The Special Brewing Method Used To Make Mexico's Café De Olla

If you've ever indulged in café de olla — the warm coffee drink beloved in Mexican culture — you know a few things already: It's sweet, spicy, soothing, and delicious. But you may be unaware that a traditional brewing method is steeped in history dating back to at least the early 20th century. It revolves around a simple earthen vessel, specifically a clay pot, from which café de olla or "coffee from a pot" takes its name, according to Barista Magazine.

The humble clay-pot brewing method comes as much from tradition as it does from convenience. A decades-old origin story of café de olla told by La Monarca Bakery & Cafe in Los Angeles ties the drink to the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910 (via Britannica). Women who helped on the frontlines reportedly created café de olla using the only brewing method available to them: enormous clay pots capable of making large batches for weary soldiers. The female Adelitas, named after a nurse who tended to those injured in battle, used coffee, sugar, and spices to reenergize the troops and keep them nourished.

Regardless of when the first cup of café de olla brewed its way into the hearts of Mexican communities, it's undoubtedly a national tradition in Mexico today. As it gains popularity in other countries, the clay pot remains a cultural icon for traditional brewing. However, modern methods suffice for the sake of convenience.

Clay and other pots make the perfect café de olla

Café de olla is still traditionally brewed in a clay pot, known as an olla de barro in Spanish (per The New York Times). Some believe the earthy pot enhances the flavor of the coffee, as noted by Big Cup of Coffee. However, today's kitchens are more likely to contain metal stovetop pans. The New York Times recommends using freshly ground dark-roast coffee beans and the authentic cane sugar known as piloncillo. Readily available in Mexico, the unrefined sugar harbors hints of caramel and comes molded in a distinct cone shape for easy stirring (via Isabel Eats). However, dark-brown sugar and a teaspoon of molasses is a suitable substitute.

Typical spices, which are heated first on the stovetop along with the sugar and water, include cinnamon sticks, cloves, and star anise. Bring to a low simmer on medium heat, remove the pot from the burner, and stir in the ground coffee and some orange peels. Let it steep to taste, usually no longer than eight minutes, and then strain it into a serving pot. You can also use a French press for steeping, then remove the cinnamon sticks and strain with the press filter, per Coffee Affection. Some recipes call for adding cocoa, chocolate squares, or even alcohol, as noted by Parade.

With a little time and a good measure of affection, anyone can enjoy the special café de olla custom with friends, family, or in a stolen me-time session.