In this article, we focus on the classic Mexican coffee, Café de Olla, a traditional brew enriched with spices and piloncillo. This is part of a broader series where we also explore other Mexican coffee variations.
- Café de olla is a traditional Mexican coffee brewed with cinnamon, piloncillo, and sometimes other spices.
- The coffee is brewed in a clay pot, known as an “olla,” which adds an earthy flavor.
- Mexican coffee has a rich history rooted in indigenous farming practices that developed into a major industry.
- Café de olla offers a unique sweet, spicy, and earthy flavor profile.
- Preparing this coffee at home is straightforward, even if you don’t have an olla.
Café de Olla is a traditional Mexican coffee that has its origins deeply rooted in Mexican history, with different versions of its origin.
One popular version indicates that it originated between 1910 and 1917 during the Mexican Revolution and was enjoyed by soldiers as an energy boost1.
Another version states that the beverage was invented in the 18th century when coffee arrived to Mexico through the port of Veracruz, and it was gradually adopted by the locals to give the coffee homemade flavors and spices2.
The unique flavor of café de olla is due to a combination of:
Also known as panela, Piloncillo is unrefined sugar that gives coffee a unique, molasses-like flavor. It’s cone-shaped and can be replaced with brown sugar. Find it in the Mexican spices aisle at your local store.
Adds a warming spice and subtle sweetness. In addition to its flavor, cinnamon is known for its health benefits. Studies have found it can have positive effects on blood sugar, cholesterol, and cancer cells.
3. Additional Spices
Sometimes, spices like clove, star anise, and even orange peels can be added for complexity.
4. Clay Pot (Olla de Barro)
If brewed traditionally, a clay pot imparts an earthy note. You can find authentic Olla de Barros on Amazon for about $45. Or, just use a saucepan. 🙂
5. Dark Roast Coffee
Provides the foundational earthy, nutty flavor. My favorite dark roast is Espresso Roast by Spirit Animal Coffee.
How To Make Classic Mexican Coffee At Home
- Boil water in an Olla or a regular pot on the stovetop.
- Add cinnamon, piloncillo (or brown sugar), and optional spices. Allow them to dissolve fully.
- Add ground coffee and let it steep for 5-10 minutes.
- Strain through a fine mesh sieve and serve hot.
- 4 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 piloncillo cone (about 1 oz)
- 4 tablespoons dark roast coffee
Adjust to taste.
Interestingly enough, my wife and I were at World Market the other day and I was scouring the beans, as I tend to do, when I saw this bag of “Cafe de Olla.” I thought it was an instant coffee mix until I read the title and realized that it’s ground coffee flavored to taste like real Mexican Coffee.
Here are some common variations.
- Chocolate Mexican Coffee: Mexican Coffee with chocolate is a fusion of traditional café de olla and hot chocolate
- Iced Café de Olla: Chill the brewed coffee and serve over ice.
- Boozy Mexican Coffee: Spike it up with 2 ounces of Kahlúa and 2 ounces of tequila.
- Spice Factor: For those who like it hot, add a pinch of cayenne pepper.
- Add Milk: Though traditionally served black, you can add milk or cream for a creamier texture.
Mexican Coffee Vs. Other Coffee Drinks
1. Different Flavors and Aromas
Mexican coffee has a strong taste of cinnamon and other herbs. In contrast, classic coffee drinks in America and Italy typically taste more like espresso or plain coffee, unless a flavored syrup is added.
2. Different Preparation Methods
Traditional Mexican coffee is made in a clay pot and takes about 15 minutes to get ready3.On the other hand, pulling a shot of espresso takes only about 20-25 seconds, and drip coffee is ready in less than 5 minutes.
3. Different Bean Selection
Mexican coffee is usually made with Arabica beans, which are known for their complexity and higher level of acidity. On the other hand, other coffee drinks, such as espresso and cappuccino, are often made with a combination of Arabica and Robusta beans4.
- Calories: ~50 per cup (without milk)
- Sugar: 12-15g
- Caffeine: 95mg
Generally speaking, coffee (Mexican coffee included) is not only a rich source of antioxidants that help in fighting free radicals, but it also contains caffeine, which gives your metabolism a significant boost.
Potential Side Effects
Drinking coffee (yes, that includes Mexican coffee) can lead to increased heart rate and may cause digestive issues like stomach upset or acid reflux for some individuals.
This rich Mexican coffee pairs well with other chocolate or cinnamon-based desserts like snickerdoodles, chocolate cake, or tres leches. It’s also a wonderful accompaniment to savory breakfast items like bacon and eggs.
- If you’re concerned about the coffee’s strength, feel free to adjust the coffee-to-water ratio. The idea is to have it strong enough so that the additional ingredients don’t dilute the coffee flavor.
- You’re not limited to using a regular coffee pot; a French press or percolator would work just as well. You can even add a cinnamon stick directly into your cup if you’re using a single brew option.
Do I need an olla to make Mexican Coffee (café de olla)?
No, a regular stovetop pot will work. You can find Ollas on Amazon for about $45.
Can I use brown sugar instead of piloncillo?
Yes, but it won’t be as authentic.
What does Mexican Coffee taste like?
Mexican Coffee is sweet with a hint of spice from the cinnamon. The primary ingredients added to the coffee are cinnamon and piloncillo, which gives it a taste that resembles molasses. Some people might also add orange peel and star anise, but it is less common.
Is Mexican coffee strong?
Mexican coffee typically has the strength of a medium to dark roast. The addition of cinnamon and piloncillo in Café de Olla helps to balance out the flavors.
Can I add milk to my Mexican Coffee?
While you can add milk, it is not recommended as it takes away from the traditional flavor of Mexican Coffee. If you prefer coffee with milk, it is suggested to try making a café con leche instead.
In conclusion, traditional Mexican coffee has a unique sweet, spicy, and earthy flavor profile developed over centuries of cultural tradition. While Mexico has faced challenges in its coffee industry, it remains one of the world’s top producers, with small indigenous producers continuing traditional practices. Café de olla is a delicious example of Mexico’s coffee culture.