What is Cafe de Olla? History, Recipe, And More

No matter how sophisticated the modern coffee industry is, you have to give props to the more traditional coffee brewing methods that made the best out of what was available at the time. Read on …

What is Cafe de Olla? History, Recipe, And More Cover Image

No matter how sophisticated the modern coffee industry is, you have to give props to the more traditional coffee brewing methods that made the best out of what was available at the time. Read on and ponder the question what is cafe de olla?

Today, we’re going to take a look at a classic coffee, which has a traditional brewing method, as well as a recipe.

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Café de Olla

Café de olla is a traditional Mexican coffee. “Café de olla” translates to “coffee from a pot” in English. Just as the name suggests, the coffee is brewed in an “Olla de Barro,” or Mexican clay pot.

The brewing method gives the coffee an earthy flavor and a mix of sweetness and spicy flavors that come from the spices added to the brew.

Olla de Barro is traditionally used for cooking coffee beans, soups, stews, etc. And of course, it’s used for this coffee.

Brief Origins Of Café de Olla

Though coffee has been part of Mexican agriculture since the end of the 18th century, Café de olla was created more recently. During the Mexican Revolution back in 1910, to be specific.

But this information doesn’t have any proof in the history books; it’s the most common belief that you can find among the locals regarding this traditional coffee. But that doesn’t make the story any less enjoyable.

During the cold nights of the Mexican Revolution, the soldiers had to find a way to keep themselves warm and alert throughout the night. As a solution, adelitas (revolutionary women) came up with the idea of coffee. But why the spices and the clay pot, you may ask?

Since Mexico was going through a political conflict, and the coffee supply was really short, they had to reheat and drink coffee that’s already been brewed once.

To overcome stale taste and lack of heat, the adelitas decided to add spice to increase the taste while holding it in a clay pot to retain heat for more extended periods.

[Insert “now that is innovative thinking” custom meme]

Tradition And Change Through Generations

The recipe for Café de olla changes from one region to another and can even differ from family to family.

It’s up to the grandmother of a family to pass down a unique recipe for the coffee to their next generation, along with other traditional recipes.

Though there are a lot of variations for the Café de olla recipe, most of them will include 4 base ingredients:

  • Coffee
  • Cane sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves

The traditional method of preparing this drink is to boil water with spices before adding the coffee itself, though the preparation method can differ for each recipe.

For example, coffee brewers of Veracruz wrap coffee, sugar, and spices in a cloth and then steep it in boiling water, like a big teabag. Once steeped, they add in citrus peel for additional flavors. The coffee is served after letting it rest for a bit.

The Café de Olla In Mexican Culture

In Mexican history, Café de olla symbolizes the comfort of their home, their tradition, and a reminder of the time they spent with their beloved.

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As per Mexican tradition, the family matriarch oversees the coffee production process for family units that run coffee plantations.

Even to this day, this tradition is going strong, not just in management’s case. These farmers use little to no modern technology and cultivate coffee in traditional ways.

Many of these families even go as far as to roast their beans with the “pan-roasting” method. Then they grind the beans with a “Metate (Maize mill) .”A Metate is a stone tool for grinding. Then the circle is completed with a traditional brewing method like Café de olla.

Ingredients For Café de Olla

Here are the ingredients for a traditional Café de Olla:

  • Coffee grounds
  • 9 cups of water (Fresh, filtered)
  • Cinnamon sticks (2 sticks)
  • Star anise (2 pcs)
  • Cloves (2 pcs)
  • ½ cone of Piloncillo (Whole cane sugar)
  • Squares of chocolate (Optional, 1-2 squares)

Best Coffee Grounds To Use

If you are going for a strictly traditional brew, we recommend choosing a Mexican bean. Mexican coffee blends perfectly with the chocolate, piloncillo, and spices.

The Perfect Roast

Any darker roasted coffee is a fine choice to bring the most flavor out of this drink. The chocolate and the spices complement the chocolaty flavor of the dark-roasted coffee.

If you’re struggling to find single-origin Mexican coffee, you can try out coarsely grounded Viennese roast, which is a medium-to-dark roast.

The Chocolate (If You Want To Add It)

You can use Mexican drinking chocolates, like Abuelita or Barra. But the heat issue rises here (pun intended).

You need high heat to dissolve these chocolates fully. But at the same time, exposure to high heat can turn your coffee bitter. The best workaround is to use semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Are The Spices Really Necessary?

Though they are a traditional ingredient, it’s not a must if you don’t feel like adding spice to your coffee.

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The recipe for Café de Olla is very forgiving, so you don’t need to worry about messing up the recipe without the spices or using a different combination of them. The only time we strongly recommend going for all the spices is when you really want that floral aroma.

Substitutions For Ingredients (In Case You Can’t Find Some)

If you’re struggling with getting your hands on some of the ingredients, here are a couple of easy alternatives:

You can replace unrefined cane sugar with 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar

The recipe specifies Mexican cinnamon sticks, but you can work with a regular cinnamon stick as well

Star anise is a bit tough to get your hands on, and skipping it will not ruin your final coffee. The only difference will be in the final flavor.

5 Easy Steps For Brewing Cafe de Olla

Now that the ingredients are cleared let’s get to brewing Café de Olla in 5 easy steps.

Step #1: Mix

Put the water, spices, sugar, and chocolate squares in a cooking pot.

Step #2: Boil

Once you’ve poured in all the ingredients, stir them and mix them all together. Then start heating up the mixture till it comes to a boil.

Step #3: Skim

Once it’s boiled, turn the heat off. You’ll see that foam has formed on top of the mixture. Take a spoon, and skim the foam off the top.

Step #4: Soak

Now that the mixture is ready add to the coffee grounds. Stir the mix, so the coffee grounds mix in there evenly. Once done, remove the mixture from heat, and let the coffee soak for 5 minutes.

Step #5: Strain & Serve

Strain the coffee into your coffee mug using a metal mesh strainer or a cheesecloth when the time is up. Now your coffee is ready to serve.

Having fun Nomies? Check out our piece on what is unfiltered coffee.

Best Serving Method For Café de Olla

This fine Mexican coffee is best served hot right after brewing and straining. Leaving the coffee to chill for too long can cause the flavors to get a bit muddy.

If you want to amplify the flavors of Café de Olla, you can always add milk or unflavored cream to the drink. The taste of milk/ cream complements the spicy flavors, creating a fantastic contrast.

3 Tricks To Enhance The Café de Olla Experience

Trick #1: If you want a regular cup of Café de Olla with moderate strength, let the coffee steep for 6 minutes.

Trick #2: If you’re going for an extra-strength Café de Olla, steep the coffee for 8 minutes.

Trick #3: If you have leftovers, you can turn them into iced Café de Olla instead of wasting them. You need to store the coffee in an airtight jar and leave it in the fridge for later drinking, like a cold brew.

The Future Of Café de Olla

Sadly, the number of people who appreciate this traditional pot coffee is going down rapidly. Mexico’s coffee drinkers are leaning towards the third-wave coffee culture more and more every day. More people are curious about cupping scores and specialty scores than about tradition.

And it’s not just the number of traditional coffee enthusiasts. The number of people who even drink coffee is also at an all-time low. Those who do drink prefer the high-sugar, fancy modern coffee drinks.

Ironically, customers from outside of Mexico appreciate Café de Olla more than the coffee drinkers present in Mexico. The foreigners love the idea of trying something traditional and rare and often use it as the first step to enter the world of coffee.

Though many Mexican restaurants still include this drink in their menu, that number is going down pretty fast too. To solve this issue, coffee shop owners can balance traditional serving and modern techniques that can preserve this classic coffee without letting it die out.

Since many modern coffee lovers like milk-infused coffee drinks, keeping a version of Café de Olla served with milk can be a good idea to keep people interested in the drink. The spices also help with offering a varied, rich flavor that’s bound to keep customers coming back for more.

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Bottom Line

Even when this coffee is slowly dying out, it’s still a wonderful treat to enjoy a Café de Olla. Not just for the taste but also for what it represents.

If you’re trying out Café de Olla at home, let the flavor wash away all your worries with comfort and unforgettable feelings.


had fun reading? You’ll love to read our piece on what is liberica coffee.


What Is Cafe de Olla?

Cafe de Olla is a traditional Mexican coffee drink.

How Have More Bars Not Caught Onto This Delicious Coffee?

Since coffee shops and bars try to serve their customers as fast as possible, they choose not to opt for traditional methods for coffee brewing since it can be time-consuming. So as days pass, fewer and fewer coffee bars and coffee shops are offering this drink.

What Is the “Olla de Barro”?

Olla de Barro is a Mexican clay pot. This pot is used for cooking soup and stew as well as coffee.

What Is the Best Coffee Roast to Use for Cafe de Olla?

Any dark roast or medium-dark roast should get you a fine cup of coffee using this method.

Is It Mandatory to Use Spices When Making Cafe de Olla?

The spices add an extra range of flavor to the cup, but there isn’t an issue if you skip them. You may find a few differences in taste here and there, but it’ll not ruin your coffee.