If you want to know how to make a Piña Colada, and make it correctly, go straight to the drink’s homeland: Puerto Rico. On that beautiful Caribbean island, the frosty rum-centric sipper has reigned supreme for more than 60 years at the Caribe Hilton, where head bartender José Lopez serves them today. So fetch your blender, slip into your best tropical duds, and get schooled on this cool, creamy classic.
1. It Was First Made in Old San Juan
Indeed, this historic neighborhood in Puerto Rico’s capital city of San Juan is the home of the Piña Colada. Several other spots have also claimed its origin, but the Caribe Hilton presents the longest timeline for the cocktail, where then-barman Ramón Marrero Perez apparently first crafted the drink in 1954.
2. Its Classic Form Uses Just Three Ingredients
While there are plenty of bottled mixers claiming to be Piña Coladas, the real drink comes down to three core ingredients. “I love this drink because it reflects some of the true flavors of the Caribbean—rum, pineapple and coconut—in a very simple recipe,” says Lopez. “It’s best enjoyed at the beach, while staring at the waves and taking shade underneath the palm trees. You can smell the ocean, feel the sun and savor a refreshing and well-balanced cocktail with sweetness, creaminess and a little [tartness]—all those emotions with one drink.”
3. Coconut Cream Is the Key
While some drinks substitute coconut milk and sugar syrup for it, coconut cream is the gold standard and key ingredient for a delicious Piña Colada experience. “Our recipe is with coconut cream, which is coconut milk boiled with sugar,” says Lopez. “It gives it a good consistency, especially for a frozen drink, and you want it to be thick and creamy.”
4. White Rum Is the Right Move
Unless otherwise requested, Lopez’s go-to is white Puerto Rican rum. “It’s more neutral in flavor and it lets you savor the ingredients better,” he says. “Any brand of Puerto Rican rum is good, due to very strict laws and regulations for distillation on our island. All companies have to follow the same rules.”
5. Cubed Ice Lends Better Texture
While crushed ice is better for flash-blending and creating drinks where a slushy kind of consistency is desired, for the creamy Colada, blending whole ice cubes contribute to its famed voluptuousness. “It will help with the consistency of the drink, making it on the thicker side,” says Lopez.
6. Stylish Glassware Keeps It Authentic
If all you have is a wine goblet or Collins, well sure, pour in your Piña Colada, add a sustainable straw, and have at it. But if you really want to hold to the tropical flair for which the drink is famed, Lopez strongly suggests its classic stemware: “Piña Coladas look beautiful in Poco Grande glasses or Hurricane glasses.” And if a rum floater finds its way onto its crest and the cocktail is topped with a paper umbrella, all the better.