Agua de Sapo is a traditional Costa Rican drink made from tapa de dulce (unrefined sugar), limes and ginger that originated in the Limón province on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, an area that takes on a much more Afro-Caribbean feel than it’s more Latin flavored Pacific side. According to Monte Azul, a lovely hotel on a private mountain reserve near Chirripó National Park, the region’s cultural roots are apparent in the language which is a Patois based on Jamaican English, with French, Spanish and Bri Bri (the principal indigenous people of the area) influences.
While unrefined sugar is called Tapa de dulce in Costa Rica, elsewhere in Latin America you may find it called a number of different names: raspadura, rapadura, atado dulce, chancaca (from the quechua chankaka), empanizao, papelón, piloncillo, or panocha. To produce tapa de dulce, freshly pressed cane juice is heated to a very high temperature until it reduces into a thick paste which is poured into molds traditionally cut into a hardwood log. The liquid is left to cool and dry as it subsequently hardens. You can find tapa de dulce, with one name or another, at most Hispanic markets in North America.
Monte Azul was kind enough to let us use their recipe for Agua de Sapo, as well as Piononos Ticos.
Recipe: Agua de Sapo
-1 tapa de dulce
-250 grams (or one cup) of ginger, coarsely chopped, may be adjusted to taste
-1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (with pulp)
-4 quarts of water
-lime wedges or slices for garnish
1. Place tapa de dulce and 1 quart water in a stock pot
2. Slightly bruise the chopped and peeled ginger with a mallet
3. Add ginger to stock pot and boil at medium heat until tapa de dulce is dissolved and mixture has boiled an additional 10 minutes
4. Remove from heat and let cool
5. Strain mixture to remove ginger. Squeeze out ginger with a spoon and add this liquid back to the pot
6. Add 1 cup of lime juice and enough cold water to make a gallon, mix thoroughly
7. Allow to cool completely and chill in the refrigerator. The flavors are better developed if allowed to sit overnight, but may be served once chilled
8. Pour over a glass full of ice and garnish with lime slice or wedge
You can sign up for culinary classes or book a room at Monte Azul by visiting their website: www.monteazulcr.com/
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.