Piña Coladas taste like a vacation, even if you drink yours at the kitchen table after shoveling snow, or live in a tropical climate all year long. There’s something undeniably festive about a frosty glass of velvety-smooth rum, pineapple juice, and cream of coconut.
Unfortunately, like many tiki and tiki-adjacent drinks, Piña Coladas are easy to bungle. Saccharine supermarket mixes and other teeth-shatteringly sweet iterations abound.
We asked bartenders how they tackle this cocktail. Here are five pro tips for making excellent Piña Coladas at home.
What to do when making Piña Coladas
1. Juice fresh pineapple.
Going the extra mile to make fresh pineapple juice seems fussy, but it makes a big difference. “Packaged stuff pales by comparison no matter how good it is,” Jim Kearns, beverage director, Recreation at Moxy NYC Downtown, says.
Store-bought juice can be cloying. The natural sweetness of fresh pineapple juice, however, balances the rest of your flavors.
“Canned pineapple juice falls flat on the tongue and makes you want to add more sugar or more rum, when it really isn’t needed,” Robert Cate, food and beverage manager, Coppin’s Restaurant & Bar, Covington, Ky., says.
Happily, the best part of juicing fruit at home is you can’t overdo it. Chop up a pineapple (or buy pre-cut fruit, just be sure it’s fresh), throw it in a blender or food processor, and blend until uniformly liquid. Any extra juice can be frozen, or you can have it for breakfast tomorrow.
If you happen to be prepping this cocktail in advance, freeze your pineapple chunks before blending. It will give your finished cocktail a lovely, frothy consistency.
2. Your coconut matters.
Whenever you make a cocktail with just three components, every ingredient matters. This is true of boozy Manhattans and bitter Negronis; and it’s especially important when you’re making something predominantly sweet like Piña Coladas. Check the ingredient list on canned coconut cream, or cream of coconut. Some prepackaged varieties are loaded with added sugar and stabilizers.
“Coco Lopez is easy to find and never fails,” Cody Henson, bar manager, Trade Room, Savannah, Ga., says.
3. Crushed ice > cubed ice.
Crushed or pebble ice is best here because its small, uniform size ensures even dilution. Of course, most of us don’t have a fancy ice machine at home. The pro secret? Head to your local Sonic Drive-In to pick up a bag of pebble ice for a few dollars. No, seriously. Erick Castro, of Polite Provisions and Raised by Wolves in San Diego (among others), told VinePair the fast-food chain uses bartender-approved Scotsman ice machines for its fountain sodas.
If you’re preparing a Piña Colada on the rocks, shake your ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker, and then pour your mixed drink into a glass filled with crushed or pebble ice.
For frozen Piña Coladas, put your rum, pineapple juice, and coconut cream in the blender, and then add your ice. Start with approximately one cup of ice per cocktail, knowing you can add more. This isn’t an exact science; you mostly want the texture to be evenly slushy.
“Too much ice is a bad move but so is too little,” Henson says. “In the Caribbean bartenders will measure the ice, start the blender, then add rum until they get the consistency they want… Perfect every time.”
4. Enjoy it.
This is an inherently fun drink, reminiscent of beach and pool parties, or indulgent afternoons at TGI Fridays (no judgement). Decorative umbrellas are optional but encouraged.
What to avoid when making Piña Coladas
1. Don’t automatically add lime.
Some bartenders swear by a squeeze of citrus to offset Piña Coladas’ inherent sweetness, but it’s technically not part of the rubric. “I understand why people want to put lime in a Piña Colada to make the drink more balanced, but a Piña Colada is creamy, and creamy drinks should not have lime,” Yael Vengroff, bar director, The Spare Room, Los Angeles, says.
Fortunately, if you’re juicing fresh pineapple and using quality coconut cream, your drink won’t need acid to balance its flavors. It will be sweet, but not too sweet. All that’s left to do is sit back, take a sip, and set sail.