Your next iced coffee obsession: Mexican Café de Olla with Kahlúa
With hints of cinnamon, clove and orange, this cold coffee drink gets an added boost from coffee-flavored liqueur
Let’s start at the beginning.
Hello, my name is Ani and I’m a coffee addict.
Seriously, I drink coffee more than any other liquid. Iced coffee. Hot coffee. Black coffee. Coffee with cream. Espresso. Lattes. Plus my most recent obsession: dirty chai lattes with two to three espresso shots. I could go on.
How addicted am I?
I own two different kinds of Keurigs and a KitchenAid Pro Espresso Maker with dual thermostats so I can steam the milk and pull the espresso shots without having to wait for the thermostat to come down in temperature. I have three different sized French presses (single, 4-cup, 8-cup) and I own 3-cup and 9-cup Bialetti Moka Pots. We also received an AeroPress this past Christmas that has already seen a rotation in the morning routine. Each has its own distinct-tasting result. I use the Keurig when I’m lazy and want coffee now, the others when I have time to enjoy the ritual of coffee making.
Today, however, we’re making coffee using none of these brewers. We’re going old school with café de olla. Café translates to “coffee” and de olla translates to “from cooking pot.” We’re going to be cooking the coffee on the stovetop in a regular sauce pan, very similar to how Turkish coffee is made, except we’re tossing in some spices and unrefined whole cane sugar. From what I understand, it’s a pretty traditional way of making coffee in many Mexican households. And I think it’s pretty delicious. Hot or cold.
We’re going cold today. And it’s adults only, with a healthy splash of Kahlúa, the coffee-flavored liqueur.
Ready for some coffee?
I was in my early 20s the first time I had café de olla. One of my roommates at the time was from Mexico City. During the week, she made her coffee with a Moka Pot, but come the weekends, café de olla would deliciously scent the entire house, coaxing me out of my bedroom and into the kitchen, still drowsy from sleep but eager for that first satisfying cup of her Mexican-style coffee.
When I was a kid, my parents used a Mr. Coffee coffeemaker, while my grandparents made coffee in a percolator on the stove. But this preparation that my friend used was foreign to me — and I discovered that I loved it. Once I moved out, however, I eventually forgot all about café de olla until about a year ago. That’s when a Mexican YouTuber I follow posted a video of it, and it struck me that I hadn’t tasted this coffee since I shared a home with my Mexico City friend more than 25 years ago. I decided it was time to rectify that.
Cinnamon always makes an appearance in café de olla, but not just any cinnamon — and yes, there is a difference. It has to be canela, also known as Mexican cinnamon. Most cinnamon sold in the U.S. and Canada is the cassia variety. It has a deep reddish-brown color and is made from a single piece of hard bark harvested from the cassia cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum cassia, native to China). Its flavor can be brash and spicy. According to HealthLine, if consumed in large doses, cassia can be toxic because it contains coumarin — a naturally occurring compound found to cause liver and kidney damage in some sensitive individuals (so beware, those of you who eat large amounts of this in an attempt to improve control of blood sugar). Because it is so inexpensive to produce, it’s the most widely in use.
Mexican cinnamon or canela, on the other hand, is harvested by rolling several thin, delicate sheets of bark from the interior of the Ceylon cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum verum), resulting in a more fragile stick that is a light brown color. Native to Sri Lanka, it is also cultivated in several states in Mexico. Ceylon is often referred to as “true cinnamon.” It has a sweet, floral aroma with light notes of citrus and, compared with cassia cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon sticks have a negligible amount of coumarin (according to Science Daily, cassia powder has 63 times more than Ceylon powder, while cassia sticks have 18 times more than Ceylon sticks).
The other unique ingredient is piloncillo (as it’s known in Mexico; also called panela, rapadura and chancaca in Central and South American countries). It’s a solid cone-shaped hunk of unrefined whole cane sugar made from a process that involves boiling and evaporating sugarcane juice. Because the process doesn’t involve chemicals, nor is it spun in a centrifuge to separate the molasses from the sugar like highly refined white sugar typically is, piloncillo retains the sugar cane’s natural vitamins and minerals, as well as the components needed to help in its digestion. The sugar has a rich molasses flavor and is often referred to as Mexican brown sugar. Locally, you can purchase both the cinnamon and the piloncillo at Northgate Market and at smaller, neighborhood Mexican markets as well as online sources such as MexGrocer.com (search for canela or piloncillo) and Amazon (search for Ceylon cinnamon sticks or piloncillo cone).
Along with the cinnamon and piloncillo, you’ll need ground coffee, of course. There’s a debate about the grind. Some argue for coarse ground, others for fine. All do agree that a rich Latin or Mexican coffee is best. I used Café Bustelo Espresso Ground Coffee, which is a Latin espresso-style blend of coffee beans. It isn’t super fine/powdery, but it is a fine consistency, and I like it with this preparation. MexGrocer also sells Mexican coffee grown and hand-picked in Chiapas, Mexico, that is a great choice for this.
You’ll also need 2-3 whole cloves, one star anise pod and a few 2-inch-long strips of orange zest (use a potato peeler to get a thin strip, avoiding the bitter white pith).
The spices and the orange zest go into a large sauce pan with water to boil, then simmer together for a bit before you pop in the piloncillo. After a second boil, the heat is turned down to a simmer until the sugar dissolves.
Then the ground coffee beans finally make their appearance and are gently stirred in. The liquid is left to come to its third boil before the heat is turned off to allow the flavors to steep.
You’ll need cheesecloth and a sieve to separate the grounds and spices from the heady scented coffee (a large coffee filter will work but it will take longer to strain). Die-hards will just use a little individual superfine mesh tea strainer (aka sieve) to strain the coffee directly into a cup, one at a time. However, I find that the coffee can get bitter sitting around with the grounds still in the cooking pot. Plus, I like to put the strained coffee into a pitcher and store in the refrigerator after it’s cooled so I can enjoy whenever I want. Of course, for me, that’s usually in the evening when the Kahlúa can come out to play!
Whether drinking this hot or cold, with or without alcohol, this spiced-up coffee might just become your next obsession.
Café de Olla (Mexican Spiced Coffee)
I used two Mexican cinnamon sticks because I love the flavor, but I’ve seen this amount of water made with only one stick. If you’re a cinnamon lover like me, stick with two; otherwise, feel free to use just one. If you’re using cassia, 1 stick will be fine, as two of the more astringent cassia sticks might be too sharp. Be sure to have cheesecloth and a medium-sized fine mesh sieve at the ready.
Makes 6 servings
6½ cups water, plus 2 cups water, divided use
2 Mexican (Ceylon) cinnamon sticks (or 1 cassia)
3 whole cloves
1 star anise pod
3 (2-inch) strips of thin, skin-only orange peel (no white pith)
1 (8-ounce) cone of piloncillo or 3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
6 generous tablespoons of your favorite medium to dark roast ground coffee
4 (6x6-inch) pieces of cheesecloth or large coffee filter
Bring 6½ cups of water, spices and orange peel to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for five minutes. Add the piloncillo, bring to a boil, reduce heat and stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Add the coffee, bring to a boil, cover and turn off heat. Steep for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in another pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Pour into a glass, ceramic or stainless steel pitcher, swirling to warm the pitcher. Let stand 5 minutes. Pour out water.
When coffee is done steeping, line sieve with cheesecloth, then strain the coffee into the now-warmed pitcher. Serve immediately if drinking hot or proceed with cocktail recipe.
Iced Mexican Spiced Coffee with Kahlúa
You’ll need a cocktail shaker.
Makes 1 serving
6 ounces café de olla (see coffee recipe above)
1½-2 ounces Kahlúa, depending on your preferred strength
Splash of milk or half and half, optional
Orange zest curl, for garnish, optional
Add ice to a tall glass; set aside. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the coffee and Kahlúa. Shake until there is condensation on the shaker, about 2 seconds. Pour into the glass. Add milk, to taste. Garnish with orange curl.
Recipe is copyrighted by Anita L. Arambula from Confessions of a Foodie. Reprinted by permission.
Arambula is the food section art director and designer. She blogs at www.confessionsofafoodie.me, where this article originally published. Follow her on Instagram: @afotogirl.
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