Category Archives: Mexican Ceramics

New Mexican Tiles from Caoba

Spring is finally here in Edinburgh and, happily, so is our latest shipment of tiles from Mexico. We are now fully stocked with our beautiful range of handmade tiles, including several new designs.

Cactus Tile

Cactus

Lion Tile

Lion

When we say “hand made” we actually mean hand and foot made… The clay is mixed in a gigantic bath, the artisans using both their hands and feet to get a good mix. The clay is then rolled out, hand cut and left to dry in the sun. This takes several days, longer in the rainy season.

The tiles have an off white blanco background glaze applied, before the different designs are added using a screen.

Many of the tile designs owe their origins to the Spanish/Moorish influences of the conquistadors, but over time the Mexican culture has stamped (or screen printed!) it’s own unique style into the range.

A good quality grout is best used when applying Caoba’s Mexican tiles to walls (Mapei or Ardex for example) and the bear in mind that you’ll need to take a slightly different approach to your DIY; the tiler needs to work with the unevenness, not aspire to factory-made uniformity.

But it’s the quirks of these terracotta tiles that we all love. Just look at what some of our customers have done over the years… Check out our Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest pages for more inspiration and shop updates

A collage of inspiration

A collage of inspiration

Is it Hot in Here or…

Our unusually warm September has been breaking temperature records especially in the south of England. Here at Caoba we’ve been generating our own heat, chile heat.
Latin American in origin, the chile pepper (capsicum) has spread its fascination across the world. In culinary terms they are both challenging and highly addictive. As ceramic decorations they brighten up any northern European kitchen with their fiery red, yellow and green glazes.

Is it chile the or chili? The former is largely Spanish in usage, the latter American English. One suggested way to distinguish between the two is to use chile for the plants and fruit and chili for the stew. There are hundreds of chile varieties and as the fiery fruit’s use has spread across continents so have these varieties and different names proliferated.
The relative heat of a chile is measured on the Scoville Scale, named for its creator Wilbur Scoville.
What follows is a very short and not in the least comprehensive guide to the chiles available in edible and decorative form from Caoba:

The Jalapeño Pepper

Large, red, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Large, red, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Small, red, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Small, red, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Large, red and green, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Large, red and green, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Chile Jalapeño, the one familiar to most of us. Dried and smoked it becomes the chipotle chile used in salsas and chilis. It has a heat range of 1,000-20,000 Scoville units. The Jalapeño is usually eaten when still unripe i.e. green, although our ceramic versions are resplendent in a very ripe, bright red. With a nod to Wikipedia I can tell you that Jalapeño pepper is the state chile for Texas and has in the past been taken into space. It doesn’t report whether or not they returned.

The Serrano Chile

Tinned Serranos available from Caoba

Steve, our resident strong man eats these serranos straight from the tin

The Serrano chile, originally from the mountainous regions of Puebla and Hildago (Sierra = Mountain in Spanish). They are usually hotter than a Jalapeño with a Scoville range of 10,000-25,000 units. The Serrano is most often used in a Pico de gallo (fresh, chopped tomatoes, onion, coriander and chiles) and as such, eaten raw.

The Chile Hungaro de Cera

Ceramic red, yellow and green Chile Hungaro de Cera

Ceramic red, yellow and green Chile Hungaro de Cera

In English, the Hungarian Wax chile, is widely grown across eastern Europe and in its red, ripened form used a lot in Hungarian cooking.
It has a wide  range of 1,000-15,000 Scoville units. i.e. mild to moderate heat.

Red ceramic Chile Hungarito, the Hungaro's smaller cousin

Red ceramic Chile Hungarito, the Hungaro’s smaller cousin

 

 

 

 

 

Chile Cristalino

Red ceramic Chile Cristalino

The mysterious Red ceramic Chile Cristalino

This mild chile (just 500-700 Scoville units) is known by  so many different names you have to wonder whether it has something to hide.
From the Yucatan region of Mexico, it is variously known as the Xcatic chile,  the Santa Fe Grande Chili pepper and the Carrocillo chile. There may be other aliases…

The Miracielo Chile

Also known as the Mirasol chile, on the plant these chiles grow upwards towards the sun and the sky.  Dried, they are called Guajillo and often used in moles (sauces), particularly in Peruvian cuisine. They measure a healthy 2,500-5,000 units on the Scoville Scale

Red ceramic Miracielo Chile

Red ceramic Miracielo Chile

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Ceramic chillis L

Some Like it Hot

But not everybody does. Chilli peppers are associated with heat because some of them are blisteringly hot. Literally.

Kankun Mexican Habanero sauce (red)

Kankun Mexican Habanero sauce. This one is HOT!

In 1912 American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville developed the Scoville scale. It is still used to measure the heat of the many varieties of chillies and is useful in identifying the scarily hot ones and the non-threatening mild ones. What it cannot take into account is the human element; an individual’s response to capsaicin, the source of a chilli’s heat, will come down to taste and experience. And yes, chills are addictive. The kick (or blast) of heat from the chilli produces endorphins in the brain and we humans like endorphins, so we go back for more! This same feature explains why we can build up a resistance to the heat with practice.

Brain Tacos

Brain Tacos in Mexico: If you’re a chilli fiend a dash of the hot stuff can make almost anything palatable

Three things to bear in mind when cooking with or eating chillies:

  • Chilli peppers are a rich source of vitamin C; combine that with the nasal-clearing qualities of the heat and you have temporary relief from the bleurgh* of a head cold.
  • Beware the capsaicin on your fingers, it can burn your skin if the chilli is hot enough. Always wash your hands after preparing them raw or wear gloves. Seriously, I’m not kidding.
  • Milk is better than water for cooling down that burning sensation if you misjudge your hotness threshold (or lose a bet). So sour cream and yoghurt are perfect accompaniments for a chilli-hot meal.

*not a medical term

Jalapeño Chillis

Jalapeño Chillis

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that we at Caoba all love chilli. We carry a range of tinned chillies and bottled hot sauces in the Edinburgh shop and online and happily add a dash of the liquid heat to food whenever we can.

Chipotles in Adobado sauce

Chipotles in Adobado sauce

The Scottish weather may not be known for its heat, but you can always turn to our ranges of decorative and edible chillies to warm up a frosty day.

Kankun Mexican Chipotle sauce

Kankun Mexican Chipotle sauce

Chilli Pepper Lights

Chilli Pepper Lights. Perfect for parties with a Mexican theme

Caoba Goes to Mexico

A very pink house

A very pink house

The start of a chilly Edinburgh spring was time for one of our regular buying trips to Mexico. March is a great month for visiting Mexico City; the rainy months haven’t yet kicked in and the day times are warm and sunny. We were there to work, but it doesn’t hurt to have a spot of decent weather!

We caught up with old friends, stocked up on our favourite products from several of our family-run suppliers and found some spectacular new ceramics and jewellery from some amazing, talented artisans.

A margarita or two...

A margarita or two…

We also tried a margarita or two. For research purposes only.

Pachycereus Marginatus. Aka Mexican fence Posts

Pachycereus Marginatus. Mexican fence posts are very green

We’ll have to wait a few months before the main stock arrives by sea from Mexico, but the floral jewellery is already in the Edinburgh shop.

Real flower pendants, set in resin with silver

Real flower pendants, set in resin with silver

A Frida pendant, with real flowers

A Frida pendant, with real flowers

Hand decorating a plate

Hand decorating a plate

In the studio

In the studio

Work in Progress

Work in Progress

Ceramic Sugar Skulls

Brightly decorated ceramic Sugar Skulls

Terracotta lamps

Terracotta lamps. Pierced to let light shine through

A faithful Pre hispanic reproduction statue

A Pre hispanic style statue

Hand painted tiles

Hand painted tiles

Creating a splash of Mexican colour

With more than 70 different designs in our Mexican terracotta tile range the choice can seem a little overwhelming. We should know, it took us 2 years to decide on the look for our kitchen at Caoba Towers.

The tile splash back at Caoba Towers

Caoba kitchen splash back

So it seemed logical to put our experience to good use to create some unique tile sets, using patterns that we know work well when combined together. Each panel contains 36 10½cm x 10½cm tiles, comprising 4 each of 9 designs and measures approximately 63cm x 63cm when laid out as a square. We say ‘approximately’ because our tiles are made by hand, creating slight variations and quirks within each item.

A patchwork of 36 10.5cm x 10.5cm blue and terracotta tiles

Blue and terracotta patchwork

A patchwork of predominately blue tiles

Blue patchwork

A patchwork of arabesque style tiles

Arabesque

An eclectic mix of suns, moons, flora and fauna.

Celestial

A patchwork of predominately green tiles

Green patchwork

But we don’t want to take all the fun out of choosing your own style, so why not use one or more of these sets as a jumping-off point for your own design; lay the tiles out as a border, mix up together with a few of our plain colour tiles, dot in some mini tiles or stick to the plan and use a set as a panel for a stunning kitchen splash back.
Check out our Facebook page and Pinterest boards for some more terracotta tile ideas with a Mexican twist.

Quite Interesting

What do Wellington boots and Caoba’s new espresso cups have in common? They both owe their origins to the Spanish city of Talavera de la Reina in the province of Toledo.

Talavera Espresso cups

Talavera Espresso cups at Caoba

Mexican Talavera is a brightly decorated, tin-glazed terracotta in the style of maiolica. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, maiolica ceramics were at the height of their fashion across Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain. It was inevitable that examples would make their way to the New World and that they would in turn be recreated by local artisans and subsequently evolve into the glorious, uniquely Mexican Talavera.

Talavera storage jars

Talavera storage jars

Talavera is defined by its white, tin oxide base, glazed over terracotta, with distinctive bright colours and raised surface detail. The vibrant floral decorations often have an arabesque quality to them, harking back to the Hispano-Moorish traditions that first inspired them. The cups are just one example of new editions to our Mexican Talavera collection. Dishwasher safe, perfect for hot drinks and serving food from (but not oven-proof).

… And the boots? Sir Arthur Wellesley was ennobled as Viscount Wellington, the Duke of Wellington his victory against the French at the 1809 Battle of Talavera. How he came to have rubber footwear name after him is a story for a different blog.