Hot drinks in Mexico are perfect for a cool morning. While many people enjoy their coffee in the morning— and Mexico has excellent coffee to enjoy—it’s nice to have other hot drink options for folks who don’t necessarily want coffee to kick things off.
Coffee is not native to Mexico (it’s indigenous to Africa and was introduced by Europeans), but Mexico is now one of the largest coffee producers in the world. It is the #1 source of coffee in the U.S. Most Mexican coffee comes from the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, Oaxaca’s southern neighbor. You get fresh, delicious coffee all over Oaxaca and espresso drinks are readily available in the many cafés.
You can also buy freshly roasted and ground coffee to make at home. Our favorite coffee pusher is Café Nuevo Mundo who roast it in the back room and grind it to your specifications, with a helpful chart of different ways to make coffee so you get the right grind.
Café de Olla
A particularly Mexican way to drink coffee is the traditional café de olla (pot coffee). The coffee grounds are cooked in a pot with cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar) and then strained into your cup to get the grounds out. You can often order it with a little sugar or a lot, but it will always be sweetened. Even if you don’t normally drink sweet coffee it’s worth giving it a try for a true Mexican experience of coffee.
Chocolate is originally from Mexico (chocolātl is a Nahuatl (Aztec) word). While you can get chocolate candies, the traditional and most common way to consume chocolate in Mexico in drinking. Chocolate has been a beverage in Mexico since at least 1900 BCE. Oaxaca is particularly well known for its chocolate and you can find many different flavors. The classic chocolate is normally flavored with cinnamon and sometimes almonds as well. When you order it, you will be asked if you want it with milk (leche) or water (agua), and it is served with a light froth on top because they whip it up with a molinillo, which is a wooden whisk used specifically for whipping chocolate. Chocolate is also almost always served with some sweet breads (pan dulce) or cookies.
The popular commercial brands of chocolate, based in Oaxaca, are Mayordomo, La Soledad, and Guelaguetza. You’ll find their stores around the city and you can buy their chocolate in all grocery stores. (In other parts of Mexico, you’ll find Abuelita, which is a Nestlé brand. Stick with real Oaxaca or Chiapas chocolate for the best though.)
If you really want to explore chocolate you can visit a mill (molino) which grinds chocolate to order. You choose the cocoa beans, the amount of sugar, and other ingredients you want, like cinnamon and almonds, in the ratios you prefer. They grind it up for you and hand over a bag of warm, liquidy chocolate, which you then take home, form, and let set into bars or blocks. I can attest that your whole house will smell amazing!
Atole is a pre-Hispanic hot beverage found througout Mexico, made with a ground masa or flour, water or milk, and sugar, and it is very common in Oaxaca. Corn is the historical grain used and the most common still, but you can also find it made with rice, wheat, oats, and amaranth. The grain thickens the drink so it has lots of mouthfeel, retains its heat better than a thinner drink, like coffee or tea, and feels more filling. It is commonly served as either plain/blanco or with chocolate as atole de chocolate (also known as champurrado). You can also find all kinds of variations with different flavors, including different kinds of fruits, peanuts, and fresh corn (elote) instead of meal (masa).
I often make atole at home in the cool mornings of winter. You can find it at places that serve breakfast, and it will most often be served with pan dulce, just like chocolate. If you have a pot and stove you can make your own very easily. There is a range of “meal” that you can use. The most common here in Oaxaca would be cornstarch (fécula de maíz) for a very smooth atole, masa (freshly ground corn) or masa harina (corn flour, not corn meal) for more texture/flavor, or rice flour (harina de arroz). Mexico in My Kitchen has a nice range of recipes with different flavorings, and mostly uses masa harina. David Liebowitz has a classic recipe using cornstarch. In Mexico you can also buy packets of the biggest cornstarch brand, Maizena, that contain the cornstarch with flavoring, and simple instructions, where you add the milk and sugar.
Chocolateatole versus Atole de Chocolate
There is a related drink that is specific to the south of Mexico and is readily found in Oaxaca, chocolateatole (all one word). Chocolateatole is different from atole de chocolate (champurrado), though you will find a lot of references on the internet lumping all of these terms together. Even when you ask native Oaxacaños what the difference is, you’ll get all kinds of responses. Most often people say “I don’t know, but they’re different.” For some people chocolateatole is a blend of chocolate de agua/leche with atole, while atole de chocolate (champurrado) is atole made by adding chocolate directly to the recipe.
After poking around a bit I discovered that chocolateatole is truly a different drink with a new ingredient. It is made with chocolate (cacao), rice or wheat, sugar, and white cacao, or pataxte here in Oaxaca, which is a relative of the classic chocolate cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). Pataxte (Theobroma bicolor) is also known as Mocambo or Jaguar Tree. You can get all into the nerdy history in this article at Chocolate Class. If you want to see the whole process for chocolateatole, this is a great video in the indigenous Zapotec language. This is not something you will normally make on your own, even in Oaxaca, as you need access to the ground fermented pataxte seeds.
You can see the difference between atole de chocolate and chocolateatole by the foam on top. Pataxte creates some serious foam when whipped up and when it is served you will have a nice, thick foamy topping in your bowl, while the regular atole will not be foamy or if someone did whip it, you’ll only see a little bit of froth or bubbles.
Unlike coffee, tea is not really a big thing here. Most “teas” you will find are tisanes (non-tea infusions), like mint (menta), chamomile (manzanilla), and ginger (jengibre), with pennyroyal (poleo) and pitiona (related to lemon verbena) also being popular here.
If you are looking for real tea (e.g. black or green), then the bigger grocery stores will have some. We can find Twinings in some stores, like Chedraui. There are also two tea shops; one in Reforma, La Pasión Café y Casa de Té and the other in Jalatlaco, Iris Tea Shop. I’m a tea snob, so I generally bring my own black teas from Denmark, supplemented with Twinings and herbal tisanes bought in Oaxaca.