Baychester’s Caribbean Punch
It was one of those strangely warm days early this year and I was looking for a cool treat. An Edible Bronx assignment had filled my belly already, but something drew me to the refrigerator in a Caribbean restaurant on Dyre Avenue. There, to my great surprise, behind the sodas and faux fruit juices, I found just the thing: peanut punch. It’s a creamy, protein-rich blend of oats, nuts and sea moss (one of the Caribbean’s many alleged aphrodisiacs). I checked the bottle’s label expecting to see it as imported from Trinidad or Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. Not even close. The bottle had traveled less than two miles from a tiny Baychester factory to my greedy mouth.
To call Pat’s Exotic Beverages a factory is slightly misleading. Pat Lindsay’s drinks are made in a nondescript stone townhouse on Tieman Avenue. There are no smokestacks or conveyor belts. It’s neighborhoody. The only hint of industrial activity inside are the morning delivery runs—guys carrying out big white ice chests to curb-parked vans. Pat herself greeted me at the door.
She grew up making juice with her grandmother in Jamaica’s Saint Andrew Parish. Sweet sorrel, tangy carrot, creamy soursop. She brought the recipes with her to the Bronx and, with her mother, started making drinks for her church and co-workers. The concoctions soon became too popular to be made in their apartment.
“It was my mom and me. I was on the second floor and had to drag up these 50-pound bags of carrots, 50-pound bags of sugar,” Pat said. “It got to the point where it was too big. It took over everything.”
She officially incorporated in October 1998 and with the help of a small business loan moved the operation to the townhouse. Pat quit her health care job and hired a small staff. They grind nuts, juice vegetables and mash fruit. “I had been an employee for a long time,” she said. “I wanted to see how I’d do as an employer.”
Her grandmother’s recipes got a mainland makeover to meet mainland tastes, adding a “ginger kick” to many.
For the unfamiliar, sorrel is a very common Caribbean drink made from parts of hibiscus flower buds. Ginger beer is a sweet carbonated soda made from fermented ginger. It’s the base mix for Dark N’ Stormy and Moscow Mule cocktails. Soursop—guanábana to Spanish speakers—is a creamy white fruit with a light banana custard flavor. Green with soft spines, it has recently been touted as a possible cancer fighter, and the leaves of the plant are steeped into a tea used as a mild sedative. Pat’s grandmother’s recipe called for milk in the soursop drink, but she substituted lime and ginger for a sweet, citric tang.
The drinks were a hit. At one point they were in 50 or more restaurants. The market wanted more.
“Someone said to me, ‘Why don’t you try the other drinks, the ones that men like?’” Pat said. It was an allusion to the ingredient commonly held to give “strong back” stamina to workers and extra vigor to amorous males.
Sea moss, or Irish moss, is a red sea algae also known as gracilaria. It is used in Pacific Islands cuisine and, like soursop, reportedly provides various health benefits—although there’s scant solid evidence of its Viagra-like qualities. Some drink makers prepare their sea moss with an aloe base. Pat has taken a different route, using isinglass, evaporated milk and soy milk.
“I did my sea moss so it’s more like a shake and not so thick as the original,” she said. “It took the market very well.”
Pat makes four drinks of this creamy sort: the smooth Irish Moss; the nutty Peanut Punch; Magnum Plus, which adds banana; and Stagga Back, which is just filtered water, soy milk, brown sugar and spices, but is described on Pat’s website as able to “give your vitality a boost.”
There’s absolutely nothing unwholesome about Pat’s Exotic Beverages’ website, but patsexotics.com might trip your browser’s content filter. She usually has about 20 different drinks in production, but the number can swell or shrink with supply and demand. The site lists a “core value” along with the ingredients of each drink.
Pineapple Passion: Love. Vulnerable, renewable and sustainable strength.
Tamarind: Loyalty. Committed to my original intention.
Carrot Beet: Abundance. Fullness of awareness and sharing of resources.
Ginger Lemonade: Generosity. Making a contribution even when it’s not required.
Cucumber: Support. Fortifying self and others to be, to reflect and express.