Horchata Battle: Which Restaurant Does It Best?January 17, 2018
- Bea OsmeñaWords
The increase in popularity of horchata in Manila is one we welcome with happily, especially with the rising yearly temperatures. While there are several ways to make a horchata, the most popular around has outstandingly been the Mexican style, which uses rice milk as a base and cinnamon for flavoring. We skulked around some of the local Mexican joints and cafés that offer the milky white drink to figure out which one we liked best.
Note: All our taste-tests are subjective, and there are more ways than one to make a horchata. The results of this taste-test are based on the preferences of the writer.
Ambivert Coffee’s horchata is more on the smooth side with barely a hint of grit, which is surprising given that they tell us it has only a little milk in it. They serve it with a head of froth on top, like a cappuccino only with bigger bubbles, which is a nice creative touch that adds to the experience. It has a mellow vanilla that rides waves down your tongue. It comes at PHP 140 but you can add a splash espresso to it for PHP 40 or even rum for PHP 60.
B&T Mexican Kitchen
B&T’s horchata can be purchased at an affordable PHP 65 a glass, and tastes just like candy. It’s no wonder as they sweeten it with white sugar. It’s creamy, thick and gritty just like pure rice milk is meant to be, and we appreciate their serving it with a mixer to pick up the grit that settles at the bottom. The vanilla can be on the overwhelming side, so we’re forced to sip it slow, but we enjoyed it and would imagine it would be what horchata would taste like if they bottled it for commercial sale.
El Chupacabra’s modest PHP 62 horchata tastes like a milk-candy treat, and it’s no wonder as they mix in some evaporada into their rice milk. The flavor is more cinnamon forward with a touch of vanilla, and if it weren’t overwhelmingly sweet (maybe they’ll want to switch out the evaporada for just regular milk) it would have had a truly satisfying flavor balance.
Equatorial Coffee is a third-wave café off Katipunan that prices their horchata similarly to their coffee at PHP 150 for a tall, iced glass. This one actually takes after a horchata that the owner encountered on a trip to Barcelona (yet still similar in style to the other horchata we tried), made from a short-grain rice that is typically used in paellas, then flavored with whole roasted almonds, a cinnamon stick and other spices. Their limited stock-only drink is well worth their troubles to make it: it’s full-flavored yet clean and has a creamy mouthfeel. The all-natural cinnamon stick flavoring lets the almond taste stand out. And we’re a big fan of dairy-free horchata just like this one.
Lagrima’s PHP100 dairy-free horchata proudly boasts of being made fresh and from scratch, with each ingredient (including the rice) being roasted to give it an added depth. While they tell us it is an honestly time-consuming drink to make, the result is well-worth it, as the cooler (that even has a slice of lime to make it taste all the more refreshing) offers a smooth and well-balanced experience.
LO DE ALBERTO
Lo De Alberto’s PHP 80 version was by far the thickest horchata we had in texture, which offers a stark contrast to the pure rice milk ones that tend to have a watery consistency (which is not a bad thing; it’s just a rice milk thing). It also has the thickest grit residue we’ve seen at over 1cm occupying the bottom of the glass, so a good and regular mixing is required to avoid clogging up your straw. Its texture felt dusty on the tongue, and had a syrup-ey mouthfeel that tasted like one dropped an almond candy or three in it. One can definitely taste the cinnamon and milk in it, though the rice milk flavor stands out more.
VENGO Neighborhood café
The Vengo Neighborhood Café version of the horchata PHP 160 is described on the menu as a “Mexican barley milk cooler with cinnamon,” but it has a unique standout ingredient that makes it a worthwhile try: cardamom. The spice best known here for its use in Indian cuisine gives the milky drink a savory depth to it. Vengo’s version imparts a splash of condensada, which we find makes the resulting drink a touch too milky and sweet for our taste, but its spiced flavor may be worth it to the curious.
THE VERDICT: LAGRIMA
The most complex horchata that would make us squeal with delight in every sip is Lagrima’s, with its roasted flavors bringing out the best in every element of the drink. Coming in at a close second is the one found at Equatorial Coffee, whose high quality ingredients pay off in an elegant execution. If you prefer your horchata with a splash of dairy, we’d recommend the one over at Ambivert Coffee. For our best budget horchata, our favorite dairy-free version is from B&T; if you like it with a splash of milk, go for El Chupacabra.