Eating the World

Tepache: Everything You Need to Know About This Refreshing Pineapple Cooler, and Where to Find It in Phoenix

Tepache is an old-fashioned Mexican summer drink made using pineapples.
Tepache is an old-fashioned Mexican summer drink made using pineapples. Patricia Escarcega
If you haven't yet experienced the pleasures of drinking tepache, it's time to give this classic Mexican summer beverage a spin. It has kept me from overheating on more than one occasion, and maybe it will do the same for you.

Why tepache? It has all the hallmarks of a solid warm-weather drink: It's light, sweet, and fizzy, with small traces of alcohol.

The drink — which dates to pre-Columbian times — is commonly sold by street vendors throughout Mexico, especially during warmer months. It is traditionally made by lightly fermenting water, piloncillo (unrefined brown sugar), and the rind or peel of pineapples. Sometimes it's spiced with cinnamon and cloves. If you want a slightly boozier tepache, adding beer to raise the alcohol content is common. There are a hundred ways to make tepache, and another hundred ways to garnish it with fruits and various condiments.

Here in the U.S., tepache has caught on in recent years as a cocktail mixer, or simply as a refreshing, kombucha-like summer sipper.

In metro Phoenix, tepache is still not ubiquitous, although it's becoming easier to find.

Tepache was recently a featured drink at New Wave Market, the new cafe and market adjacent to Super Chunk in Old Town Scottsdale. It has also popped up in recent years on creative cocktail menus around town.

But, if you're looking for old-fashioned street-side tepache, one of your best bets is to cruise down Thomas Road in west Phoenix, where you're likely to see street vendors selling hot-weather snacks like cocos frios (fresh coconuts), tejuino (a cold beverage made from fermented corn), and, of course, tepache.

click to enlarge A street vendor squeezes some lime into a cup of tepache in west Phoenix. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
A street vendor squeezes some lime into a cup of tepache in west Phoenix.
Patricia Escarcega
You are most likely to bump into a tepache vendor around 43rd Avenue and Thomas, where many local street hawkers gather on the weekends. Just look for the brightly colored umbrellas and the folks lining up to place an order.

One longtime local vendor is Doña Tonita, who operates a tepache stand in the area with her daughters. She makes huge batches of the sweet, lightly effervescent drink at home, transports it in oversize beverage dispenses, and serves it in Styrofoam cups.

At most stands, you can order your tepache "natural" without condiments. Or you can order it with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of chile seasoning. Either way, it's a treat. The tepache is sweet, a touch tangy, but mostly, very refreshing.

click to enlarge A cup of tepache topped with chile seasoning. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
A cup of tepache topped with chile seasoning.
Patricia Escarcega
It might be summer in metro Phoenix, but at least we have tepache to get us through. And if you can't find it on the streets of Phoenix, here's a simple recipe that I use for making tepache at home.

Simple Homemade Tepache

Peels of one ripe pineapple
1 cup of piloncillo (raw sugar), chopped
Half a gallon of water

Fill a glass pitcher or jar with water. Dissolve the sugar into the water; add the pineapple peels. Cover the jar or pitcher with a cloth and then place in a cool, dark spot for two or three days. You'll know it's ready when a white foam forms on the surface of the liquid after. Scoop out the foam and serve over ice.

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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.