Monday, August 16, 2004


My favorite summertime Spanish drink is not sangría. To be honest, I don’t find sangría appealing during any season. Nope, my favorite summertime drink is horchata. Horchata tastes great, refreshes and unlike sangría, doesn’t leave me with a crippling hangover the next day.

Horchata is a thin, sweet, milky-white drink from the Valencia region of Spain’s southeast Mediterranean coast. Contrary to what many believe, it is not dairy-based. Nor is it made from rice, as is its Mexican counterpart.

Spanish horchata is, instead, made from chufa – a.k.a., “tiger nuts.” But chufas are not nuts at all; whether from a tiger or otherwise. They are round, brown tubers found in the roots of an Egyptian plant that grows especially well in the Valencian soil. I could tell you the Latin name for this plant, but why bother? This blog has no following amongst botanists, nor is it on the Vatican’s recommended reading list.

To make horchata, chufas are picked, washed, soaked and re-washed. They are then ground into a paste and infused with water. The chufa paste steeps in the water for several hours, then is pressed and strained. Finally, the resulting liquid is sweetened with sugar. Served ice cold, horchata is wildly popular with both children and adults.

Surprisingly, I am not aware of any cocktails in which horchata is a component; although I suspect that it would taste pretty good with a shot of dark rum and a paper umbrella.

A well-made horchata should be smooth and clean tasting, with a proper balance between its sweetness and nuttiness. If a sip of horchata leaves your tongue feeling as if it were coated with chalk dust, you’re not drinking a good one. If it’s so sweet that the fillings in your teeth begin to throb, look elsewhere for the next round. If it tastes like liquid rice pudding, then double-check your airline tickets because you’ve probably landed in Mexico.

You need not worry about these flaws, however, because I am going to tell you where to find the best horchata in all of Spain. In Madrid on the southwest corner of Calles Narvaez and Jorge Juan – within shouting distance of the Goya El Corte Inglés – there is a white, metal shed in which a mother and son sell drinks from (roughly) May until September. Go there. Log off your computer and go there NOW, because the folk in that little shed serve the best horchata on this side of Pluto. They serve a stellar granizado de limón (lemon graniza), as well.

But they don’t serve sangría; which, perhaps, explains the absence of British tourists amongst their client base.


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