“I learned about cantaritos when I was a 14 and living in Morelos, Mexico,” says Rouge Tomate Chelsea bar manager Cristian Molina. “We used to drink Squirt grapefruit soda in cantaritos, eat chicharrones and watch soccer.”
The clay cups — a diminutive version of “cántaro,” meaning jug — are everywhere in the country, sometimes filled with their namesake cocktail: tequila, lime juice, lemon juice, grapefruit juice and grapefruit soda. In the classic game of Lotería, the clay water jug “el canterito” gets its own card. Molina remembers seeing micheladas and sangria served in them, as well. “Back home in Ecuador,” he notes, they were used “for chicha de Jora — corn wine.”
Molina has recently worked them into the program at Rouge Tomate. “Our beverage director, Pascaline, has a big wine clay Anfora, Georgia, on her desk,” he says. “I told her they look like vasijas de barro or cántaros. After she told me that it’s commonly used for wine, I figured we could make a chicha cocktail and use cantaritos.”
His cocktails calls for 2 ounces of Chicha (red corn wine), 1.5 ounces of rum, 0.25 ounces cinnamon bark syrup, 0.25 ounces orange peppercorn marmalade and 0.5 ounces of grapefruit juice, mixed all together then given a dry shake and poured over cracked ice, with a garnish of Peychaud’s bitters. It combines all the classic uses of the cantarito, from the eponymous cocktail to the Ecuadorian corn wine to what Molina drank from them as a kid in Mexico.
“Cántaros are not ‘fancy,’” Molina says. “They are a very humble cup, yet have so much character and history.”
“The first time I experienced the cantaritos was in Mexico,” says Chuck Rivera, a bartender at Jungle Bird in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “They were serving aguas frescas in a local restaurant.” But they’re not just present in Mexico, as he notes: “I saw it again while researching Cuban cocktails. We found the Canchánchara is also served in a similar vessel, made also from clay.”
That Canchánchara is known as a working man’s cocktail in Cuba. According to Havana Club, it’s “more a concept than a fixed drink” — something put together to take out into the fields, with sweetener, citrus and a sugarcane-based eau-de-vie.
The cantarito makes sense as a go-to drinking vessel in all of these locales because they maintain a cold temperature, even when the air itself is sweltering. “At Jungle Bird, we have cantaritos for the cocktail La Canchanchara for two reasons: It is the classic way of serving it, and it helps a lot to keep your cocktails cold for longer time,” Rivera says. “90°F, we got you covered!”
“They are special for so many things,” Rivera adds. “They look awesome and, yes, you want to drink from there. And, as I said, it keeps your cocktail cold for a longer time — and in the Caribbean, you need it.”
No matter which hot Latin American country you find yourself in, there’s a chance you’ll encounter a cantarito — all that will change is whether it’s filled with tequila, mezcal, rum, sangria, grapefruit soda or something different altogether.