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The Origins of the Piña Colada

Published on:

August 1, 2022

One of the world’s most famous blended drinks and cocktails is the Piña Colada. If you’re only familiar with the drink from the Rupert Holmes song, you’d be doing yourself a disservice. The perfect blend of rum, pineapple juice, coconut cream, and sometimes whipped cream creates a refreshing and slightly exotic drink. Considering that the Piña Colada is a popular summer drink, we’ll explore its intriguing origins, from urban legend to its various creators and contributors that made the Piña colada as we know it today.

The Legend

According to legend, the Piña Colada was the creation of Puerto Rican pirate and revolutionary Roberto Cofresi, AKA El Pirata Cofresi. Born into a wealthy family that fell impoverished due to the conflicts of the Latin American Independence war, Cofresi sailed into his career as an explorer who traveled through the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Dissatisfied with the modest salary of a seaman, Cofresi quit and pursued pirating. With a rotating crew of 10 to 20 men on a stolen ship Christened the “Anna,” Cofresi evaded Puerto Rican authorities and most of the Caribbean with speed, stealing and pillaging throughout the Islands. Eventually, Cofresi and his men were captured by authorities and executed by a firing squad. After his death, urban legends spread about Cofresi’s “Robin-Hood”-like adventures. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor, and most famously was the person who is rumored to have created the Piña Colada. Rumor has it that Cofresi made the drink with the available ingredients of white rum, coconut milk, and pineapple juice in hopes of preventing a mutiny on his ship. Unfortunately, there’s no real confirmation whether the famous pirate created the recipe or not, as legend states, the recipe died with him. Historians argue how valid the story is, but regardless of its truth, Cofresi will always be associated with the Piña Colada.

Ramon V Ramon: Dawn of Pina Coladas

The exact creator of the modern Piña Colada is a mystery based on conflicting stories. The two most famous accounts come from two men in Puerto Rico, Ramon Monchito and Don Ramon Portas. Ramon Monchito is most often credited with the creation of the Piña Colada. Monchito concocted the drink while working as a bartender at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in 1954. Monchito was a kind and humble bartender who would make piña coladas for large parties in generous proportions. When Monchito first created his Piña Colada, he made it with coconut cream, vanilla ice cream, and pineapple juice all put into a shaker with ice. At first, the Piña Colada was sold in the snack bar as a milkshake, but due to a large number of adults at the hotel, coconut rum was soon added to the mixture and became a crowd favorite. By the 60s, in order to keep up with the orders, Monchito began using an Osterizer blender to combine the ice and coconut cream faster. Soon the Piña Colada’s popularity reached Miami and became one of the best-selling blended drinks in the world.

Legend also has it that another Ramon claimed to invent the Piña Colada by the name of Don Ramon Portas. Not much is known about the individual Don Ramon, but he is also credited with creating the Piña Colada at a hotel just 2 miles west of the Caribe Hilton called the Barrachina hotel. According to his former coworkers, Don Ramon Portas created the drink in 1963; Portas made the Piña Colada in a cocktail contest that called for a drink to represent Puerto Rico. Portas’ recipe used white coconut rum, pineapple juice, and coconut cream, unlike Monchito’s original recipe which didn’t initially include rum. The dates of their creations contradict each other as Portas says that he started making Piña Coladas in 1963, while Monchito claims to have created the drink in 1954. Nowadays, most people rightfully credit Monchito for the modern Piña Colada, but some still debate Portas’ contribution. More than likely, while Monchito created the Piña Colada, Portas at least had a hand in popularizing it with tourists.

The Coco Cream

Monchito’s and Porta’s Piña Coladas would not be as widely known today if it wasn’t for one key ingredient: coconut cream. While coconut cream and milk were readily available for most dishes, it was hard to produce in masses due to the coconut’s hardened exterior. Luckily a man named Don Ramon Lopez Iriarry, a scientist and professor of Agriculture at the University of Puerto Rico devised a solution to creating coconut cream quickly and efficiently. Working in a small lab, Professor Lopez cracked the code to easily break into the coconut shell. The coconut meat was extracted from the shell, simmered in water, and then strained. Once the pulp and liquid coconut meat were complete, Lopez mixed the Caribbean coconut cream with just the right proportion of natural sugar cane. The mixture created the sweet coconut cream that became a sensation.

Pina Colada

At first, the “Coco Lopez ” cream was mainly used for traditional island dishes, such as coconut pineapple sweet rice or coconut batter shrimp. But soon, the cream would get its most famous use in Monchito’s Piña Colada recipe. Using the perfect amount of pressure and temperature control, Lopez could produce massive amounts of coconut cream (20-30 cases of cream) a day. Lopez continued scaling up his company and The Coco Lopez cream became an international hit, so much so that it is synonymous with the original Piña Colada recipe. The Coco Lopez company even has its own Pina Colada mix that can be ordered in stores everywhere and from their website.

Although the origins of Piña Colada are debated and somewhat remain in mystery, the endurance of the ingredients and flavors have been a constant throughout its history. Now, the Piña Colada is a go-to beverage for a hot summer’s day or a tropical vacation. The best part about the Piña Colada is that it’s a sweet beverage that can be easily made at home with rum, coconut milk, and vanilla ice cream.

That’s right! Piña Colada was sometimes even made with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy this recipe for a Piña Colada milkshake that closely matches Monchito’s original recipe. The Piña Colada milkshake is easy and fun to make in a blender.

Ingredients

  • Vanilla ice cream ½ oz (15 mils)
  • Crushed pineapple 2 oz (60 mils)
  • Coconut milk 11/2 oz (45 mils)
  • Cream of coconut ½ oz (15 mils)
  • Coconut flakes (for the rim of your cup)
  • Rum (optional substitute for milk)

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