Many classic drinks use orgeat syrup as a component of the drink. It is most famous for contributing to the original Mai Tai but it can be found in many other classics including the Scorpion, Japanese cocktail and the traditional French drink called the Momisette. Orgeat, sometimes called "French Orgeat", is simply a sweetened almond syrup with a little orange flower water. The origins of this syrup are quite interesting and the taste and versatility in drinks is impressive. However, finding orgeat can be hard in some locals, and finding a bar that stocks it, may be even harder. If you can find it, buy a bottle, you won’t be disappointed.
Orgeat (pronounced “or-zat”) is the French form of the word which originated from the Italian word orzata which means almond. The Spanish word Horchata or orxata has a similar origin. This syrup is basically an oil water emulsion of the oils in the almond. This makes it very similar to milk. Prior to using almonds, these emulsions were made with barley.
Note: an emulsion is simply a mixture of two unblendable substances. Basically, the two substances are separated, but because they form very small droplets, they do not easily separate out, so instead of forming layers, they form a cloudy liquid. Milk, butter, hollandaise and mayonnaise are all emulsions.
Prior to refrigeration, people could not store milk because it would spoil very quickly. The only people who may have drank milk would have been farmers, but for the most part milk was turned into cheese, because it could be stored for a long time and sold as a commodity. Now if you pulled milk and butter out of your recipe book, there wouldn’t be much left to cook, especially breads and pastries. The solution hundreds of years ago was to use a stable oil water emulsion made from barley and eventually almonds.
The oils in barley and almond are relatively stable at room temperature, and higher temperatures, so they don’t spoil very quickly. This makes them perfect for a milk like substitute. In the old days, a persons kitchen would contain a store of barely or almonds, depending on the climate, and when you needed a source of fat, you would use these. As time progressed and food became more of an art, the use of water/oil emulsions increased.
The basic process was to take a quantity of almonds and crush them up in a mortar, while adding water. This would extract the oils in the almonds and emulsify it with the water. After, letting the mush sit for a while it was filtered through muslin cloth and the resulting cloudy liquid was used in place of milk. It could even be whipped or churned to make a butter like substance. Plus, it didn’t go rancid and there was no need for refrigeration.
As time progressed and modern amenities arrived, like fridges and fast transportation, the use of almond milk diminished. However, a cordial was made using the same process, but sugar and some flavouring (orange flower water) was added and hence forth it was known as orgeat. It is obviously used in cocktails, but also in coffees, fruit drinks like lemonade and food and desserts.
And now I present my own personal take on a Tiki favorite
THE CHI CHI
1 oz Cream of Coconut (available at most grocery stores in the mixer section)
2 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice (not Dole or canned juice use the REAL stuff)
1/2 oz Orgeat Syrup (There is a nice version made by Trader Vic's. Look for it at your specialty booze hut)
1/4 oz Cointreau
1 1/2 oz Vodka
A dash of sweetend lime juice
A few drops of Angostura Bitters (you can find this at any booze vendor)
Pour over crushed ice in your favorite Tiki mug and add a nice hunk o' Pineapple.
The Orgeat smooths out the acidity of the Pineapple combined with the Cream of Coconut makes for a smooth creamy sweet tropical drink. You'll want to jump inside your own mouth to join in the fun that your taste buds are having.
There ya go. My gift to the world.