Recently highlighted on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, the Isla del Encanto of Puerto Rico is known for its Latin cuisine. These incredible meals are exquisitely complemented by the local drinks that will instill a memory with each sip and have you searching for recipes upon your return home. This list of traditional drinks of Puerto Rico, and some chinchorros at which to find them, will help you plan your drinking and dining experience.
Named the national drink of Puerto Rico on July 10, 1978, the inventor of this refreshing rum drink is controversial to this day. The tropical climes of Puerto Rico can be cooled with this eye-catching delight. Mixologists strain (colada) juicy local pineapple (piña). Coconut water or cream of coconut is added along with crushed ice, and then blended with your choice of rum; perhaps Don Q or Bacardi, just a couple of the famous rums of Puerto Rico. Most often topped with a dab of whipped cream and garnished with a slice of pineapple and a maraschino cherry, it is a wonderful, anytime drink. A non-alcoholic version is also enjoyed by the kids. Make a day of it at La Guancha in Ponce where you can sample piña coladas from the many kiosks while you listen to live music and feed the tarpon and the pelicans.
The holiday celebrations in Puerto Rico start with Thanksgiving and continue through their biggest festivities on Three Kings Day on January 6, and these joyous times would not be complete without some local pitorro. While you can find various flavors of pitorro at your local grocery store, to have the true pitorro experience you must try that which is produced by the locals. Often infused with fruit or coffee, or blended with chocolate or hazelnut, this Puerto Rican moonshine will surely have you feeling the warmth of the holidays, all the way down to your toes.
Another drink enjoyed at the holidays, coquito is often called Puerto Rican eggnog. Recipes vary from family to family, but the main ingredients include evaporated milk, condensed milk, coconut milk, cream of coconut, white rum, and spices like vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Lovely holiday bottles are sold at just about every store this time of year, and coquito is made in batches and shared with friends and family. It is served chilled or over ice. For an extra special holiday treat, try the Coquito Tres Leche at Salitre Meson Costero.
The best mojitos are those made with homemade syrup, made out of brown sugar that is muddled with fresh mint. Add the rum and just about any fruit or herb you can think of. Original with lime is great, but also try passionfruit, strawberry, pineapple, watermelon, apple, basil and coconut. Try a great original mojito at Club Nautico de Boquerón, or grab one at Playa Sucia if you’re there on a lucky day. If you want to try different flavors, The Copy in Boquerón is the place for you.
Puerto Rico has the most beautiful beaches, and there is nothing like an ice-cold beer enjoyed while bobbing in the waves of Playa Sucia or Culebra. Medalla is the local favorite, a light beer that is manufactured in Mayagüez.
There are many health benefits to coconut water, and driving down the roads of Puerto Rico you will find many stands selling coco frio, or cold coconut water. Whole coconuts are kept in a cooler and then topped with a machete when purchased. Most stands will also have rum, vodka, or whiskey that can be added. At most stands if you finish your coco frio there, they will then open it for you so you can eat the sweet meat inside. Tastes good, and is good for you.
Literally meaning “Free Cuba,” occasionally when ordered the bartender will still reply “no existe tal cosa,” “there is no such thing.” While many think that a Cuba Libre is just a rum and coke, it is actually not a Cuba Libre until the lime juice is added, preferably that of a fresh lime. Try it with Don Q Añejo, a superior amber rum that is aged in American white oak barrels for 3–10 years.
Also a blended drink much like the piña colada, frappes are a frozen drink made with fresh fruit and ice cream. With the year-round lush environment of Puerto Rico, the fresh fruit choices are almost unlimited. Frappes can be found at roadside stands, kiosks, grocery stores, shopping malls, and just about everywhere in between.
Mavi is made with the bark of the mavi tree that is boiled, sometimes with spices like ginger and cinnamon, or fruit is added for different flavors. An alcoholic version is made by fermenting this with mixture with sugar. The best place to pick up mavi is at local roadside stands.
Café con queso
Cheese in your coffee may seem strange, but café con queso is a must. Using coffee that is grown in the mountains of Puerto Rico, coffee beans are ground fine and served strong, often with milk and white or brown sugar. For a unique flavor sensation, try the café con queso that starts with strong espresso, then adds a little bit of hot chocolate mix, steamed milk, cinnamon, and a thin wedge of hard cheese like asiago or pecorino romano. The cheese adds a nutty, creamy flavor, and the salty-sweetness of the cheese with the chocolatey goodness of the hot chocolate is astounding. Try this culinary delight at Café Bizcochos in the plaza of Cabo Rojo.
Not all of the favorite beverages of Puerto Rico have alcohol. Malta is an unfermented, lightly-carbonated malt beverage that is very popular with Puerto Ricans. Sold in cans and small bottles, it is a taste special to the Caribbean and may take some getting used to.