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A pitcher pouring coffee into a white cup with a colorful wrap that says Azucanela, next to a Mexican red clay pot.
Azucanela Churreria serves delicious café de olla in Los Angeles.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

9 best L.A. spots for café de olla, even when it’s hot out

Scorching summer temperatures are already here, which means it’s a perfect time of year to enjoy some piping hot café de olla. It’s a nostalgic joke among the Mexican diaspora that we enjoy hot liquids in parching weather.

The caffeinated cup of coffee infused with cinnamon, piloncillo, anise, clove and a dash of grated orange peel is a classic comfort drink. For many first-generation Latinos, a sip takes them back to abuelita’s house. For others, café de olla reminds them of their home country — Mexico.

“I’m Oaxaqueña, and in Oaxaca every day you start the day with café de olla,” said restaurant owner and chef Rocio Camacho of Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen.

With 12 traditional Oaxacan moles to choose from on her menu, Camacho’s restaurant in Bell Gardens is an ode to her Oaxacan roots. But Camacho distinctly remembers the first thing she put on her breakfast menu when she opened her restaurant doors: café de olla.

“The specialty item at my restaurant is mole, but after that it’s café de olla,” said Camacho.

Café de olla literally translates to coffee from a pot, because traditionally the drink is brewed in a clay pot. It will look pretty much like drip coffee, but you’ll quickly spot the difference when you smell the cinnamon sticks the coffee is brewed with, and taste the distinct sweetness of piloncillo The drink is traditionally served hot, but chilled variations are popping up in L.A., including cold brews and iced lattes.

Most of the coffee in Mexico is produced in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Puebla. Historians date coffee’s arrival in Mexico to the late 18th century. The exact date when café de olla was first made is unknown. But what is known is that café de olla played a big part in the Mexican Revolution. Women revolutionaries, also known as adelitas, prepared café de olla for soldiers before they went out to battle.

Since then, coffee, in particular café de olla, has become deeply rooted in Mexican culture.

In Southern California, a good café de olla is typically found at a Mexican restaurant like El Huarachito in Lincoln Heights, which has been in business for over two decades. In recent years, more coffee shops throughout L.A. have been offering café de olla. For Latino coffee shops, like La Monarca, café de olla is a menu staple that is enjoyed year-round.

As more young Latinos begin to stake a claim in L.A.'s coffee world, coffee shops like Cruzita’s in Huntington Park and Picaresca in Boyle Heights are beginning to serve their own versions of café de olla.

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“It’s a nostalgic drink,” said Elisa Hoyos, co-owner of Picaresca.

Hoyos grew up in Lincoln Heights and frequently visited El Huarachito with her family for its delicious food and café de olla. Now as a coffee shop owner, Hoyos, along with business partner Leo Abularach, serves a new interpretation of the nostalgic café de olla recipe.

“We definitely wanted to have items on the menu that catered to our community,” Hoyos said. So they created a syrup with traditional café de olla ingredients that they add to iced and hot lattes.

Along with Picaresca, below is a list of nine cafes throughout Los Angeles that have mastered café de olla.

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The patio outside a reddish building, with olive trees and small tables.
The entrance at the Holy Grounds Coffee Shop in El Sereno.
(Jacqueline Pinedo / Los Angeles Times)

Holy Grounds

El Sereno Eatery $
Holy Grounds is a favorite in El Sereno. Throughout the cafe you’ll find art from local artists. The cafe has a cozy outdoor seating area, where you can sit by a fountain and enjoy your café de olla. It also serves small bites. The Weekender — a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese, tomatoes, basil, black pepper and sea salt — is a popular item on its menu.
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People stand in line at a food stall inside a market.
A view of Oaxacalifornia Cafe and Juice located in Mercado la Paloma.
(Jacqueline Pinedo / Los Angeles Times)

Oaxacalifornia Cafe and Juice

Historic South-Central Eatery $
Inside Mercado la Paloma you’ll find the pleasantly surprising Oaxacalifornia Cafe and Juice. The mercado is like a food court but with better food. It typically gets busy around lunch hour, and Oaxacalifornia is a popular pick. The cafe serves freshly made natural juices and traditional Oaxacan dishes like mole negro, tlayudas and tortas. It also serves a sweet café de olla to wash down your Oaxacan meal. Brewed with Groundwork coffee, the recipe leans toward the sweeter side, but in a good way. You will immediately taste the caramel-like flavor of the piloncillo.
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A table and chairs on a patio with a colorful mural of a rooster and other animals.
The colorful patio at Azucanela.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Azucanela

Del Aire Eatery $
Azucanela is mostly known for its fresh-to-order churros, but its café de olla is also worth the hype. The cafe is modern with colorful walls and custom neon signs. When you walk in, you can’t miss the orange clay pot sitting on the stove, where the café de olla is brewed daily. Its recipe is unique because it includes anise and cloves, which create a sweet licorice taste.
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Packages of cafe de olla beans on a wooden counter in a store.
La Monarca sells packaged café de olla coffee beans at all its stores, including the Pico Rivera location.
(Jacqueline Pinedo / Los Angeles Times)

La Monarca

Pico Rivera Eatery $
Since 2006, La Monarca has been serving sweet pan dulce, cakes for special occasions and café de olla to its loyal customers. Today the coffee shop has 12 locations throughout L.A. County. Every location serves a great cup of traditional café de olla. You can also find packaged café de olla coffee beans to replicate La Monarca’s recipe at home at all L.A. locations.
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People stand at a takeout window of a black building.
Clients wait to place their order at the Mugs Roasters Coffee Stand in Boyle Heights.
(Jacqueline Pinedo / Los Angeles Times)

Mugs Coffee Roasters

Boyle Heights Eatery $
The iced café de olla here is refreshing, packed with flavor and perfect for a summer day in L.A. The café de olla house-made syrup is made with piloncillo and cinnamon, then added to a cold brew for iced café de olla or to hot coffee. Parking can be difficult here, since the coffee shop is on a busy intersection. Still, the coffee is worth it.
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A building at a corner with signs that say "Rocio's" and "Tamales, champurrado y cafe de olla"
Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen sits at the intersection of Garfield Avenue and Park Lane in Bell Gardens.
(Jacqueline Pinedo / Los Angeles Times)

Rocio's Mexican Kitchen

Bell Gardens Eatery $$
Rocio Camacho, owner and chef of Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen, refers to herself as “diosa de los moles,” which translates to goddess of the moles. Her Oaxacan-style mole is definitely delicious, but her café de olla is just as good. Camacho’s traditional approach to café de olla and impeccable technique will make you feel like you’re drinking café at abuelita’s house.
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Tables and chairs sit under umbrellas outside a small storefront.
A quiet Thursday morning at El Huarachito in Lincoln Heights.
(Jacqueline Pinedo / Los Angeles Times)

El Huarachito

Lincoln Heights Eatery $
El Huarachito has been serving the Lincoln Heights community traditional Mexican dishes for more than two decades. The original restaurant owners are still running the shop and brewing delicious café de olla every morning. Esther Tamayo likes to use a hint of orange and imported Mexican coffee beans for her recipe. Bring cash if you plan to visit as El Huarachito is cash only.
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The outdoor seating area at Picaresca where you can enjoy a coffee.
(Jacqueline Pinedo / Los Angeles Times)

Picaresca Barra de Cafe

Boyle Heights Eatery $
Sometimes it’s OK to break with tradition, especially if something delicious is the result. Picaresca breaks all the rules of the traditional café de olla recipe. Its take on the drink is offered only as a cold or hot latte, infused with a house-made café de olla syrup. Despite its nontraditional approach, the café de olla latte tastes like Christmas in a cup, packed with flavors of cinnamon, honey, orange peels and brown sugar. The café de olla latte is the cafe’s most requested menu item.
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A small reddish building with an outdoor patio featuring wooden planter boxes, tables and chairs.
The outdoor patio at Cruzitas Coffee Shop is a prime people-watching spot.
(Jacqueline Pinedo / Los Angeles Times)

Cruzita's Deli and Cafe

Huntington Park Eatery $
Cruzita’s has become a hub in the community of Huntington Park. It serves healthy food and takes a no-frills approach to its café de olla. The cafe has outdoor patio seating where you can enjoy your coffee and pan dulce with a side of people-watching. The cafe bakes some treats in-house but also carries locally baked goods.
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