Café de olla, also known as traditional Mexican coffee, is made with ground coffee, cinnamon, and piloncillo (brown sugar). And if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you can also add a little chocolate into the mix. Simple enough recipe, right? No matter how simple though, café de olla is just one of those concoctions that will never taste exactly like your mom or grandma made it.
During the Mexican Revolution in 1910, soldaderas or adelitas were said to have supported soldiers by cooking and cleaning on the field. They also prepared café de olla with the ingredients mentioned above, all roasted in a clay pot (café de olla translates to pot coffee in English). The traditional Mexican drink was also meant to serve as a filling drink to help the soldiers’ energy, according to NPR.
The traditional drink has come a long way since the Mexican revolution. According to Sandra Elisa Loofbourow for Barista Magazine, “Over the past 100 years, café de olla has developed its own identity. It’s a staple at holiday celebrations, and people to this day serve it in their restaurants, taquerias, and cafés.”
It’s also enjoyed widely throughout Latin America, and in L.A. you can find a handful of coffee shops and restaurants that brew café de olla almost as good as your mama and abuelita do.
Café de Olla is a gem nestled in Burbank. You’ll walk in and feel right at home in this family-owned-and-operated establishment, where the cozy feel makes the food and café de olla taste that much more authentic. While the breakfast or lunch lines are always out the door, and you might wait over half an hour to get seated, it’s definitely worth the wait. So, if you’re ever craving chilaquiles with a café de olla (hot or iced) don’t hesitate to make the trip to the valley. 2315 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank.
If you’re ever in the mood for a warm cup of café de olla with some churros on the side, or pretty cookies in the shapes of Frida Kahlo or Selena Quintanilla, then Horchateria Rio Luna is the place to go. Originally located on Downey Avenue in Paramount, a new location opened up in the San Fernando Valley. Aside from serving churro sundaes, horchata iced coffee, and their signature concha ice cream sandwiches, they also host local Latinx artists selling everything from coffee mugs to books. 231 N. Maclay Ave., San Fernando.
For a quick and accessible cup of café de olla, La Monarca Bakery is a go-to. Whether you’re on the Eastside, on the Westside, or somewhere in between, La Monarca is somewhere nearby, fulfilling café de olla and pan dulce needs. On your way out, you can also grab a bag of their signature café de olla beans, made with organic Oaxacan dark-roast coffee. 6091 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood. Additional locations in Highland Park, Boyle Heights, Santa Monica, South Pasadena, East L.A, Pico Rivera, Huntington Park, Lincoln Heights, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Whittier.
Located in Cypress Park, Antigua Coffee House is an affordable and cozy spot where you can grab lunch, a yummy café de olla, and just spend some quality time with yourself on a Saturday afternoon. And if you’re in luck, you might run into the owner, Yancey Quiñones, who’s known to school customers on the history of café de olla upon their visits. 3400 N. Figueroa St., Cypress Park.
If you live in L.A. and haven’t heard of La Guelaguetza restaurant, then you should become acquainted ASAP. In Harvard Heights, the Oaxacan restaurant first opened its doors in 1994, by proprietors Fernando Lopez and Maria Monterrubio. Since then, Guelaguetza has become a boutique market and a champion for Oaxacan culture on the fringes of Koreatown. If you ever brave the long wait lines, remember to order some café de olla with your meal to make the visit worth it. 3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Harvard Heights.
This family-owned restaurant in Lincoln Heights is a fave for when you’re craving a Mexican breakfast. Wash down some huevos rancheros, nopales rancheros, huevos con chorizo, or mole enchiladas with their café de olla, which is a big hit with the locals. 3010 N. Broadway, Lincoln Heights.
Previously located on 1st Street in Boyle Heights, the recently renamed and relocated El Café by Primera Taza is still serving the community some of the best café de olla in town. In an interview with NPR Latino USA, owner Chuy Tovar described his café de olla as “smooth, thick, and rich with a chocolaty flavor.” At Primera Taza, you can expect a more chocolatey flavor ever since Tovar began using roasted cacao in his recipe. 622 S. Anderson St. #107, Boyle Heights.
In business since 2012, Holy Grounds Coffee and Tea bills itself as a “neighborhood coffee shop and sanctuary for creativity, productivity and relaxation.” Located in El Sereno, Holy Grounds uses a Guatemalan dark roast brewed with orange peel, piloncillo, and cinnamon sticks. 5371 Alhambra Ave., El Sereno.
Owner and roaster Geoffrey Martinez is an L.A. native who discovered his love for coffee while spending time in rural Guatemala as a kid. Now with Patria Coffee (patria is Spanish for Motherland), Martinez puts his own spin on café de olla with his signature café de olla latte, or you can sip on some refreshingly delicious iced café de olla. 108 Alameda St., Compton.