Infusions are what the name implies, flavoring agents added to cachaça* and left to steep. Two of the most popular are:
*What is cachaça? It’s Brazilian rum, so to speak. Both rum and cachaça are derived from sugar cane, except that in the production of rum some or all of the cane juice is first processed into molasses, which is then distilled, whereas for cachaça this intermediary step is left out.
Cravinho (made with clove), and
Jatobá (jah-toe-BAH), made with the bark of the jatobá tree (Hymenaea courbaril, so named for the conspicuous form of its leaves).
Another popular infusão is catuaba (renowned as an aphrodisiac), made from the bark of the catuaba tree (Erythroxylum catuaba).
These are specialties of O Cravinho on the Terreiro de Jesus in Pelourinho, where cravinho was invented (cravinho translates to “little clove”). There is also O Cravinho do Carlinhos on a street leading off of the terreiro, Rua João de Deus. Carlinhos worked at the original O Cravinho and in 1992 opened his own place up, where his wife Dona Vera is usually behind the counter (Carlinhos was the first president of bloco afro Olodum at its founding in Pelourinho in 1979).
O Cravinho on the terreiro is owned and run by the nephew of the founder, Julival Santos Reis, a gentle man with the manner and appearance of a field biologist. Sr. Reis will gladly and knowledgeably discuss (in Portuguese) distilling methods and the various types of woods utilized in barrels used to age cachaça, pointing out which of the barrels lining the walls in his establishment are constructed from which type of tree (massaranduba is a common one).
Sr. Reis’ establishment consists of a bar/restaurant in ambient amber-colored wood and a small annex to the right of the restaurant entrance where bottled cachaça may be purchased. The restaurant is a popular place where entering often means squeezing past patrons gathered at the very popular bar towards the front.
Other infusões include:
Canela (made from cinnamon),
Laranja (made from orange peel),
Erva Doce (made from cardamom seeds), and
Gengibre (made from ginger).
A Gabriela is made from a mixture of cravo & canela (clove & cinnamon), having been inspired by the Jorge Amado novel.
Honey and lime are usually added to the infusions upon serving, an exception being erva doce, which is usually taken as is.