If you’ve had atolé, it’s likely been at a family table somewhere in the Southwest United States or Latin America, perhaps made from a family recipe. The warm, masa-based beverage is rarely available in restaurants and coffee shops, but you can find it at Tonantzin Casa de Café (1001 Arapahoe Ave.), now open on the bridge of the main Boulder Public Library.
“We’re happy to bring that experience. We get people saying, ‘Wow, I can only get this at my grandma’s house,’” says owner Cynthia Diaz, who opened the first location of Tonantzin in the Hispanic Art District on Santa Fe Drive in Denver (910 Santa Fe Drive, Unit 6). “We’re trying to create the feeling of walking into your tia or abuela’s house, a place of love and care.”
Tonantzin means mother earth in the Nahuatl language, and indeed, the welcoming feminine energy of the cafe is evident from the first glimpse of the logo: bold and candy pink. The back shelves are lined with traditional clay mugs glazed in colorful patterns — necessary for serving the café de olla for which the cafe is known. Enhanced by the beauty of the earthen mug, the coffee’s medium roast is infused with cinnamon and spices.
The espresso drinks feature a dark roast you can smell from either side of the bridge, alongside the ever-present note of cinnamon. Tonantzin adds appeal to the traditional coffee-shop menu with more Latin choices as mixers, including lattes made with horchata or dolche de leche. Less rich and sweet than the latter, horchata is a rice-based drink that tastes like thinned rice pudding and can be an ideal foil for the strong coffee in any espresso beverage.
As for atolé, the cafe uses finely milled blue corn, which Diaz says is both gluten free and contains more protein than other corn varieties.
The result is a slate-blue drink with a texture, smell and taste reminiscent of oatmeal in a drinkable form. Warm, rich and spiced, the comforting appeal of atolé translates across cultures. Atolé in one hand and coffee in the other could fuel a lot of productivity or creativity.
“Everyone serves atolé a little differently,” Diaz says, noting a variety of preferred sweetnesses or spices in different regions or different families. “We keep it in its natural form so people have it the way they like it,” offering sweeteners and spices for customers to doctor the drinks as they prefer. (Cinnamon is a must.)
The café also hints at a Latin market with Jumex fruit nectars in the fridge and plantain chips on the counter beside pastries from a Mexican bakery. The colorful concha sweet rolls are large enough to overfill the average hand.
On the menu: Tonantzin Casa de Café is located on the bridge of the main branch of the Boulder Public Library,1001 Arapahoe Ave. The cafe is open 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturdays.