As the weather starts to change and we move into fall, we will see Pumpkin Spice Everything. So many of us wait for pumpkin spice lattes to hit our Starbucks menu and order up one to enjoy in the slightly cooler Texas weather. But I’m here to tell you that there are so many more wonderful warm drinks to enjoy. San Antonio is a place to try a few hot beverages that hail from south of the border. South America and Central America have some amazing warm drinks to enjoy that you can add to your fall drink list, and we are lucky to live in a place where we can find the ingredients relatively easily, possibly order one at a local eatery, or, if you are lucky, try at a friend’s house.
Café de Olla—Literally, this is coffee made in a pot. Traditionally made in a clay pot, a modern twist is to make it in any pot on the stove. This is the type of coffee that your Mexican grandmother, or abuela, might make. That is, if you have a Mexican grandmother. It is a stronger coffee even though it does have quite a bit of sugar. Ingredients are simple enough: ground coffee, water, cinnamon sticks, and piloncillo. Piloncillo is unrefined sugar cane that is molded into a cone. It is often referred to as brown sugar, but it is not. Use a strainer over your coffee mug to catch all those coffee grounds and cinnamon sticks. Now you have a good Mexican cup of coffee to enjoy.
Champurrado—This is a special type of hot chocolate that is much thicker than traditional hot chocolate. The consistency is thick because it includes cornmeal and Mexican chocolate. It tends to clump, and you will need to use a hand whisk to get a smooth consistency. This is one of those drinks that is often served at special celebrations. Paired with a traditional Mexican sweet bread, like a concha, it might be served during Christmas festivities.
Atole—This is a very common comfort drink in Mexico, served warm. It is corn-based and is often served at breakfast. However, it can be enjoyed at other times of the day as well. The ingredients include cornstarch, and if you can find cornstarch in a Latin market or a Hispanic aisle of your local grocery store, even better. Does it make a difference? It’s just a little more authentic. Again, a hand whisk will help keep the consistency smooth. Mexican vanilla and cinnamon sticks add to the flavor. There are a number of variations with ingredients like anise, chocolate, and even fruit puree.
Horchata—You may have had this rice drink served cold. In the summer months, it is often served over ice. However, in the cooler months, it can be served warm or hot. This is a rice drink that includes the sweetness of condensed milk and lots of cinnamon. It does take a little more preparation, as you have to let it sit overnight and a blender is required. Believe me, it is well worth the extra work.
Mexican Hot Chocolate—Hot chocolate is a comforting warm drink in the cooler months no matter how it is served. While there is nothing wrong with opening a package of hot cocoa mix and adding hot water and some marshmallows, Mexican hot chocolate takes it to a different level. You can kick up your hot chocolate a few notches just by adding some spices. Use a chocolate tablet and then add vanilla extract, chili powder, and, of course, cinnamon. To top it off, some people add a touch of cayenne pepper to add more depth to the taste. Delicious!
Ponche or Ponche Navideño—This is Mexican punch. The authentic recipe has ingredients that are not the easiest to find. But if you can get them, the ingredients will come together to make a delicious drink for the holiday season. You can bet that there are plenty of households in San Antonio serving a version of this beverage throughout the month of December. You can make an alcohol-free version or add in the rum. Ingredients include hibiscus flowers and cloves, piloncillo, cinnamon, and whatever fruit you want to add. It’s served hot and is a true taste of Christmas to many across Latin America.
The next time the weather drops ten degrees in San Antonio and you want to add to the slightly cooler ambiance, be adventurous and try one of these recipes. Or just head to your local Mom and Pop Mexican restaurant and see what’s on the menu. You might find yourself at a Christmas party or holiday event where one of these drinks is served. Don’t shy away. You never know—it might take you beyond that pumpkin spice latte.