The greatest thing about Phoenix isn’t the scenery or the weather or the golf courses: the most amazing thing about Phoenix is that at any given point in time you are a stone’s throw away from horchata.
Horchata, for those who may not be familiar, is pretty much liquid sunshine. It’s a spiced mixture of rice, cinnamon, and sugar that manages to be thick and creamy but also refreshing. A few years ago, Cartel Coffee Lab made the genius move of putting coffee into it, making an already perfect drink somehow perfecter.
“A friend of mine who is a chef came in with a bunch of his friends,” says Jason Silberschlag, Cartel’s owner. “They had just eaten Mexican food and one of them was carrying a cup of horchata from the restaurant. As a joke I was like, I’ll put a shot of espresso in there.”
He put a shot of espresso in there. And their world was forever changed.
At first, Cartel called the drink “the Dirty Hor.” That title didn’t last long—presumably because the ‘h’ in ‘horchata’ is silent, duh! The drink is now sold by its markedly less bawdy name, “Espresso Excelente.”
Jason is a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, which is probably why Cartel has had the kind of success it has had. In the past six years, the team at Cartel has opened six cafes, each with a distinct feel and audience. Jason builds what needs to be built; he fixes what needs to be fixed. And when it comes to the creation of an espresso-compatible horchata, legend has it that he brought his Vitamix on vacation with him and Vitamix-ed what needed to be Vitamix-ed.
It was important to Jason that Cartel prepare its horchata in-house. He had a few criteria in mind. First, the recipe needed to be easy to prepare. Second, it needed to be dairy-free. After all, it’s about a hundred degrees in Phoenix for about half the year. No one (no one!) wants to suck on a big ol’ cup of milk in that kind of heat.
The result is not a strictly traditional horchata—though of course, the drink has many interpretations across the world. The addition of almonds to the mix provides a fatty back to the delightfully textural drink. In terms of flavor the Dirty Hor/Espresso Excelente is vaguely akin to a Dirty Chai, but its simple ingredient list does away with the constant battle between tea flavors, spice flavors, and coffee flavors.
Here’s how to make your own Excelente horchata latte:
You will need:
1 cup white rice
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup sliced almonds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in a 2 liter pitcher. Fill with water to the top. Stir to ensure sugar dissolves. Let the mixture soak for 24 hours.
Blend for about one minute, until the mixture is coarse but combined. Blending for too long will make straining difficult, but you want to dissolve some of the rice/almond/cinnamon particulates (because that’s where the tasty stuff is.)
Strain the horchata mash through a very fine mesh strainer 2-3 times. Stir with a spatula to ensure that some of those tasty horchata fines make their way into the mix.
Top with espresso and lots of ice; enjoy.
Zaida Dedolph is a first time Sprudge Contributor based in Phoenix, AZ