If beverages could be called comfort food, this milky white, cooling rice drink known as horchata in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, would be at the top of the “comfort drink” list. Horchata’s soothing sweet creaminess makes it a perfect foil for spicy food, and it also lends itself to a pretty fine cocktail when mixed with rum or brandy, or as a coffee drink.Jump to Recipe
What is Horchata anyway?
The Mexican version of this drink is traditionally made by soaking rice (or rice and almonds) in water, sweetening it by adding sugar, cinnamon and sometimes vanilla or other spices, and then straining and serving over ice.
There are several variations of horchata. In Valencia, Spain, horchata is known as orxata and is made with tigernuts (chufas in Spanish) rather than rice. Some recipes also include sesame seeds or barley, but the basic horchata is rice-water or rice-milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.
Rather than pulverize the sugar and cinnamon with the rice water, I wanted to make a flavored simple syrup that would sweeten the horchata on a glass-by-glass basis. To keep it as traditional as possible I made a simple syrup infused with cinnamon and vanilla, but also added some star anise for additional aromatic spice.
After straining the rice water I could then add the cinnamon vanilla sweetener to taste, making it sweet on some days and light on others.
Bar Snack to Serve with Horchata Cocktails
The rich creamy base of horchata pairs wonderfully with this simple recipe for chile lime peanuts. Serve the peanuts with horchata cocktails or mocktails….it’s all good!
How to make the DIY Horchata Base
I also found many variations on whether to pulverize the rice to a powder alone, or with the water, or in stages. I tried 3 different methods and found that pulverizing the rice without water and then soaking the powder in water overnight before straining provided the lightest texture while still maintaining the rice flavor. Below is the method and recipe I preferred after adapting several different recipes.
How to Make the Simple Syrup
Directions for making your own syrup are included in the recipe below. If you would rather purchase ready made cinnamon vanilla star anise syrup, click here.
DIY Horchata with Cinnamon Simple Syrup
Ingredients for Horchata Base
- 1 cup long grain rice
- 5 cups water
Ingredients for Simple Syrup
- 1 cups sugar
- 1 cups water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2 star anise
- 3 cloves
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
Directions for the Horchata Base:
- In a blender (VitaMix is great for this), grind the rice finely, almost to a powder.
- Transfer the rice to a bowl then pour warm water over it. Cover and refrigerate at least eight hours, but preferably overnight.
- Strain the mixture through a sieve lined with a few layers of cheesecloth, squeezing it to extract as much of the rice flavor as possible. Some recipes blended the rice and water and water together again before straining it, but I did not see the need to do this and was quite happy with the flavor.
- Store in covered container until ready to use.
To make the spice syrup:
- In a saucepan add sugar, water, whole spices and vanilla (if you don’t want to spoon the whole spices out later, wrap them in a bit of cheesecloth and secure with a band or tie and place the bag in the pot). Bring the mix to a boil slowly, stirring to dissolve the sugar. After the mix comes to a boil, cover, turn off the heat and steep the spices in the syrup for 30 min. to 1 hour. Strain the syrup to remove the whole spices (or remove the spice bag if you used that) and pour syrup into bottle and refrigerate. If you would prefer buying this syrup, you can always purchase it from Heathglen.com
- Pour rice water over ice and stir in 2-3 Tablespoons of the syrup. Use cinnamon stick as stir stick or sprinkle cinnamon on top. Many people will add milk or rice milk to the drink also. I prefer mine really light without the milk, but it is definitely more creamy and lush with milk.
- Storage: Store the rice-water in the refrigerator for 4-5 days and the syrup in the refrigerator indefinately.
Rum Horchata Cocktail
Once you make the horchata base and the simple syrup you will have enough for a refreshing afternoon beverage for a week (unless you are relaxing with friends, and then you will only have enough for an evening). See the recipe for the cocktail below.
If you skip the horchata base and just make (or purchase) the cinnamon vanilla simple syrup, there are many different drinks you can make with the syrup. My favorites are:
- Adding the syrup to hot cider or hot chocolate
- Using the syrup in place of sugar in an Irish Coffee or other coffee cocktails
- Adding 2-3 Tablespoons of the syrup to a tall glass of sparkling water for a wonderful Italian soda (tastes like cream soda only fresher)
Rum Horchata Cocktail
- 3/4 cup rice water
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 shot spiced rum
- 3 Tbsp. Spice Syrup from recipe above or from HeathGlen
- cinnamon sticks or licorice roots for garnish
- Fill a rocks glass with ice.
- Combine all of the ingredients (except the cinnamon stick or licorice root) in a cocktail shaker and fill the shaker with ice.
- Shake vigorously and strain into the rocks glass.
- Garnish with cinnamon stick or licorice root.