Where to find the best cafe de olla in Los Angeles

The scorching summer temperatures are already here, which means it’s the perfect time of year to enjoy a piping hot café de olla. It’s a nostalgic joke among the Mexican diaspora that we appreciate hot liquids in scorching weather.

The caffeinated cup of coffee infused with cinnamon, piloncillo, anise, cloves and a hint of grated orange peel is a classic comfort drink. For many first-generation Latinos, one sip brings them home to Abuelita. For others, café de olla reminds them of their home country, Mexico.

“I’m Oaxaqueña, and in Oaxaca, every day you start the day with a café de olla,” said restaurant owner and chef Rocio Camacho of Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen.

With 12 traditional Oaxacan moles to choose from on its menu, Camacho’s restaurant at Bell Gardens is an ode to his Oaxacan roots. But Camacho vividly remembers the first thing she put on her breakfast menu when she opened the doors to her restaurant: café de olla.

“My restaurant’s specialty is mole, but after that is café de olla,” Camacho said.

Café de olla literally translates to coffee in a pot, as traditionally the drink is brewed in a clay pot. It will look a lot like drip coffee, but you’ll quickly notice the difference when you smell the cinnamon sticks the coffee is brewed with and taste the distinct sweetness of the piloncillo The drink is traditionally served hot, but chilled variations appear in LA, including cold beers and iced lattes.

Most Mexican coffee is produced in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Puebla. Historians date the arrival of coffee in Mexico to the late 18th century. The exact date when café de olla was first created is unknown. But what we do know is that the café de olla played a big role in the Mexican revolution. Revolutionary women, also known as adelitas, prepared café de olla for soldiers before they went into battle.

Since then, coffee, especially café de olla, has become deeply embedded in Mexican culture.

In Southern California, a good cafe de olla is usually found at a Mexican restaurant like El Huarachito in Lincoln Heights, which has been in business for more than two decades. In recent years, more and more cafes across Los Angeles are offering café de olla. For Latin cafés, like La Monarca, café de olla is a menu staple that can be enjoyed year-round.

As more and more young Latinos begin to make their mark on the Los Angeles coffee world, cafes like Cruzita’s in Huntington Park and Picaresca in Boyle Heights are beginning to offer their own versions of café de olla.

“It’s a nostalgic drink,” said Elisa Hoyos, co-owner of Picaresca.

Hoyos grew up in Lincoln Heights and frequently visited El Huarachito with her family for its delicious food and café de olla. Now a café owner, Hoyos, along with his business partner Leo Abularach, offers a new take on the nostalgic café de olla recipe.

“We absolutely wanted to have items on the menu that spoke to our community,” Hoyos said. So they created a syrup with traditional café de olla ingredients that they add to the iced and hot lattes.

In addition to Picaresca, below is a list of nine LA cafes that have mastered café de olla.

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