These hand-painted cocktail tools are almost too stunning to use (almost)
It was the pop of royal blue on the cocktail shaker that hooked me. The vibrant shade peeks out behind a psychedelic floral design starring a friendly looking hummingbird. Copper, which underlies the painted pattern, seems to shine through in the oranges and yellows of the flowers. It looks more like art to be displayed than a tool you should shake vigorously or regularly douse in sticky syrups and acidic juices, which is why the “Colibri Azul” set from Tepotztli — which includes a strainer, a cobbler-style shaker, a mixing glass, and a ridiculously beautiful jigger — seems like such an unnecessary splurge.
Ever since I encountered the stunning Tepotztli tools, I’ve been side-eying my shabby cocktail set, quietly suppressing the urge to throw my old tools in the trash and order my dream set. I’m too stubbornly pragmatic to ever replace a perfectly good tool (if I were to ever part with my barware, I would likely pawn it off on a cocktail-deprived friend). There’s also the matter of cost: Tepotztli sets range from $200 to $500, far too rich for my blood, especially considering you can outfit a perfectly decent bar for under $50.
None of this has stopped me from fantasizing about how the Tepotztli pieces would look displayed on my shelves or arranged on a bar cart, that pop of blue lighting up any room. I think about the other offerings from Tepotztli too. There are painted sets like the Colibri Azul, but also delicately engraved options that burst from shiny copper, mesmerizing hand-hammered sets, and the Wixarikas Collection, which features beadwork by the indigenous Huichol community of the Sierra Madres. There are chic copitas for sipping mezcal and a dashing ice scooping set too.
Tepotztli grew out of Cantina Experimental, a “self-sufficient cocktail bar” started in 2013 in the cloud forest near San Sebastián del Oeste in Jalisco, Mexico. The bar sourced tools by local artisans like the Parra family in Michoacan, who have been working copper for generations. Last year, Cantina founder Martin Kovar and his partner, Luis Armando Curaqui, decided to launch a side business to share the work of artists in their community in Southwest Mexico. The operation is modest (until recently they only took orders via email and Instagram DM), and the hand-crafted, made-to-order pieces can take weeks to create. Pieces in the Wixarikas Collection are especially time consuming, requiring up to a week of work on just the colorful, detailed bead patterns.
Production is based upon thousand-year-old, pre-Hispanic traditions of copper working from the Purépecha people. A metal worker begins with raw material, usually recycled copper, and shapes it on a lathe, washes it, grinds out imperfections, and hammers it. The piece is then tested for functionality to make sure it’s both cute and useful. Then it’s on to an artist for hand-painting or engraving. Every jigger and strainer and bar spoon passes through the hands of several artists, all compensated for their efforts before the company ever turns a profit, which may help account for the high price tag.
Maybe it’s desperation at facing down a long, harrowing winter, but I’m drawn to the sheer vitality of the Tepotztli pieces. Many of the designs — like a set painted with Rousseau-like flowers, a whimsical iguana set, an epic engraved lion design, and a bar spoon carved like a leaf — get inspiration from nature, bringing flowers and animals and lush foliage to a drab, utilitarian bar. The artists also imbue their pieces with their own styles, adding dashes of personality, spontaneity, and joy. The vibrancy seems fitting for tools used to create cocktails, which in my house usually err on the side of citrusy and fruity and peppy.
I’m not at a point in my life where I can drop a few hundred bucks on my bar. But in the spirit of the holidays, I might have to start with a little gift to myself: a ridiculously nice jigger seems about right.