Note: the following is adapted from an excerpt of the book, Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, by this columnist co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl.
If you are eating breakfast at home in Mexico, it will very likely include reheating (recalentado) whatever the family ate for dinner the previous night, plus coffee and pan dulce (Mexican pastries, follow link for guide to finding these in San Francisco). The coffee is often presented, even in restaurants, this way: a jar of Nescafe Classico (instant), a cup of hot water, plus sugar and your spoon. If you are lucky, though, it may be prepared as Café de Olla, that is, made in a traditional clay pot and usually with a cinnamon stick (canela).
According to Equal Exchange, a website reporting on Fair Trade, “Mexico is one of the largest coffee-producing countries in the world, and the largest producer of organic coffee, accounting for 60% of world production in 2000. The vast majority of Mexican coffee, and particularly organic coffee, is grown by small farmers in the southern-most states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. These two states also happen to be the poorest in the country, and not coincidentally, have the largest indigenous populations. Coffee is one of Mexico’s most lucrative exports and close to half a million small farmers and their families rely on the crop for their economic survival.”
Cafe de Olla actually has four ingredients that contribute to is special flavor, the water, the coffee itself, the after-mentioned canela AND the clay pot. These hand-thrown, hand-decorated Mexican clay casseroles impart a subtle but perceptible flavor to foods. A well-made olla is one whose bottom is not too thin, so it cooks well without burning. These pots need to cured before use. Rub the reverse side of the bottom (the side that will be directly on the fire) with garlic and/or cook with milk in it until the milk scalds. Not for oven use. Clay pots like the one pictured below are available at La Palma or Casa Lucas, on 24th St. and Alabama, in San Francisco’s Mission District, or at MexGrocer.com.
Recipe from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes
4½ oz piloncillo, roughly chopped
Zest of half orange, finely chopped
2 whole cloves
3-inch piece of cinnamon stick
¾ cup freshly ground dark-roasted Mexican coffee
In a clay pot (olla) or a kettle bring 9 cups of water to boil, combine the ingredients, stirring until the piloncillo is dissolved. Let steep at least 10 minutes. Pour through a strainer before serving. For special occasions, it is traditional to add a splash of rum or brandy to the individual coffee cups.