Horchata, the ultimate refreshing refreshment in Barcelona and Valencia, Spain

Spain is famous for its hot summers, come on, why else did they invent gazpacho?! Well the underdog of summer treats comes from an unlikely and little known source, the chufa or tigernut. Most of us have never even heard of this species, let alone seen it, let alone tasted it. Well, thanks to some very intelligent agriculturists, they've found a way to reap the benefits of this fruit during the most unbearable months of the year. Those months when temperatures reach between 33-37 degrees Celcius (91.8-98.6 Farenheight), not forgetting about our friend, Mr. Humidity. Rumors have it that during this season some people shower three times a day. I generally opt for an afternoon at the beach and a chilled class of horchata (orxata in Catalan and Valenciano) from my favorite, and in my opinion the best horchatería (orxateria) in the city, Sirvent.

Sirvent in Barcelona has two locations serving fresh cold horchata, as well as artisanal ice cream. They have a small area, reminiscent of a 1950s tin-clad diner for enjoying their products inside, or you can request to-go. The best "deal" is bringing a recycled liter to be refilled (3.90€). In the off-season, the storefronts keep their customers happy selling turrón, a popular Christmas candy, as well as other sweets.

Like paella, horchata hails from Valencia, but can be found along the Eastern seaboard and beaches stretching from Catalonia to Murcia. The season runs roughly from April to October, the hotter months so to speak, as it is enjoyed only when chilled or frozen as a granizada (a shaved ice consistency), or in some locations an ice cream flavor. Due to mass consumption and industrial production, many grocery stores carry their own version year-round, or popular brands such as Chufi, but as you can imagine these miss the boat on taste in comparison to the homemade varieties. Many North Americans will associate the word with Mexican horchata, a sweet rice drink with cinnamon, however, the Spanish version is quite different. Same tactic of sorts- as such with almond milk or soy milk- the main ingredient must be soaked in water and later the juice of the bean, nut, etc. is extracted and mixed with sugar. As I mentioned, Spanish horchata comes from the chufa (xufa), or tigernut, that has earned itself a demonation of origen (D.O.) in sixteen of Valencia's pueblos, where it is produced and cultivated.

The freshness of the horchata is extremely important. It should be consumed the day it is prepared, but will stand in the fridge another 2 or 3 days after.  If this is the case, the bottle must be shaken, as all of the sediment of the chufa sinks to the bottom. It can best be described as sweet, somewhat chalky, with a light/medium texture, but a flavor unmatched by anything else I've tried, the chufa is a unique specimen! Practice makes perfect, as the elaboration of horchata in this region dates back more than 175 years.

If you happen to be in Valencia, be sure to visit the old town, where behind the cathedral you will find two horchaterías that still produce quality, original recipe horchata, Santa Catalina and El Siglo. Or perhaps journey a bit north of the city to Horchatería Daniel, located in the chufa fields of La Alboraya, a frequent spot for locals and in the past, the likes of Salvador Dalí, all in search of the perfect glass.

In Barcelona visit:
Carrer Parlament, 56
Metro: Sant Antoni or Poble Sec

Horchateria Valenciana 
Carrer d'Aribau, 16
Metro: Universitat 

El Tio Che
Rambla del Poblenou, 44-46
Metro: Llacuna

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Carrer Balmes, 130
Metro: Diagonal


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