If you’re Puerto Rican, you know that the holiday season doesn’t truly kick off until the coquito is served. You might make your own, or eagerly await your tia or abuela’s secret recipe that they only make during this special time of year. And if you haven’t heard of it, or haven’t tried it yet, this Puerto Rican tropical twist on eggnog will give you a newfound appreciation for the classic Christmastime drink.
We recently joined Coquito Masters for their 16th Annual Coquito Tasting Competition. Founded by Debbie Quinones, what was first a casual meetup in her East Harlem home has become a citywide competition at El Museo del Barrio in New York City. Contestants came from all over the New York metropolitan area and submitted their version of the Christmas cocktail in a blind taste test in the hopes that their special family recipe will gain the most votes from the hundreds of participants.
The contestants were reluctant to give out the specifics of their recipes—after all, then it wouldn’t be a family secret! But we did catch up with contestant Nayda Carrion and her daughter Grace of 3rdiesoterics to learn about their family traditions. What blew me away the most was that Nayda’s recipe came from her grandmother—making it about one hundred years old! That’s a lot of years spent perfecting and enjoying this classic cocktail.
Nayda told us the two most critical pieces to making the best coquito—the quality of ingredients and the final consistency of the concoction. Coconut, rum, nutmeg, cinnamon, egg yolks, and milk are some of the ingredients that often find their way into the drink. Nayda always opts for the freshest and most natural ingredients for the best taste in the end. While you can find pre-mixed or pre-packaged ingredients to add to your coquito, Nayda and Grace wouldn’t use anything that’s not fresh.
And you might need to refine your coquito before it’s truly done to reach the perfect consistency—not too thick that it’s undrinkable and not too thin that you end up gulping down a whole glass in a few sips. You especially don’t want it to be too thin if you choose to use extra strength Bacardi 151 rum, where your coquito will certainly be packing a punch and leave you feeling tipsy after a few minutes. And it’s also important to choose the spices wisely that you use as a garnish—you don’t want to use too much cinnamon or nutmeg, leaving you with an overly sugary drink.
Have you stayed clear of coquito because of the fact that you’re lactose intolerant or vegan? While Nayda is more of a traditionalist, Grace gave us some suggestions on how to modify classic coquito, no matter what your dietary restrictions are. For a vegan version, you can make your own condensed milk from a combination of almond and/or coconut milk. Check out this version from No Beef Here if you’re eager to try a vegan variant.
With hundreds of participants voting on their favorite coquito recipe in the blind taste test, Nayda’s coquito came out strong in third place. Grace told us that friendly competition had long been a part of their family gatherings, where many family members would bring their own version to share. Though there was never really a clear winner—there was never any leftover coquito by the end of the party!
Coquito Masters will be holding several more competitions in different parts of the New York City during the rest of the holiday season. So don’t miss out on either showing off your recipe or tasting some of the best of the best. And if you want to make it yourself at home, check out HipLatina’s very own version here!