I first made coquito in December 2014, when visiting my parents, who lived in Puerto Rico at the time. After looking through a few recipes, I settled on one from Alejandra Ramos’s blog, Always Order Dessert. “With any traditional recipes there’s hot debate about what the real version is, about what’s right and what’s not,” says the New York-based food writer and recipe developer. “Some people think it should be made with egg, some people think absolutely not.” The recipe below, adapted from Ramos, is made without eggs, partly because the inclusion of raw eggs in a beverage doesn’t really appeal to me, but also, as Ramos explains, adding egg makes the drink more custard-like in texture. Without the egg, it’s still thick and creamy, but the nuances of the coconut really shine.
Another plus to this recipe: It requires merely opening several cans, blending their contents with a few spices, adding rum and chilling the whole mixture for several hours. No hacking through a fresh coconut to carefully craft your own fresh coconut milk. No tedious measuring or annoying leftover bits of ingredients — you’ll use one can each of coconut milk, cream of coconut, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. And this coquito wholly embraces the big batch ease of punch while packing quite a bit of it in the form of three cups of rum.
If you like coconut and rum, then you will like this. But coquito is more than just a very strong and delicious drink. It’s also key to holiday traditions such as parrandas, or the Puerto Rican version of caroling, where people go house to house singing songs, eating pasteles (similar to tamales) and arroz con dulce (rice pudding), sipping coquito and picking up people along the way.
Coquito also brings memories of family.
“My grandmother, but especially my father, was the one who taught me how to make it,” says Bronx resident Virgen Bonafé, the mother of a friend. Bonafé’s recipe includes 12 egg yolks and a “tea” made by boiling cloves, star anise, cinnamon sticks and sometimes ginger to help with digestion. (It’s a rich drink!) She serves it well chilled, but not over ice, which can make it watery. “This is the thing,” she says, “It has to be really creamy. That’s why people don’t drink a cup, they drink little cups of it. It’s not a drink to have a lot.”
As for the alcohol, there are many, many ways to go. “Over here in New York they like to really put a lot of rum,” Bonafé says. (Same.) Bacardi or Don Q are common, but you might also see versions made with aged or spiced rum, cognac and tequila.
After Ramos began making coquito for herself, she brought it to her building’s holiday party in New York City. “Coquito was an instant ice breaker. I made multiple friends that day, and I was walking into the party with this thing that was really special to me.” She’s now known as the coquito girl and gets messages from people — like me! — who say it has become part of their tradition whether they’re Puerto Rican or not.
Ramos has made several versions over the years, including chocolate, pistachio, coffee, and even dairy-free, using cashews. I am happy to report that 1 1/2 cups of oat milk (homemade or store-bought), a can of thick coconut milk (Aroy-D brand) and a touch of maple syrup make a tasty dairy- and nut-free coquito. And in the spirit of experimenting, I can also report that a spoonful of amaro drizzled on top is like a little bit of magic — the very sweet coquito is heightened by the bitter liqueur, and the amaro in turn becomes almost more bitter while simultaneously bringing out the sweet notes of that freshly grated nutmeg.
It makes a lot — nine cups, which, depending on your intake, works out to as many as 36 (two-ounce) servings. If you think that’s too much to handle, know that it makes an excellent soak for baked French toast or bread pudding. (It also freezes and thaws well.) Or do what one is meant to do with coquito: Share it. Spread a little cheer. And as you do, remember Puerto Rico and give a toast to this warming tradition — even if it’s not your own.
- 12 ounces canned evaporated milk
- 14 ounces canned, sweetened condensed milk
- 15 ounces canned cream of coconut, such as Coco Lopez brand (see headnote)
- 14 ounces canned, full-fat coconut milk
- 2 cups white rum, such as Don Q or Bacardi
- 1 cup gold rum, such as Don Q or Bacardi Gold
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Freshly grated nutmeg, for serving
- 3-inch cinnamon sticks, for garnish (optional)
Working in batches, combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk, cream of coconut and coconut milk in a blender; puree until smooth, pouring the blended mixture into a large mixing bowl as you go. Blend the rums, vanilla extract or paste and the ground cinnamon with some of the coconut mixture, then whisk all of the liquids together in the bowl.
Pour into a pitcher or glass bottles and jars with lids (with the aid of a funnel, if you have one). Seal and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until very cold.
Before serving, stir or shake well to break up any solids. (If you find any remaining solids unpleasant, simply strain the coquito through a fine-mesh strainer.)
Pour into small glasses; garnish each portion with a sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg and a cinnamon stick, if desired.
Adapted from a recipe at AlwaysOrderDessert.com.
Tested by Kara Elder; email questions to email@example.com.
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The nutritional analysis is based on 36 servings.
Calories: 170; Total Fat: 6 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 5 mg; Sodium: 35 mg; Carbohydrates: 16 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 15 g; Protein: 2 g.