This spicy Mexican coffee (cafe de olla) is warm, aromatic, and slightly sweet – and it’s a cinch to make!
Mexican coffee from two French sisters
Yep. You heard me right. My first experience with Mexican coffee was having it made and served by two French sisters.
Nathan and I just celebrated our 20th anniversary by taking a trip to Boston – a part of the country we’ve never visited before. One of our Airbnb stays was in this old Victorian house, built in 1885 and remodeled by husband and wife, Aaron and Catherine, and her sister Caroline.
While neither of us have ever stayed in a hostel, this place kind of made us think it would be similar – lots of rooms (some private baths, some shared), optional breakfast or authentic French dinner, and tons of good local advice. The selling point for us was most definitely the breakfast and conversation. It definitely felt as though we spent a little bit of time in France while we were there.
Their home was reminiscent of Catherine and Caroline’s childhood farmhouse in France, beautifully and tragically described; it sounded like a stunning and thriving place to grow up, but over time, their town and most of the family farms were eventually decimated. And so they came to America at 18 years old – bringing a little bit of France with them.
Omelettes and coffee
We had a few options for our breakfast: homemade breads, scones, omelettes, cappuccino, tea, and Mexican coffee. The bread and scones were perfect – from the texture to the flavors, we could’ve been completely satisfied with just those. But we couldn’t turn down the omelettes.
Nathan had a Mexican-inspired omelette with adobo peppers, and I went with the French cheese omelette. One thing you should know about me is that if I’ve been given cheese options and Brie is one of those options, I will pick it. Nine times out of ten. It is, hands down, one of my favorite cheeses. So I have no idea what other cheeses were in my omelette, because after Caroline listed Brie, I zoned out, and my mind was made up.
It was absolutely delicious. So creamy, so light. The perfect complement to our bread and scones.
But let’s talk about the coffee. (To be fair, we were also offered tea, but as one of our fellow guests – a 13-year-old boy who decided to try it for the first time – said, “It tastes like dirty water.” And we all agreed.)
Italian Cappuccino and Mexican coffee in a French country home
During breakfast one day Aaron was telling us about how he used to fix a French press coffee for his lovely wife every morning, but one morning he made her a cappuccino to try, and now Catherine’s feelings toward the French press were simply explained by a tilt of her head, shrug of her shoulders, and a “meh.”
Aaron’s obsession with authentic, quality coffee shows. He may have had to beg to get the sisters to agree to giving him his own workspace for his coffee gadgets, but it paid off. Apparently he had reached one of his greater culinary achievements when an Italian guest stayed with them. The man asked Aaron where he learned to make cappuccino, Aaron nervously asked him if it was any good, and the man passionately responded with high praise – he should know, after all.
And I agree – it was delicious! Our first morning I had both a cappuccino and a bit of Mexican coffee. I was hopping right up until I grabbed my afternoon coffee.
The next morning I asked for the same, but Caroline poured my Mexican coffee first, and I was so happy to be sipping on it and studying it that I told Aaron to scratch my cappuccino. And I never turn down a cappuccino or latte. Never. My go-to is always a breve latte. But this Mexican coffee was different than anything I’d ever had before, and I was enjoying it so much that I just kept going back for more. Savoring it. Trying to pinpoint how to make it when we get home.
What makes a Mexican coffee?
My feelings towards the Mexican coffee must have been obvious, because before I could even ask Caroline for the recipe, she was up out of her chair, reaching for a pen and paper and said, “I’ll write the recipe down for you.”
I almost cried. And I’ll tell you why in a minute. But, first, the coffee.
Mexican coffee, also called cafe de olla, is full of warm spices that give off these aromas that instantly comfort you, and it has this mellow sweetness that makes it easy to drink black (even for those who swear it off entirely).
Instead of brewing the coffee with plain water, you heat water with spices first and then brew the coffee with it.
Traditionally, you heat the water and spices in a clay pot, then add the coffee grounds to it. After steeping, it’s strained and served.
Caroline also suggested brewing the coffee in a French press after heating the water and spices on the stove. Since my French press is old and basically unusable (and I don’t own a clay pot), I opted for brewing it in our Aeropress.
I enjoy it black, but I’ve also used my milk frother to add some warm cream and foam, and it was even better!
Ingredients for Mexican coffee:
- cinnamon sticks (or ground cinnamon)
- whole or ground cloves
- ground ginger (optional)
- ground coffee
First thing’s first – before brewing the Mexican coffee, heat the water and other ingredients on the stove. In a medium saucepan, bring the water, molasses, and spices to a low boil on medium-high heat. Once it reaches a boil, stir, remove from heat and strain. Now it’s time to use this spicy concoction to brew the coffee.
French press or Aeropress?
Both make a great cup of Mexican coffee! How you brew it is entirely up to you. It may depend on how many servings you’re brewing or how much time you have, but both are fine options for this recipe.
For the French press:
Add the ground coffee to a French press and use the spiced water from the stove to brew: Pour the water over the coffee grounds in a circular motion, pouring just enough to saturate them at first. Let the grounds bloom for a few seconds before adding more liquid. Then pour the rest of the water in, set the lid and filter on at the top, and let the coffee steep for 3-4 minutes. After it’s done steeping, push the filter down and serve.
For the Aeropress:
Add 1 Aeropress scoop of coffee for every 1 cup of water. Place the coffee in the Aeropress, making sure it’s level. Pour just enough of the spiced water to saturate the grounds and let sit for about 10 seconds to bloom. Add the rest of the water, give a slight stir, and let sit for another 10-20 seconds. Push the plunger to extract the coffee into your cup. Drink as is for an espresso-type of coffee, or pour additional hot water (spiced or not) to create more of an Americano (closer to the strength of a traditional coffee).
Crying over Mexican coffee
So why did I nearly cry when Caroline shared her recipe with me? Was it because I’m a sensitive soul who cries on the daily from something as simple as an episode of MasterChef Junior or a commercial for the Olympics? Partly, yes.
But also because, in that moment, I realized that Caroline saw me. We are two people from different countries, brought together by our shared love of food and cooking. And although I’m sure we have differing opinions and preferences on some things (Who agrees on everything, right?), we found common ground at her table. Happy to share stories and recipes and culture and community over a lingering breakfast.
Isn’t this how we should be living? Taking time and slowness to savor a meal and conversation? To deeply engage in hopes of learning someone’s story and what makes them who they are? Listening for the sake of understanding? And finally, being able to see and appreciate a person for those reasons?
We all come from different places and backstories, and sharing a meal or a simple recipe is such a natural way to break barriers and facilitate conversation – to gain insight and to build relationship with someone different than yourself.
That’s the good stuff. And so much of why I love food and cooking.
Who can you invite to your table today?
- 5 c. water
- ⅓ c. molasses
- 2 cinnamon sticks or 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 5 cloves or ½ tsp. ground cloves
- ¼ tsp. ground ginger optional
- ½ c. ground coffee
- In a clay pot or medium saucepan, add the water, molasses, and spices and turn to medium-high heat. Bring to a low boil and remove from heat. Stir and then strain the spices, reserving the liquid.
- Add the ground coffee to a French press and use the liquid from the stove to brew: Pour the liquid over the coffee grounds in a circular motion, pouring just enough to saturate them at first. Let the grounds bloom for a few seconds before adding more liquid. Then pour the rest of the liquid in, set the lid and filter on at the top, and let the coffee steep for 3-4 minutes. After it has steeped, push the filter down and serve. Enjoy black or add cream.
- If using an Aeropress instead of a French press: Add 1 Aeropress scoop of coffee for every 1 cup of liquid. Place the coffee in the Aeropress, making sure it’s level. Pour just enough liquid to saturate the grounds and let sit for about 10 seconds to bloom. Add the rest of the liquid, give a slight stir, and let sit for another 10-20 seconds. Push the plunger to extract the coffee into your cup. Drink as is or add additional hot liquid to create more of an Americano. Enjoy black or add cream.
- Any leftover spiced liquid can be stored in a jar in the fridge and reheated as needed.
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