On my trip to Mexico, I was introduced to piloncillo- an unrefined, whole cane sugar that has minimal processing. It is called by different names throughout many countries. In english, it’s referred to as panela. It was in a truncated shape every time we saw it at the markets or in restaurants. It seems similar to brown sugar, but it still contains most of its minerals due to the less interference. For this reason, it is considered the more beneficial way to sweeten your food or drinks. The process involves the boiling and evaporation of the sugar cane.
The way I first tasted this sweet delight was in a cup of coffee called “Cafe de Olla,” coffee from the pot. This wasn’t a typical coffee pot however. “Cafe de Olla” is a popular way to have your coffee that starts by preparing it in an earthen clay pot. The clay pot is considered to play part in how the coffee tastes. Then, the piloncillo comes in. It is dissolved in the coffee along with some cinnamon and voila!
I first declined the coffee. I don’t frequently drink coffee. I will have random cravings for iced and hot coffee that contain a good amount of sweetness, and most of the time, milk. When Michael ordered the “cafe de olla,” I was sure it was going to be a strong tasting coffee since he doesn’t put anything in his coffee. He asked me to taste it and said there was a sweetness to it. I tried it, and loved the flavor. The sweetness was subtle but definitely bent the punch of the coffee into a pleasant combination where one doesn’t overpower the other. This is why Michael still liked the coffee even though he likes it strong. The piloncillo didn’t dull out the bold flavor of the coffee bean. We were impressed and my uncle asked the waiter to brink out some piloncillo so that we may meet this new ingredient that just came into our lives. They brought it out on a plate, and we wrapped it up in our napkin.
That same week, I told another uncle about my introduction to this sugar, and he later provided me with a bag of about 20 piloncillo pieces. Now, we enjoy our coffee by chopping off bits of this sugar and mixing it in. It was one of my favorite souvenirs from Mexico, and I’m happy to see it on my kitchen counter.