The piña colada is a well-known tropical drink. The sheer mention of it conjures up images of beach bars and tiny cocktail umbrellas. While the drink’s origins hail from Puerto Rico, this festive libation is a staple at vacation spots around the globe.
Recently while on holiday in Ghana, my interest was piqued by a sign at my beachfront retreat that boasted the “Best Piña Colada this Side of the Equator.” The sprawling complex, dubbed Big Milly’s Backyard, was a laid-back place filled with friendly locals and mellow Rastafarians. Small bungalows and huts were dispersed through out the palm-shaded grounds dotted with an oceanfront restaurant and 24-hour open-air bar which featured live reggae and African drumming shows.
One afternoon as the scorching sun baked everyone at the beach, I decided to test Big Milly’s cocktail claims. Paajoe Quansah, a helpful young man who seemed to be a jack-of-all-trades around the complex, volunteered to mix a piña colada for me.
He started off by taking off his shoes and leaving the bar. Puzzled, I followed him a short distance to a towering palm tree, which he proceeded to climb. I strained my neck to look up as he scampered to dizzying heights where the coconuts grew and dropped several of them to the ground. I was in awe — this was going to be one mighty fresh piña colada!
Once he safely made it back to ground level, he split the coconuts open with a machete. First he expertly carved a spout and poured out the juice, which he shared with two eager young local children that suddenly appeared nearby. Next he used a knife to scrape the meat from the coconut and added it to the water. After repeating the process with about four coconuts, he combined the coconut meat and water in a blender to make a thick and frothy mixture.
Once the fresh coconut puree was prepared, Paajoe began to build my cocktail. He added two shots of African rum to the liquid coconut. He topped it off with a generous splash of Big Milly’s freshly squeezed pineapple juice, which on its own was a popular refresher at the bar. The finished cocktail was served over ice.
Its flavor was bright and fresh and not overly sweet. It stood as a stark contrast to the sickly sweet frozen piña coladas made with commercially prepared mixes. However the generous portions of local rum did provide a noticeable burn.
After two of these elixirs, the sun seemed to mellow out a bit and I felt a little cooler. The rest of the afternoon flowed nicely into serene sunset followed by dinner and a late night wiling away at the bar.
Piña Colada – Ghanaian Style
Sugar to taste
Drain liquid from coconuts. Many coconuts sold in the U.S. will have little or no liquid inside. Scrape meat from coconut and add to blender. Blend until fluid, adding water as necessary. Remove fruit from pineapple and juice in a blender. Imported pineapples will be less sweet than locally grown African fruit, so add sugar to taste. In a tall glass, add 3 ounces rum; add 2 ounces pineapple juice and 2 ounces coconut mixture. Serve over ice.