Culture

Here’s The History Behind One Of Mexico’s Most Iconic Drinks, Café De Olla

The smell of roasted cinnamon sticks wakes up Vanessa Ortiz on most mornings. Or sometimes it’s the whiff of the roasted cacao beans coming from the kitchen. The scents are the product of her mother brewing up her daily cup of café de olla. 

“The smell of it is just so inviting and it makes me think of Mexico,” Ortiz, 20, says as she takes in a sip herself. “For as long as I can remember café de olla has been part of my life.”

Ortiz, who grew up in East Los Angeles, is one of many Latinos that feel a sense of nostalgia, or in her case, pride when it comes to café de olla. That may be due to the drink being passed on from generation to generation. Or maybe it’s the story behind the drink that is steeped deep in Mexican history. But what many might not know is that women played a central role in the creation of café de olla.

The drink’s origin dates back to the 1800s during the Mexican Revolution where women made their mark on the frontlines. 

Credit: Javier Rojas

Those who participated in the war efforts were called Adelitas, named after Adela Velarde Pérez, a nurse from Ciudad Juarez. She would become a central figure in how women were viewed during the Mexican Revolution due to her part in helping injured soldiers. Pérez led the way for other women at war to be recognized for the contributions, one of the biggest being café de olla. 

The roles women played during the war weren’t easy. They had to carry soldiers’ bags, set up and broke down camps, and take care of all the food. It was at these war camps during the Mexican Revolution that café de olla was born. 

To keep up the stamina of these soldiers, the adelitas created a blend of spices, coffee, and sugar in giant clay pots which they would then hand out to all the soldiers for an energy boost throughout the long war. This blend of coffee would be called café de olla, literally meaning “coffee from a clay pot.”

Chuy Tovar, 50, the owner of Primera Taza, a popular coffee spot in East Los Angeles, says that the adelitas don’t get enough credit for the impact they had behind the scenes of the war.

Credit: Javier Rojas

“Without women there wouldn’t even be café de olla,” Tovar says. “These women played a huge role in those days and their influence was on the battlefield as well as in the café de olla that helped fuel soldiers. The women not only prepared the food but they also fought on the lines.”

“How the hell they did that? I have no clue.”

It was in areas like the port of Veracruz where coffee first made one of its first appearances in Mexico and little by little coffee plantations emerged, mainly in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Veracruz. This played a huge role in the growth of the drink throughout the country with women in those communities all having their own unique take on café de olla. 

Tovar says it was a collective combination of various indigenous communities coming together that all had their input on the drink. Whether it was the piloncillo or the cacao beans used in the drink, there’s influence seen from different states throughout Mexico. 

While the details of who made the final decisions on what ingredients would go into café de olla are still up in the air, Tovar says they knew they had to put a stimulant that would have caffeine to fuel soldiers for the day. 

He believes the drink was made as a “precautionary beverage” that was made with a medicinal purpose to help with hunger and supply nutrients for soldiers. He said a typical lunch would include beans and a cup of café de olla. 

“It was something to suppress their hunger during the day. I think the ingredients were well thought out for its time,” Tovar said. “These women are heroes for many reasons but they’ve no doubt created a drink that’s still being enjoyed to this day.”

Today, café de olla is seeing a revival. Whether that may be due to more people connecting with their roots or just the expansion of different coffees, there’s excitement brewing.  

Credit: Javier Rojas

Café de olla is seeing somewhat of a resurgence. Many coffee shops are taking notice and putting their own spin on the drink, particularly in southern California. La Monarca, an artisanal Mexican bakery located throughout Los Angeles, is one of the biggest drivers leading this café de olla revival. The drink has become one of it’s best selling items which may be due to its effort to stay true to the traditional roots of the beverage.

“The recipe was perfected over the years, the brewing process was difficult as subtle differences in the ratio of spice to coffee and sugar created variability in taste. We settled on high-quality cinnamon sourced from Mexico and developed a cold-brewed recipe for our retail locations. The result is our number one bestseller, both in-store and online,” La Monarca CEO Ricardo Cervantes said. 

For Tovar, whose Boyle Heights coffee shop has moved from different locations over the last few years, he still gets the same customers yearning for a sip of his café de olla. He says the drink has seen a rise in popularity for the last few years and he credits that to people wanting to reconnect with their Latin roots. 

Tovar sources all of his coffee beans from Mexico and that may be why he draws in an older generation from the predominantly Latino neighborhood. He says by showcasing these ingredients he’s getting to share a taste of the quality regional coffee’s that Mexico is known for. 

“I see the young ones come in and ask for an iced café de olla or even extra cinnamon (which he calls “spiced coffee”) but it’s popular and I appreciate it,” Tovar says. “People can connect to their parents or their ancestors just by the smell and that’s special.”

José Rodríguez has his own take on café de olla at his coffee shop, Akat Cafe Kalli, in Lake Merritt, Oakland.

Credit: Javier Rojas

Rodríguez mixes the drink with heavy cinnamon and a light drip of honey. Over the past year, his unique take on café de olla has led to the drink becoming his most popular beverage.

“This formula has worked for me and it’s me trying to be true to the original drink but at the same time have my spin on it,” Rodriguez says. “Café de olla for many of us is a way to connect with our indigenous roots and in reality, it reminds me of my mother.”

Growing up, Rodriguez would usually find his mother in the kitchen and a clay pot would usually be brewing next to her. He’d spend mornings picking her mind about Mexican coffee and learning the craft of making café de olla.

“It doesn’t matter your economic situation or what your political belief is, I could recall countless memories with friends and family and a cup of café de olla would usually be in my hand,” Rodriguez says. “We don’t give enough credit to the women that created this coffee.”

This sentiment is felt for many Latinos who see the drink as a part of their family history that in some ways acts as a bridge to the past. Ortiz can relate to this as she gets emotional when speaking about family memories in the kitchen during Christmas time. She wipes away a tear and recalls one of the few memories she has with her grandmother, who passed away when she was only seven years old. That memory involved her making café de olla from scratch with her, something she never forgets. 

“This drink has a special place in my heart that is hard to describe honestly,” Ortiz says as she sips on a freshly brewed cup of café de olla. “It’s been in my family for generations and hopefully I’ll be passing it on to my kids one day too.” 

READ: Coquito and Crème de Vie: How Are They Different And Where Did They Come From?

Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva Threatens To Cut Sexual Assault Investigation Unit Because Of Proposed Budget Cuts

Things That Matter

Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva Threatens To Cut Sexual Assault Investigation Unit Because Of Proposed Budget Cuts

Josh Lefkowitz / Getty Images

Law enforcement in Los Angeles is facing budget cuts already because demonstrators are keeping up the pressure for police reform. COVID-19 has added pressure to Los Angeles County to make some additional cuts and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva is warning what the cuts mean to the department at large.

Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva is warning residents about the impact of the proposed budget cuts.

Sheriff Villanueva issued a statement titled “DEFUNDING THE LASD BUDGET $145.4 M.” In the letter, Sheriff Villanueva warns that the budget cuts will lead to the elimination of the Special Victims Bureau. The bureau is responsible for investigating the physical or sexual abuse of children and women. The sheriff names other departments that will be eliminated in response to the upcoming budget cuts.

“It’s unconscionable,” Sheriff Villanueva told CBS Los Angeles. “These are the major detective units of the entire department. They serve the entire county of Los Angeles. Those four units…are the cream of the crop of investigative units throughout the entire nation, and as the largest county in the nation, I cannot see how we move forward without these four units,” he said.

The sheriff took the time to attack the “Defund the Police” movement.

“The CEO and the Board have embraced the “Defund the Police” movement and are cynically hiding behind accounting maneuvers, knowing well that loss of revenue in sales tax can be made up by equitable distributing more stable revenue streams like property taxes,” reads part of Sheriff Villanueva’s statement. “This is not acceptable and a willful abandonment of the top priorities of local government: keep people safe.”

Sheriff Villanueva is also refusing to enforce orders to close the beaches for the 4th of July weekend in Los Angeles County.

Sheriff Villanueva told the press that his department was not included in talks about the closure so the sheriff’s office will not enforce the order. Los Angeles County is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases as the rest of California deals with the same. The Los Angeles Health Department ordered the beaches, piers, and boardwalks closed for the holiday weekend to fight the sudden spike in cases.

“Closing the beaches and prohibiting fireworks displays during this important summer holiday weekend was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but it’s the responsible decision to protect public health and protect our residents from a deadly virus,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, said in a statement. “The Fourth of July holiday weekend typically means large crowds and gatherings to celebrate, a recipe for increased transmission of COVID-19.” 

Sheriff Villanueva’s actions as sheriff are making some Los Angeles County residents wanting him to leave the office.

At the beginning of his term as sheriff, Villanueva rehired a police officer who was fired for domestic violence allegations. The police officer who was rehired set off a legal battle that landed in court with a judge having to decide whether or not to let the police officer stay.

Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff handed down an injunction ordering rehired police officer Caren Carl Mandoyan to surrender his gun and badge. Additionally, the judge ordered, “Sheriff Alex Villanueva cease to recognize or hold Mandoyan out as a Deputy Sheriff or a County employee.”

READ: Family Of Andres Guardado Are Asking For The Autopsy Report Be Released

Tamales Elena Is About To Become LA’s First Afro-Mexican Restaurant

Culture

Tamales Elena Is About To Become LA’s First Afro-Mexican Restaurant

tamaleselenayantojitos / Instagram

The Los Angeles food truck Tamales Elena y Antojitos has been serving up authentic Guerrero food for 20 years. Tamales Elena y Antojitos is a staple at E 110th St. & Wilmington Ave. in LA’s Watts neighborhood offering up banana leaf-wrapped tamales. Now, Tamales Elena y Antojitos will become a restaurant.

Tamales Elena y Antojitos is opening up LA’s first Afro-Mexican restaurant.

Not even a pandemic will slow them down. The family behind the famous food truck in Watts will soon be welcoming guests (following COVID-19 guidelines) in Bell Gardens, California. The tamales, pozoles, and array of Afro-Mexican dishes will be served to everyone who has come to adore the Mexican establishment.

The restaurant will add another cuisine to the vast palate that is LA’s food scene.

Los Angeles is home to a diverse and inviting list of restaurants representing cultures from around the world. Some of the best Mexican food in the country can be found in Los Angeles and Tamales Elena y Antojitos is adding another level to that representation. Angelenos are celebrating the Afro-Mexican restaurant staffed and owned by Afro-Mexicans.

The restaurant has a special place in people’s lives.

The family has been offering up their unique food to residents of Watts for 20 years. In two weeks, Maria Elena Lorenzo will be offering up her family recipes in-store to more people as of July 15. The family has spent years in the food industry and have worked hard to make their mark on LA’s food scene.

Lorenzo’s daughters have been played a big role in getting the restaurant going.

According to LA Eater, Lorenzo’s daughters have spent years working in various restaurants around Los Angeles. Her daughters, Maria, Heidi, Judepth, Teresa, and Nayeli spent time working front-of-house and back-of-house at restaurants including Rivera, Petty Cash Taqueria, and Guerrilla Tacos. Heidi Irra worked at Mezcalero in downtown Los Angeles. Now, the daughters are bringing their experience to the family business and helping their mother start her restaurant.

Lorenzo, lovingly known as Mama, is clearly going to have a lot of guests are her restaurant.

Congratulations, Mama! This is one of those stories we love to see. Nothing makes you prouder than watching Latino families come together to chase the American Dream and succeed.

READ: Guelaguetza, One Of LA’s Most Iconic Mexican Restaurants, Is Sharing Some Of Their Recipes On Instagram