Competition Elects Best Puerto Rican Coquito in New Jersey

Winner Linda Cortez (center) of the New Jersey Coquito Masters Competition. Runner up Stephanie Macías-Arlington is at left in photo, and Naomi Ortiz is at right in photo.  (Photo via Reporte Hispano)

Linda Cortez was the winner of the competition to select the best coquito, a traditional Puerto Rican punch, at the 2017 New Jersey Coquito Masters Competition held on Saturday, Jan. 7, at the Newark Public Library. The contestants and general public hailed from different cities across the state.

The winning coquito, which perfectly balanced the flavors contained in the popular drink – coconut milk, rum, cinnamon and other ingredients – was tasted by Debbie Quiñones, president of the contest, who deemed it one of the best.

“It was well mixed, had lots of flavor and did not have too much rum or cinnamon. We never ask for the recipes because many of them are family secrets, but the winner may have used a special type of rum,” said Quiñones.

All of the nearly 50 people who attended the event became part of the jury who chose the winning cocktail. They were given a card as they walked in to make notes on the quality of each one of the beverages in competition.

“I have been preparing it for a long time, but in the last five years I have been selling small quantities and given away the rest. Last year I made 200 bottles. In my house, there is no Christmas without coquito,” said the winner, who lives in the city of Passaic.

The coquito made by Cuban-born Stephanie Macías-Arlington, a resident of Totowa, won second place. She learned to make the punch from a recipe published on Facebook.

Third place went to Naomi Ortiz, from Bayamón, Puerto Rico, who lives in the city of Kearny. She has been preparing the drink for the last 15 years using a family recipe in which the flavors of condensed milk, Bacardi rum, coconut and cinnamon stand out.

Vegan and virgin coquito

One of the night’s surprises was the introduction of a vegan coquito, prepared by Peter Ortiz, a resident of Perth Amboy of Puerto Rican descent. He uses no animal products, including eggs or milk, and said that his family has been drinking this variety to celebrate the holidays for the last two years.

A version of the so-called “virgin coquito” – without alcohol – was not in competition, but was commented on by a number of people in the audience. On this, Debbie Quiñones was blunt: “To me, coquito without rum is not coquito.”

The competition was organized by the International Coquito Tasting Federation and the Newark Public Library’s Sala Hispanoamericana. The winner will compete in another contest to be held in New York at the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration’s office in Manhattan, where the best coquito in the two states will be chosen.

The contest, which has been held in New York for 15 years, only started in New Jersey five years ago. This is the second consecutive year that it took place at the Newark Public Library.

To the Puerto Rican community in the United States, the popular drink is a way to remember the island and the traditions of their parents and their ancestors.

“Coquito means so many things for Puerto Rico. One of them is our pride. Also, that all the ingredients come from different parts of the world: from the Spanish colonists, from India, from Europe… It symbolizes us taking all the ingredients of the colonization and transform them into something of our own,” explained Quiñones.

She pointed out that the main ingredient is love and that “without love, there is no good coquito.”

For her part, Ingrid Betancourt said that the Newark library’s Sala Hispanoamericana is part of the Hispanic Research and Information Center – whose objectives include celebrating culture and Hispanic heritage in the state of New Jersey – and that the Coquito Masters competition is part of the cultural legacy it seeks to preserve and disseminate within the community.

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