Coquito: A Tropical Twist On The Holiday Classic

Originally published on December 17, 2011 10:24 am

Coquito, an eggnog made with rum and coconut, is as integral to a Puerto Rican Christmas as presents under the tree.

In New York on Saturday, 12 coquito makers are battling to be this year's Coquito Masters champion. It's the 10th year of the contest. Trolleys will take fans to different locations in Spanish Harlem to sample coquito and vote for their favorite drinks in blind taste tests.

Puerto Ricans tend to keep their coquito recipes top-secret, according to Debbie Quinones, founder of the International Coquito Federation. Breaking with that tradition, here's a recipe from Ellie Heinzman, mother of Weekend Edition producer Elaine Heinzman.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

From Coco Robicheaux to coquito. That's an eggnog that's as much a part of a Puerto Rican Christmas as sunlight and beaches. Today in New York, 12 coquito-makers will contend to be this year's Coquito Masters champion.

Debbie Quinones is the founder of the International Coquito Federation. She joins us from New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

DEBBIE QUINONES: Thanks for inviting me.

SIMON: And what is a coquito?

QUINONES: Coquito is made specifically with condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut, rum, vanilla, nutmeg, and some other spices that tend to vary with various families.

SIMON: So everybody has their own personal recipe.

QUINONES: Absolutely and that's what is the joy and beauty of this contest that I organized. It's called Coquito Masters. It started when my mother's friend passed away who was the coquito maker for our family. And I was left without any coquito and realizing that the concept of culinary legacy was really important. And I started having this event in my house, basically with some friends and family.

SIMON: What can we expect today?

QUINONES: You have the top 12 coquito masters from the five boroughs, from different neighborhoods and even Connecticut - and, of course, the defending champion who is Maritza Acosta.

It's really an exciting opportunity and experienced to see people coming in with this sense of pride and competition. I have to say that this competition is fierce.

SIMON: Are people eager to share the recipes? Can they keep them...

QUINONES: Oh, no. No. Oh, no. No. This is something that is really intense. We have the competition today. And as a result of the growth and expansion of this initiative, we have decided that - in consultation with the Museo Del Barrio - that in a new twist, what we have now is a coquito crawl, which is promoting the tourism of East Harlem, where restaurants have come on board and they will serve as the winning contestant's coquito.

And we have a trolley that's going to go around the neighborhood. So ultimately, after you taste from two to four, people can go back to the Museo Del Barrio at 6:30 where we will announce the winner.

SIMON: Does the winner have to share his or her recipe?

QUINONES: No. No. No. No. That's like really something that we don't get into.

SIMON: OK.

QUINONES: The third-place winner in 2008, she stole the recipe from her father who had it under his bed in a locked box. She actually stole...

SIMON: And you rewarded that kind of family pilferage?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

QUINONES: The mother was in - she was part of the collaboration, and she took the recipe and put it into the contest and won third place.

SIMON: Well, happy holidays and may all your coquitos be smooth.

QUINONES: Thank you.

SIMON: Or whatever a gentleman says to a lady.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

QUINONES: Thank you so much.

SIMON: Debbie Quinones, speaking with us from New York. The Coquito Masters Championship happens today in Spanish Harlem. And to find a recipe for a coquito, you can go to our website, NPR.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.