Horchata, the Andean tea made from flowers and herbs

Horchata tea, photo by Nathaly Poma

Order an almuerzo for lunch in Loja and it is very likely that the drink which will be served is a glass of red liquid called horchata. It is so common, in fact, that many Lojanos would not feel like their day was complete without having this tea sometime during the day.

The base of this drink is a surprising variety of flowers and herbs - as many as two dozen different ones! Cultural researchers say that more than 70 different herbs are used throughout the province (partly depending on the time of year) so one can't identify a standard ingredient list but here are some of the common inclusions:

  • Amaranth flowers (flores de amaranto), 
  • Peppermint (menta), 
  • Purslane (verdolaga), 
  • Ataco, 
  • Borage (borraja), 
  • Lemon verbena (cedrón), 
  • Lemon grass (limonaria), 
  • Lemon balm, aka Melissa (toronjil), 
  • Basil (albahaca),
  • Rose flowers (flores de rosa), 
  • Broadleaf plantain (llanten),
  • Bloodleaf (escancel) - the source of the red color

Horchata has been consumed for centuries and people are quick to ascribe medicinal properties to the drink which is probably why it is so popular. Since I can't verify any of those claims I won't share them here as I don't want to mislead anyone.

The best horchata is made from a fresh, recently picked bouquet. Go to a public market and look for the stalls piled high in flowers and greenery. The vendor will be happy to select out the proper ingredients to make an infusion if they don't already have some bagged up for quick sale.

The process is easy. Boil up some water, remove from heat, add the ingredients, and steep for about 5 minutes. Can be served warm or cold, straight as-is or lightly sweetened and with a squeeze of limón.

Have you had your horchata today?


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