Hot Tiki: Spice and Things that are Nice

We’ve been blessed The past year to get to know LeNell Camacho Santa Ana and her great family. Her stories and experience from running her New York liquor store are invaluable to me as is the great advice. She and her husband Demián are good friends and always provide great hospitality. Lately she’s been doing some writing for Epicurious, and I was very pleased to talk some Tiki with her. I sat down with her last month to talk about the Hot Tiki drinks you’re seeing this month.


The drink I chose to make was the Kope Lani, a spiced coffee recipe I love that you need to read about here. Go ahead I’ll wait. I was inspired to make it largely by the Cafe Diable which you can read about in Hawaii: Tropical Rum Drinks & Cuisine by Phoebe Beach. I threw in some twists to suit my own personal tastes as well as some inspired by the lovely Coffee Grog at Trader Vic’s. There’s no real butter/cream element in the Kope Lani or the Cafe Diable which is uncommon. The lower focus on mouthfeel however really brings up the spice.

KopeLani (2)

To me the Kope Lani and Cafe Diable really show off the spice element so greatly needed in a classic Hot Tiki drink. Without the spice you really have little more than plain hot buttered rum. The most common spices one can find in classic recipes are cloves followed closely by cinnamon sticks. Citrus peels are also common when adding that depth and dimension. Though not spices in the technical sense they make up an important part of the category as do the rum choice. The real purpose of the spice is to add flavor and depth to the fill component. It’s also the chief component that is changed and enhanced by the heat element.


Historically cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, citrus peels, dark and gold rums have made up most of the spice element of classic Hot Tiki cocktails. Other exotic flavors can be used to great success if one uses care however. Crushed allspice berries are a no brainer that are wonderful in Tiki warmers. Black cardamom pods are rich and smokey, they add an exotic element that’s common in Turkish coffee. Cocoa powder was the original tropical drink additive of old world Europe right after sugar. In keeping with that cocoa powder can also really zing up a Hot Tiki creation. Anise, coriander, ginger, even pink peppercorns – the list is as long as a balance driven palate and a well kept spice rack. It’s easy to go crazy when you play in this category so we recommend picking a few spice elements to focus on that play well with each other and the fill. We also recommend using fresh whole spices when you can. Remember spices have a shelf life which is cut drastically after they have been ground and exposed to air.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at one of the four elements of Hot Tiki. We’d like to thank LeNell and Epicurious again for the great writeup, and for her friendship and advice. Join us next time when we really jump into the fire. Until next time…

You get hammered America.” – JFL


About JFL

Joey or JFL as he is known by friends is a culinary trained mixologist from the Heart of Dixie Birmingham, Alabama. From a weekly column in the St. Clair News Aegis to his own experiments online JFL never stops doing work on Tiki and Cocktails. When he's not studying all things spirit, wine, and beer he's pursuing his own odd interests such as cartoons, cheesy old horror movies, horror punk, hair metal, and hockey
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