Not quite coffee, not quite tea… This refreshing beverage has been enjoyed as a coffee substitute for decades. It doesn’t have the caffeine that actual coffee has and Pinoys swear that it helps treat an upset tummy.
At only 297 kilojoules (or 71 calories, that is, assuming 1 teaspoon of white sugar and 50 ml of milk added to 200 ml of brewed beverage… sort of) and gluten-free, you can keep drinking this without any guilt.
It feels a bit presumptuous and risky to make a homemade coffee post while living in Melbourne. Some people consider Melbourne as having the best coffee in the world. Melbourne is also sometimes listed as one of the top coffee cities in the world.
So it is with a bit of trepidation that we present this recipe.
Ricing up to the morning smells
I grew up with rice coffee. My childhood mornings were not filled with the aroma of piping hot chocolate, but of this beverage brewing. Because my brothers and I were too young to imbibe the actual coffee beverage, my mom would make this for us instead. It was, I’m sorry to say, always served with an apology. Too young to have coffee and chocolate too expensive to drink every day, this was all we have.
Except that I loved the stuff. Unlike Ovaltine or Milo, I can have as much as I can get. Dipping a piece of buttered hot pan de sal into a cuppa is still is a very good memory for me.
Straight from the Barrio
My mom didn’t always know how to make rice coffee. It was one of those things that she learned after marrying my dad. My dad (as some of our regular readers know) came from a farming background, and at harvest time farming barrios (Philippine villages) around Tarlac would grow fragrant with the smell of roasting corn still in their husks and roasting rice, some still green and eaten directly, or roasted to almost burnt and made into coffee.
My mom became fascinated by the beverage and was taught how to make it soon enough.
Getting a rice out of me
I never got to learn how to make this when I was still living with my folks. Despite it being really tasty and refreshing, it has the stigma of being only a coffee substitute—something you have when you can’t get coffee or chocolate. There was also at that time, back in the 80’s when I grew up, a stigma of having homemade stuff (“Ay, homemade lang!”). The done thing was to get proper, store-bought stuff… and if it’s imported from other countries, even better. Even now, some of that attitude is still around: there’s big business selling jars of rice coffee to city folk who can’t be bothered making their own thing.
Heck, the Philippines used to be the 8th largest rice producer in 2009 and yet, in 2010, it was also the world’s largest rice importer!
At any rate, learning how to make rice coffee came to be more and more of a “why bother” sort of thing for me. I’m not proud of that, but that’s how it was.
Ooooooh, the heart rices
I never really found out the origins of rice coffee. Some accounts say it was invented during World War II, the same time that banana ketchup was actually developed. Some say it was during World War I. Others say it was during Spanish times. Someone out there knows the truth, but I don’t think I ever will.
But, thanks to moving to this city where doing things the artisan way (baking your own bread, brewing your beer or, in this case, your own coffee) is considered très chic, making homemade stuff became cool for this Pinoy once again. It’s like that time when bow ties suddenly became cool again just because some really old dude who looks like a teen and acts like a toddler suddenly declared it so… and it was so!
And then there was this friend of ours who found the idea of making and brewing your own rice coffee really, really cool and so really cool she asked me to teach her. When my mum first visited back in 2010, I tried to get the recipe out of her but our experiments didn’t pan out—mostly because we used the wrong kind of pan.
A rice against time
Now, five years later, I finally can finally deliver on that promise. And just in time, too, as she’s pregnant and this may help her get through the coffee cravings. One sunny morning, my mom, a camp stove, a cast iron pan, a camp kettle, a couple of camp chairs and I went on a mission to make not one, but three batches of the stuff.
Now if only it lasts the week so I can give a batch to our friend.