Next week, on Monday 2nd November, Mexico celebrates the Day of Dead (Dia de muertos): a combination of prehispanic traditions in Mexico and the Catholic influence as the Catholic Church celebrates All Saint’s Day on November 1st and All Soul’s Day on November 2. But only in Mexico these celebrations became a festivity, a moment not only to remember those who have died but evem more to celebrate their life, legacy and memories. By celebrating with them, they remain with us!
Life and death are important symbols in Mexican culture.
The day of the death used to be a prehispanic celebration that, when the Spanish conquered what is now Mexico, was moved from summer to November 2nd. On this day we honour death: we show her that we are thankful and not afraid of her. Yet we show her in the most playful way that we rather stay away for her for as long as possible. The celebrations begin weeks in advance when families create a shrine at home, decorated in colorful paper, orange flowers called Cempazuchitl that flower around this time of the year, sugar skulls, pictures of the dead family members and their favourite food, drinks and possessions. On the day itself the cemeteries get these colorful decorations too and families go there with the Mariachi to play music next to the tombs. It is a party!
During this whole celebration time we eat a special sweet bread called “Pan de muerto” (bread of dead) that is decorated with little bread bones. And what better companion for sweet bread than warm coffee? So for the occasion we prepare one of Mexican finest traditions: Cafe de olla (coffee of the pot). It is called in this way because it is prepared in a big clay pot as a drink for the whole family. I will give you the recipe of my family, but reduced to make only 3 cups:
3 cups of water
3 tablespoons of coarse ground coffee
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 orange peel (zest)
Small cone of “piloncillo” or about 30 gr of brown sugar (“Piloncillo” in Mexico, panela in other Latin American countries is unrefined whole cane sugar).
To prepare the Cafe de olla, first put the water, sugar, clove, cinamon and orange peel in the pot at high heat until boiling point, then lower to medium heat before adding the coarse ground coffee. Let it in the heat for around 5 mins. Then, sieve it through a fine cloth for the spices and the coffee to be retained. Serve the coffee in a traditional clay pot.
I choose a Mexican coffee for Cafe de olla, of course. I prefere to use a mild coffee to complement the flavour of clove and cinnamon, such as the Coatepec coffee from my store. This is a balanced coffee and rich in aroma. The added orange peel will give a fresh note to the beverage as well as a smooth sweetness.
The smell of the spices combine with the coffee immediately reminds me of home!