Coquito Masters

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You might say that coquito is the Puerto Rican version of eggnog. About 200 coquito connoisseurs gathered this past weekend in New York to compete in the annual Coquito Masters contest. Debbie Quinones is the founder of the International Coquito Federation. Marco Werman talks with her.

MARCO WERMAN: You've heard of the Mojito that's rum with mint and limejuice. Then there's the Coquito, also rum-based. It's Puerto Rico's version of eggnog. Coquito and eggnog are quite similar. But don't tell that to Debbie Quinones. She's in New York and she's a founder of the International Coquito Federation. Debbie, last weekend you gathered about 200 Coquito connoisseurs to compete in the Coquito Masters contest. For a drink that is Puerto Rico's pride and joy, how did it gain such an international following?

DEBBIE QUINONES: I think it's because of the ingredients, and I think of the fact that Puerto Ricans all over the world, and we like to share our culinary delights, so we had at least 200, 300 people show up in a snowstorm, and that was the most unusual part that they came through.

WERMAN: Now, Coquito's been called eggnog on a beach vacation. What is in it exactly? How do you make a standard Coquito?

QUINONES: Okay, the standard Coquito recipe has coconut milk, coconut cream, evaporated milk, condensed milk, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, grated coconut or coconut from the can, and as much rum as possible in it.

WERMAN: So it's really about coconut and rum, right?

QUINONES: Yeah, it is, but it's also about the balance of the other ingredients that bring different flavors and layers to it, and that's the most important thing about Coquito is in search of my quest for the perfect balance.

WERMAN: All right, Debbie, we'll talk about some of the winners at the Big Coquito Smackdown last weekend, but first of all, we were lucky enough to have scored a little batch of Coquito here from our pals at Toscanini's Ice Cream in Cambridge. Just as a little aside here, the best ice cream outside of Italy. Gus Rancatore of Toscanini's offered to whip us up some Coquito. He warned us that it's kind of thicker because this is the basis for the eggnog ice cream, but it's a Coquito eggnog ice cream, so I'm gonna give this a little sip. This is the first time I've actually tasted this.

QUINONES: Well, there you go, you know, Coquito's all over the place, and that's the exciting thing. You can always find a place where Coquito is in the community.

WERMAN: I'm sorry, Debbie, I just didn't hear anything you said because this is so darn good. This is really good, very coconuty.

QUINONES: Right, there's always a basic recipe, but then there's the secret ingredient, the family version that you have. Some people put fruits, some people put chocolate.

WERMAN: Have you ever encountered any families that are really protective of their Coquito recipe?

QUINONES: Everyone is.

WERMAN: Really?

QUINONES: Oh, yeah.

WERMAN: Are you protective with your own Coquito recipe?

QUINONES: Absolutely.

WERMAN: So what's in it?

QUINONES: Well, it's a secret. There's a lot of love, there's a lot of history, there's a lot of all the types of folks in your family where they come from. My grandmother was from Spain, so we have that. And we have all the other great things that make up families in the Coquito. And I think that's what makes it so universally accepted that when you mention Coquito, people's eyes light up, and they just get really excited.

WERMAN: Do they have Coquito contests in Puerto Rico?

QUINONES: No, not that I know of. This is the first event of its kind, actually, and it started out of my own personal loss of my family friend, who used to make Coquito for us. And I realized that generations were gonna be lost with certain people dying off that the recipes were going down the drain, so to speak. So I kind of wanted to be like a culinary preservationist and preserve the idea of Coquito and all the other things. And it's becoming more of part of the vernacular, like wow, there is something besides eggnog. There's this thing called Coquito, and what's the mystery of it.

WERMAN: Well, we've got some delicioso Coquito recipes online at theworld.org, and if you have to put more rum in your Coquito, we understand, but drink responsibly.

QUINONES: Absolutely.

WERMAN: Debbie Quinones, the founder of the International Coquito Federation. Great to have you on the show, as well as these Coquitos. Thank you.

QUINONES: Thank you, and I hope that you find that Coquito that gets you dancing.