CAFÉ DE OLLA

I vividly remember the first time I really tasted café de olla. It was a sunny summer morning in Mexico City’s upscale Polanco district and I was eating brunch with my then-boyfriend and his parents at a well-known restaurant (side note: I would later marry him). I say “really tasted” because I know that a few times earlier in my life I’d had some bastardized versions—God-knows-where in the Midwest—that just had cinnamon in it and were called “Mexican coffee,” or worse, actually passed off as café de olla by name on the menu.

In terms of food and beverage experiences, this first taste of real café de olla was a pivotal moment in the way that I viewed coffee. It suddenly became more than a morning caffeine fix, laced with milk and sugar. The restaurant, El Bajío, has become one of my all-time-favorite places and is known for its truly traditional Mexican fare. They serve their café de olla in a beautiful tiny earthenware mug that resembles a larger olla. If you’ve never seen one, an olla is a big lead-free clay pot that is glazed on the inside for cooking and typically painted with a folk art design on the outside.

El Bajío also introduced me to many traditional foods that I’d never eaten before and changed the way I felt about Mexican cooking. So, I suppose to say it changed my view of coffee is certainly an understatement. It introduced me to a host of new flavors and ideas; it made me want to learn to cook traditional Mexican food and toss out any Americanized recipe I’d ever made. It is for the above reasons that I chose café de olla as the first recipe to share here.

If you’ve not been to Mexico City, you likely haven’t heard of El Bajío. Founded in 1972 by Raúl Ramírez Degollado and Alfonso Hurtado Morellón, the restaurant is now run by Carmen “Titita” Ramírez Degollado, who took over when her husband passed away in the late 1970s.  El Bajío has six locations: the original, Cuitláhuac, and five others. Of the many times I’ve had the pleasure to eat there, I’ve only ever visited the Polanco location but my husband has been to both the Cuitláhuac and Polanco dining rooms. Usually when we go to El Bajío with family, it’s to the one in Polanco.

To read more about the restaurant and to view their menu, you can visit El Bajío online.

When I returned to Chicago that summer, one of the first things I did was make the trip to a Mexican grocer in Pilsen to find piloncillo and start experimenting. Named for its cone shape, piloncillo is unrefined brown sugar, a result of the cristallization of two types of sugar cane. It’s also known as panela or panocha, though I wouldn’t walk into a store and ask for it using those names; you may get some strange looks due to the slang meanings.

Some people like to flavor their café de olla with whole cloves, aniseed or allspice. I did a bit of research and there are even some weirdos who put semi-sweet chocolate in their café de olla—guacala. (A Spanish expression reserved for a supreme form of icky.) Not me; I like to keep it pretty simple.

Now, every time I drink café de olla, I close my eyes with the first sip and remember the start of my journey into traditional Mexican cooking. I hope you’ll enjoy my recipe below, and please feel free to leave comments with your thoughts, fond memories of café de olla or what you do differently in your recipe.

RECETA:
If you don’t have an olla (and most güeros don’t) you can steep the coffee directly in the saucepan and strain before serving. I often use a 32-ounce French press to avoid spilling while straining the loose coffee grounds and cinnamon sticks from an olla; the instructions below are for steeping with a French press. If you use a saucepan or an olla, it is best to use a fine mesh sieve over a serving carafe to filter out the coffee grounds and cinnamon sticks. If you don’t have a fine mesh sieve, you can use a regular-sized sieve with some cheesecloth to catch the grounds.

  • 3 ¼ cups water
  • ½ cup whole coffee beans
  • 2-3 sticks of cinnamon
  • 3-4 small cones of piloncillo
  • 1 tsp unsulphured molasses (optional, but adds a nice depth)

Boil the water in a medium saucepan. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the cinnamon sticks and piloncillo. Allow it to boil for a few minutes and then reduce to medium heat, stirring until the piloncillo is completely dissolved and you can smell the cinnamon. Remove from heat and let it sit to steep the cinnamon for 3-5 minutes.

Grind the coffee beans to a medium-coarseness (make sure not to grind too fine or you’ll get sludge at the bottom of your cup). It’s important that the coffee is as freshly-ground as possible.

Remove the cinnamon sticks and reserve. Pour the liquid mixture into the French press carafe. Pour coffee grounds over the liquid and push the press down just enough to fully wet the grounds, then pull up so the grounds are released and begin to steep. Allow it to steep for about 5 minutes. Pour into a small coffee cup. If you’d like, add a cinnamon stick to your cup for a little extra cinnamon flavor.

Yields 2 servings if you use big mugs or 4 servings if you use small coffee cups.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Comments

  1. says

    Your new blog looks professional and well put together. Love the title… this is def going in my faves to keep an eye out on up dates. I know this will be a huge success.

  2. Marlyn says

    I think your blog is amazing. I can just savor the coffee and that experience. Love the photography and the writing. Keep it coming. Wonderful use of the medium, talent and the technology.

  3. Ron Ramirez says

    Wow, the memories that you have brought back are incredible.
    My grandparents lived on a large city lot on the south side of San Antonio. I remember my grandfather making a small groundfire in his back yard, then he would pull out a burlap sack with green coffee beans and roast them on a small makeshift roasting pan. I was too young to drink coffee (according to them) at the time but the smells were incredible, especially with the piloncio and the cinnamon. This will be a recipe that I definitely try.

  4. says

    I love the double entendtre of your blog title. Good advice in life, as well as the kitchen. Best of luck on your new food blog, and I look forward to coming back for more.

  5. says

    I lived in Guadalajara for 3 yrs and I appreciate the effort you have made to talk about the real Mexican experience. We lived on the property of a Mexican family and were able to take part in their culture. What an experience it was and one I will cherish forever.

  6. Maura Hernández says

    Thank you all so much for your wonderful, heartfelt comments! I am so happy to hear you all like the blog so far and that it evokes fond memories for many of you. I’ve been asked by several readers to add an RSS feed so you can subscribe; I’ll add that feature today. A friend on Twitter today mentioned that her mother also often uses the phrase “the other side of the tortilla,” which I thought was pretty neat. Thanks so much for all your support and I look forward to sharing many more stories and recipes with you!

    Un abrazo,
    Maura

    • Georgianna/Paquita says

      Dear Maura, I live in the small New Mexico town of Bernalillo and teach in an even smaller hispanic village north of here called Algodones. As a native New Mexican and honorary latina (Mi amor self identifies as a chicano and my maternal grandmother was Italian a culture that I think shares a lot in common with some spanish speaking cultures). I love New Mexico cuisine which is a blend of Mexican and Native American foods with a lot of wonderful green and red chili, but one of my favorite things is natillas. Please, por favor, start a sharing of recipes for this delicious dessert! Muchas gracias

  7. Jamy says

    Fabulous! I’ve been drinking this for years but my fondest cafe de olla memory is from my wedding day in Mexico. In the jungle with a dear friend and a platter of fresh fruit, we sipped cafe de olla fresh off the fire and drawn out of a huge clay pot (with Kahlua for good measure of course). For 2 hours we refilled our cups and talked about life and love. To this day she tries to replicate that coffee. I’m giving her your recipe :)

  8. Hey_Prado says

    Oye Maura que tal?

    I am bookmarking this. I love, love, love Mexican food. Eating it and cooking it.

    I look forward to reading your stories and sharing some of my own. For example, I’ve been drinking cafe con leche since I was about 4 years old using it to wash down a pan dulce of course. One of my favorite coffee drinks when I go to Mexico is to boil some milk that comes fresh from the cow that day and add some Nescafe instant coffee and sugar. It’s my own little Mexican Latte.

  9. Maura Hernández says

    Jamy, thanks for sharing your memory of café de olla on your wedding day. I don’t think you’d ever told me that story before!

    Orale Prado! So glad you are loving the blog and I’m excited that you want to be one of my taste testers. I can only imagine how incredible fresh unpasteurized milk tastes in your coffee. What’s your favorite kind of pan dulce, and which panaderia do you usually buy from?

  10. bekeenee says

    I appreciate seeing your recipe. I have been traveling to Mexico every 2-3 months for the last year and have discovered the Cafe de Olla. I rarely drink coffe in the states anymore because itcan irritate my stomach, but the cafe de olla does not.

    I am curious if it is ever made with whole (unground) coffee beans? I thought that a Mexican friend from Guadalajara instructed me to make it that way.

    • Maura Hernández says

      Hi and thanks for visiting! Glad to hear you’ve discovered and enjoyed the pleasure of cafe de olla. Though, I have never heard of making cafe de olla with whole beans and am not sure how that would be possible given that the flavor of the bean isn’t released until ground. Perhaps your friend meant to start with a whole bean so that you can grind it very coarsely, as opposed to how store-bought pre-ground coffee is typically somewhat finely ground (think almost espresso-style). Also, the piloncillo in cafe de olla mellows any bitterness of the coffee that might otherwise irritate your stomach if you were to drink it black. Remember that some coffee can be quite acidic.

  11. Minerva says

    I truely am glad I found your blog. I think its absolutely fabulous and I love how you touch on some of the lesser known comfort foods of mexican cuisine. Loved the sopa de fideo. It’s a true gem. Gracias Maura!

  12. Sergio Reyes says

    Wow…was looking on-line for cafe de olla recipe and just happened to run into your beautifully designed web site. Love your lay out and simplicity and amazing pictures that have inspired me as I am now designing my own site for my restaurant. Reading your blog on cafe de olla I was so excited when I first saw Chicago then freaked when I saw Pilsen. My parents are from Michoacan and Zacatecas. I was born and raised in Pilsen and have recently opened a new Mexican Restaurant on Halsted called DeCOLORES galeria y sabores. I am excited to try your recipe for cafe de olla, with the way you described it I can’t wait to try it tomorrow.

  13. Andrea says

    I noticed you mentioned going back to Chicago which makes me think this is where you currently reside. I just had my first Real experience with Cafe Olla in Chicago. It was the best experience and I am still so excited and trying to figure out how to reproduce it. Thank you for the recipe. I can’t wait to try it. If you are in Chicago and want to find a great no amazing cup of Cafe Olla try Zocalo. Fabulous food too!

  14. NellyQ says

    Thanks for this recipe. I just made some fresh café de la olla, but I think it was too sweet. I think 2 small cones of piloncillo might be enough, other than that, this is great!
    Thank you for sharing. I tried the best cafe de la olla in Morelia, Michoacan and ever since, I’ve been trying to find one as good, but haven’t yet.

    • says

      Nelly, I’m glad to hear you tried my recipe! The thing about piloncillo is that sometimes the sweetness can vary depending on where it comes from. I always recommend if on the first try, one ingredient seems not right, to adjust it to how you like it based on the ingredients you buy. Sometimes I find that even two different batches of bags of piloncillo from the same store can vary in sweetness. You can also try adjusting the coffee to be a bit stronger to balance it out. I can’t wait until my next cup of café de olla on an upcoming trip to Mexico. :)

    • says

      Hi Stella, thanks for your comment. You can really use any brand of whole bean coffee that you have a preference for. I’ve used a variety of brands over the years and it’s really up to an individual’s taste preferences. Typically, I stick to a medium roast coffee, but light roast or dark roast is OK if you like that better. Hope this helps!

  15. jess says

    Thanks for this. I always wondered what café de olla was. For some reason I just assumed it was regular brewed coffee as opposed to espresso. Although, I can’t imagine why anyone would think chocolate and coffee are gross together.

  16. Georgianna/Paquita says

    Un otra cosa, let’s share recipes for tres leche cake. I have a good story I tell about ordering that from una amiga para mi hija’s wedding!

  17. says

    Are you sure three piloncillo cones? I have never seen small ones, only the standard size/full size ones. Just one would make it pretty sweet. I add a few cloves and orange zest sometimes. Once I made it too sweet and had no milk or cream so did a splash of coconut milk (not the canned) and it was yummy as well. Love your blog!!!!!!!! Oh, Mexican coffee beans are the best!

    • says

      Hi Tera, yes, I’m sure! The small cones are typically about 3/4 to 1 oz each, while the larger cones range from about 4 oz (and up) each. If you use a large cone, I suggest you start by adding only half the cone and increase to your desired level of sweetness so that you don’t over-sweeten. When in doubt, measure with a kitchen scale! :) Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>