Here is a treat I got to see recently – someone grinding Salvadoran-style “coffee” made of toasted maize, also called “cafe de palo,” or as my mother in law terms it, “cafe pusungo”. Our neighbors in Chalatenango, Lupita and her brother Cristian, came by my mother-in-law’s house to borrow her “molino” or grinder, to finish making a batch. Lupita says her mother likes to drink it because “no le hace dano” (it isn’t bad for her health).
She had a bucket full of toasted maize kernels, blackened on the comal/griddle, and was grinding away. Her arm was getting tired, so Cristian jumped in and started winding the grinder like it was a kid’s toy – he did it like a pro. Take a look at the results: doesn’t it look like coffee? I had to sample it, of course – didn’t taste much like coffee, or anything I’d want to drink, but then, coffee is an acquired taste.
Café de maize tostado is a traditional drink in El Salvador, and other parts of Latin America. It was consumed much more in the ‘old days’, but as we see by this example, still consumed by some to this day. Looking into the history of this beverage, I cannot yet determine if it was a traditional indigenous drink before the America’s were colonized or not, but it has been an economic surrogate for coffee. According to this 2001 article in the Diario de Hoy (translation, with original text, following),
“At one time, don Lito, the price of coffee was so high, that the poor, not having the resources to drink good coffee, would instead drink coffee of toasted maize, which they sometimes mixed with avocado seed and coffee casings [the shells containing the grains] to give it some flavor. Nowadays, 100 pounds of maize is worth more than 100 pounds of coffee, even though it only takes four months to produce that 100 pounds of maize, and four years for the same amount of coffee!”
“-En un tiempo, don Lito, el precio del café era tan alto, que los pobres, para variar, no tenían capacidad de tomar buen café y tomaban café de maíz tostado, que a veces lo revolvían con semilla de aguacate y algunas cascaritas de café cereza, para darle sabor. Ahora, un quintal de maíz en plaza vale más que un quintal de café, aunque para producir un quintal de maíz sólo se tarda cuatro meses, igualito que el café, sólo que ¡cuatro años! ” – link to article by Lito Moltalvo, in Diario de Hoy