Antoine Alciatore, invented the drink in the 1890s. Rivals of Antoine’s put forth stories involving creators as disparate as the pirate Jean Lafitte and the Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. While it does seem that Antoine’s popularized the New Orleans version of this flamed coffee drink, its origins actually lie in France.
There, bon vivants would soak a sugar cube in brandy, set it aflame, and drop the caramelized lump into their coffee in French, brulot translates as burnt brandy. Today in New Orleans, the drink is only made at a few old-line Creole restaurants, where it is made tableside. The waiter places cloves, cinnamon sticks, and citrus peel in a specially crafted brulot bowl that can withstand high heat. Brandy and sometimes
Grand Marnier are added, and then the mixture is set aflame. The moment of ignition is spectacular, and often the waiter will use a special ladle to lift the brandy out of the bowl and drizzle it onto the tablecloth, creating a ring of fire around the bowl.
Eventually, the fire is extinguished with the strong coffee.
If you want to try this drink, you will need to go to Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, Antoine’s, or Commander’s Palace. There may be a few more places that serve it, but not many. If you don’t want to commit to an entire meal at these locations, some places will let you order just the drink, particularly if you visit during slow times.
Also, keep in mind that you can’t order individual servings of Cafe Brulot; it only comes by the bowl. So, if you are dining alone, feel free to offer cups of the coffee to your fellow diners. You’ll be sure to win friends. John Ringling of Ringling Brothers Circus famously said of Cafe Brulot, What better than to taste the pleasures of heaven while beholding the flames of Hell?