Tejate - Gastro Obscura
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Oaxaca's favorite morning beverage is an ancient blend of cacao, corn flour, and water.

Thanks to a combination of its isolating mountains and fierce resistance, the Mexican state of Oaxaca escaped total conquest by the Spaniards in the 16th century. As such, Oaxacans have maintained a rich culture of indigenous traditions and dishes, including a frothy beverage called tejate.

A nutritious drink with subtle flavors of chocolate milk, tejate begins with a paste of toasted corn flour, cacao beans, ground-up pits of mamey (a honey-sweet fruit with bright orange flesh), and a white flower known as flor de cacao. Though the latter bears no relation to the cacao tree, it’s essential to creating tejate’s signature fragrant froth.

Vendors—traditionally women—knead a mixture of the paste and water in giant clay bowls. As they work, the ingredients release their oils, creating a thick, rich foam that rises to the surface as more water is added. The result is a light brown liquid capped with a layer of white foam that resembles a densely whipped cream.

As much a part of the average Oaxacan’s daily routine as a cup of coffee is in other parts of the world, a big serving of tejate runs about 15 pesos (or $1). Served over ice with optional sugar syrup, to-go tejate comes in a plastic cup with a straw, while to-stay versions are ladled into brightly painted bowls made of hollowed-out, dried gourds known as a jicaras. The slightly sweet drink, with its dense layer of foam floating at the top, is so nutrient-rich and high in fat, it’s filling enough to replace a meal—undoubtedly how the drink was consumed in ancient times.

Need to Know

Colloquially known as the “drink of the gods,” tejate was historically consumed during festivals dedicated to the seeding and harvest of crops.

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L Lauren Rothman
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