Horchata (cha-cha-cha)

the finished frosty glass

Horchata  is a controversial beverage. A beloved agua fresca, traditional in Spain and Central & South America—Its sweet milky refreshment is ladled out of glass pitchers the size of a small child on the hottest days, its starchy backbone quells the burn of the spiciest foods.

Steeped Rice getting ready to be dolled up

Is it just rice? Or nuts and rice? Milk or no milk? Or can you only call it a horchata when the beverage is wrung from the tigernut?

I recently tested four recipes to explore the differences.

  • Batch One: The Ringer, or “Horchata in a Hurry” rice milk, whole milk, sugar, cinnamon, and a kiss of vanilla.
  • Batch Two: Recipe from Fany Gerson’s  Paletas Steeped rice, Whole Milk, Sugar, Cinnamon
  • Batch Three: Steeped Rice, Rice Milk, Sugar, Cinnamon, Vanilla
  • Batch Four:Steeped Rice, Steeped Almonds, Coconut Milk, Cinnamon

    The Taste Test

After a blind tasting with my executive chef, general manager, several staff from the front and back of house, and of course the Gent, I hit upon the Final Where The Sidework Ends Horchata. It is a combination of batches two and four, so it has a few components….


It should be noted that in the blind tasting, “The Ringer” batch scored very high. Many tasters, honestly, could not tell the difference…

The Final Where the Sidework Ends Horchata

2/3 cup long grain rice

3 cups warm water

¼ cup blanched almonds

¾ cup sugar

1 cup whole milk

1 13 oz can coconut milk (Goya brand is my favorite)

1/4 tsp vanilla

2 sticks cinnamon (or 1 stick of super-fresh, high-grade cinnamon, or ¼ tsp ground high grade cinnamon)

Ground cinnamon for garnish

Grind the rice in a spice grinder or blender until it is the consistency of  coarse meal. Pour into a pitcher with the warm water.  If using stick cinnamon,

rice before and after pulverization

add it now. When the water has come to room temperature, cover and place in the refrigerator  for at least 6 hours, or up to overnight.

When the rice has finished steeping, blend it in batches until smooth. Strain the blended rice mixture through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.  Squeeze solids to release all the liquid. Re-blend the rice solids once more, and strain again to get as much rice-y goodness as possible.

Add milk, coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla. Stir until sugar dissolves. Taste for sweetness, and add more sugar to taste if necessary.

Server over ice, garnish with stick of cinnamon and a dusting of ground cinnamon.

A note on cinnamon—the second you open a container of cinnamon, whether it is whole stick or ground, it should overwhelm your palate with the aroma of cinnamon. If it doesn’t have a powerful aroma, it won’t have any flavor. It’ll taste like it smells.  Spend the extra two bucks and get a cinnamon with serious impact.

Horchata in a Hurry

3 cups Rice Milk

2 cups Whole Milk

½ cup sugar

1 stick, or ¼ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp vanilla

Mix together all ingredients. Chill. Serve. See if anyone notices how easy it was……

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