By Katina Pontikes
“Have you ever had a Cowpuccino?” asked my friend Ceci while I was down in Mexico. Ceci is from Mexico and I thought this was just another of her charming expressions twisted around in translation.
“You mean a cappuccino?”
“No. A Cowpuccino. Right from the cow.” Ceci went on to explain that there was a farm in the mountain near the village of Ajijic. The farmers offered strong black coffee, an addition of liquor, some spice flavoring and sweetener, topped off with warm, frothy milk, straight from the cow’s udder. How delightful! Unfortunately, this was done just before daybreak. I am not a morning person, and my late rising was an issue standing between me and the Cowpuccino.
Further complicating the matter was my husband’s reaction. “That doesn’t sound safe. You won’t be having that.” He spoke like a doctor with the Food and Drug Administration. I tried to remember what disease Louis Pasteur had cured by inventing the process of pasteurization. Thankfully, it escaped me and I wasn’t planning to investigate the matter, as I didn’t really want to know about it as badly as I wanted to experience this new beverage.
Then, on my last trip down to Mexico, an expat friend asked my husband and me to go on a historic haciendas tour. We stood in long lines waiting for our bus in the early morning light. Everyone looked dull and a little tired. Finally, our tour guide showed up a bit late, on “Mexican time,” and we were shepherded aboard our bus. Slowly we made our way on the highway as the bus swayed back and forth on the rough roads. Shortly there were no homes or businesses outside our windows, but crops being tended by workers while cattle grazed.
Suddenly our bus stopped, and our tour guide announced that we would have a brief stop for refreshments. I looked out my window, but all I could see was a tent and a card table set up next to it. The table had a few bottles in evidence, but it looked like something you could set up on a New York corner in three minutes.
“This is a Mexican Starbucks,” joked our guide. My heart quickened. We were in the country, coffee was being offered by farmers. Could this be the experience I wanted so badly? I perked up immediately, and before my husband could figure out what was happening, I was running down the center aisle of the bus, stampeding to the front so I would be one of the first in line off the bus. The first thing I saw as I stepped down the steps was a large brown cow under the tent. Eureka! My first Cowpuccino!
I stood at the card table and watched as the elderly Mexican woman poured hot steamy coffee in my Styrofoam cup. She added a generous shot of Mexican vanilla. Then she offered me what looked like homemade hooch in a clear glass bottle, telling me to pour as much liquor as I wanted. (That wouldn’t happen back in the U.S., where shots are measured to control costs.) I poured with a generous hand. Then I added a heaping teaspoon of raw brown sugar. Finally, I was directed to the cow. The cowhand pulled down on the udder and a long stream of naturally warm milk topped off my coffee. How quaint, how natural this was.
I stood and marveled at the fragrant beverage aromas wafting to my nose. I guzzled the drink down like a thirsty cat. Back on the bus, I settled into my seat, satisfied and happy. When we finally headed down the road towards our first destination, I giggled to myself. The morning seemed rosier than it had been before our stop for a fabulous café Mexicana.