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Essence of cool

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In East Los Angeles, on counters of neighborhood "taquerias" you can see the huge glass "vitroleros," beehive-shaped jars filled with "aguas frescas" in a spectrum of stunning colors. Each flavor is like a point of reference on a color wheel: the deep magenta of "jamaica" (a variety of hibiscus flower), the pale green of honeydew melon or cucumber-lime, the scarlet of just-made "sandia" (watermelon), rice-based "horchata's" milky white.

Aguas frescas have a long tradition in Mexico and Latin America, where the "fresh waters" — made with fresh fruit or rice, tamarind pods or dried hibiscus flowers, sugar and water — are the perfect thirst-quencher for hot weather and sometimes-hotter cuisine. In the pre-Columbian 15th century, the story goes, Aztec farmers would paddle their canoes into Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City) with fresh fruit that they would mash and mix with water for a refreshing drink.

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