Debbie Quinones, Coquito mixer

debbiequinones

By Lisbeth Brosnan

Coquito is a coconut-based alcoholic beverage traditionally served in Puerto Rico. A Coquito recipe is unique to the family that makes it. On November 13, 2016, The Bronx Museum for the Arts hosted winners and finalists of the Annual Coquito Masters competition. This event allowed the finalists to sell their delicious coquitos at the museum.

Debbie Quinones, founder of the International Coquito Tasting Federation, spoke passionately and excitedly about the special Puerto Rican drink.

“The ingredients really represent imperialism. All the ingredients do not grow in Puerto Rico indigenously,” stated Debbie The ingredients include rum, coconut milk, sweet condensed milk, egg yolk, nutmeg and cinnamon. Although these are the main ingredients, “Every family has their own special way of making it.”

Debbie explained how “There is always that one person in a family who passes down the recipe”. For Debbie, it was a family of friend of hers that taught her how to make coquito.

In 2001, Debbie started the Coquito Contest in her house so people could get access to coquito. “The contest represents an opportunity to celebrate pride.”

Indeed, there was a large feeling of both pride and community that filled the room at the Bronx Museum. Vendors and customers enjoyed tasting the different coquito recipes and celebrating the Puerto Rican culture. This event allowed the people of the community to purchase coquito for the holiday season. Coquito was able to bring these people of the community together. According to Debbie, this drink “represents the resiliency of the community.”

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By Katie Russo

On the top floor of the Bronx Museum of the Arts, there seems to be a party winding down. People are laughing and clearing up tables, saying goodbye with strong hugs and kisses on the cheek. A curator from the museum leads us over to a woman who seems to be in the middle of it all, going a million miles an hour.

She introduces herself as Debbie Quinones, the founder of the International Coquito Festival, which has just finished its preliminary rounds. The first thing she asks is “Do you know what coquito really IS?” A sort of Puerto Rican eggnog, a Christmas drink. Quinones explains the complex heritage behind the drink, which she describes as “imperialism, really. The ingredients are not native to Puerto Rico.” Fortunately, this is a story of triumph over imperialism, and keeping your culture alive in a new place.

She describes the lineage from which the recipe descends, onward from a European drink called porcette to eggnog to coquito. The recipe and holiday tradition was brought over from Europe along with the spices and rum needed to make the drink. Traditionally, it is made with rum, evaporated as well as condensed milk, nutmeg, cinnamon, sometimes egg yolk, vanilla, and different forms of coconut—milk and meat. There is also a blend of other spices usually specific to the family. There has been a new upswing in flavored coquito, like chocolate or pistachio.

Quinones explains to us that in each family, there is one person who makes the coquito and holds the recipe. She tells us if we have any Puerto Rican friends, to ask who the coquito maker is and then ask for some. “They’re gonna be like ‘Woah, you know about that?!’ and then reach under the kitchen sink or out the window and pour you a glass.” We ask if she is the coquito maker in her family; she is not. It was a friend of their family, who passed away.

That is why Quinones started the International Coquito Festival. She wanted to honor this family friend, and to keep access to coquito in her circle. Originally just a gathering in her kitchen in El Barrio, it became a contest for the best coquito that Quinones says has become about pride. She did not expect it to snowball like this, but it has become a celebration of heritage and skill. Some of the contestants have even become professional coquito makers. It is an opportunity to be proud to be Puerto Rican, to be proud of not only national but familial heritage, and to celebrate holiday traditions that keep a culture alive in many different places.

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