LyAnna’s Piña Colada: Sultry, Elegant & Especial

Piña Colada by Puerto Rican LyAnna Sanabria

The piña colada turns 70 on July 10, 2024. Join us in saying feliz cumpleaños to Puerto Rico’s national drink! We’re honored to do our part in this libation celebration by asking two U.S.-based Boricua bartenders to make their favorite piña coladas.

Below is LyAnna Sanabria’s signature PC recipe, proudly served at Papi, her Puerto Rican restaurant and bar in Portland, Maine. See LyAnna’s sultry recipe and then check out her friend and fellow Boricua bartender Marco Ortiz’s next-level, no-blender piña colada.

To see how the piña colada has evolved in 70 years, compare LyAnna and Marco’s versions with the O.G. piña c. recipe. The first version of this frothy cocktail was dreamed up by Caribe Hilton’s Ramon “Monchito” Marrero in 1954. (That said, at least two other bartenders and one Puerto Rican pirate also lay claim to its creation. Read all about the drink’s history here. While you’re there, you’ll find 5 recipes for piña coladas!)

Once you’ve checked them all out, one final decision awaits. Which one will you make on July 10 to honor the world’s favorito tropical cocktail? You won’t go wrong starting with LyAnna’s below, a strong contendor to level up your piña colada skills.

Meet LyAnna Sanabria, Puerto Rican Piña Colada Pro

LyAnna Sanabria was named in 2023 Wine Enthusiast’s ”Top 8 Hispanics Drinks Pro to Know” as well as a Top 20 contender for Punch’s Best New Bartender. In 2023, Sanabria curated the first Puerto Rican Perreo party at Tales of the Cocktail and brought the first Diasporican bar to Puerto Rico Cocktail Week. Sanabria’s coquito recipe is published in Punch (we love coquito) and in June of 2024 she was invited to bartend for LP Drinks and Bodega Culture for the second year of Puentes hosted by Manolo López.

LyAnna Sanabria
LyAnna Sanabria has a signature piña colada at the Puerto Rican bar and restaurant she co-founded, Papi, in Portland, Maine.

Q: What is the secret to making a great piña colada?

Having it be yours. I think whenever someone leans into that thing that they really like about a balance or an ingredient and then full-send make it theirs, is when it’s the most delicious. Even when they give it to someone, the person receiving it will most likely find that it tastes like what the person wants it to — just from the pride and passion the person making it is exuding. Mind you, it’s hard to go wrong with these ingredients. I’m not applying this to everything. I’ve had many roommates very excited to give me something they love and WOW was that not delicious. But with the piña colada, as with many Puerto Rican dishes I love that every family thinks their recipe is “the one,” they can’t all be right, which in itself makes them all right.

However, there are technical sides and quality of ingredients that can make a difference if you’re looking to craft cocktail the piña colada. But I don’t think that necessarily makes a better one. If you’re making a frozen piña colada, taking into consideration the amount of sugar-to-water-to booze ratio functions a little differently than if you’re frothing or shaking. I love the chemistry and physics of cocktails, but in this case, that isn’t how I judge a piña colada. For me, the secret is: There is no secret, except for the one that only you know.  

Q: Do you remember the first piña colada you ever had?

The first time I had a piña colada (and chillo frito con tostones) was at a restaurant in Cabo Rojo overlooking the ocean. The matriarch in my family had passed away a couple of years before, and my dad was on a mission to show us his Puerto Rico: The entire island and its vast regions of delicacies and uniqueness. I remember the moment as a core memory. My grandpa Sanabria was to my left, to my right my younger brother, Jonathan, one of the first in the line to not carry the name Cesar Luis, followed by my father, the second Cesar Sanabria at the table, with the ocean al frente. The weather was bracingly perfect with a light breeze and all the elements of perfection you see in a Trip Advisor ad.

Our waitress looked like J.Lo, and my grandpa ordered a Heineken for himself and a piña colada for me. The waitress sees this, and brings me a virgin piña colada and laughs to me, as she winks at my dad, who is glaring at his father for giving me alcohol. When I tell my story of how far and how close the piña colada is to and from me, I always start with this very distant core memory. Also, it’s my Titi’s favorite drink. 

Q: When do you make piña coladas?

I make a LOT of piña coladas, professionally. At Papi, we make our house piña colada all of the time. And on the menu, we have a very big colada that we make a special rum blend for and then serve in a whole pineapple. Personally, though, piña colada consumption is a special occasion for me — like a birthday cake. At the Nuyorican parade, I will have a piña colada with my Titi Dali.

I don’t tell a lot of people because of my profession, and also because I think it makes me better at my job because I live by a “it’s your mouth not mine” code, but I really really don’t like cocktails. I never have. If I’m in Puerto Rico, I will drink a mojito if I’m at La Factoria or Junglebird, but other than that I don’t like them at all — for myself. But every few years, I get a craving. We are approaching the season where there will be a random Monday that I decide I just want to sit and drink a piña colada. I will call it ”going to the beach,” but I will be using a location and humidity where my piña colada will taste just right. And everyone who knows me will be surprised, and content, that I’m just sitting and drinking a piña colada.  

Q: Tell us about your approach to the piña colada you are making for us.

A: Honor the past is my approach. But history is written by many different hands, and the way I honor it might not be serving a frozen recipe from 1954. Though I have used that recipe in learning to honor. In Maine, I don’t have the same constraints as on the island, but I also don’t have the fresh flavors from the island. (Not that they always do either, but that’s for reasons of taxation, importation, electricity, and storage.)

In Maine, not only are there no coconuts or pineapples, but the ones that are here have been transported to not taste like sunshine anymore. I try to manipulate each simple component to make each one of them taste like what they actually should taste like, while also not being overly wasteful or artificial in any way. I make a coconut cream where I blend sweetened, condensed coconut cream with coconut water and then add an organic coconut extract to bolster the meatiness.

At Papi, we take a whole pineapple (skin and all, minus the fronds) and chop it for more surface area. I then rest it on sugar so that it extracts all the pineapple flavor and tiny drops of sunshine left on the skin. We use this with fresh pineapple juice, so it actually tastes like pineapple. For rum, I use Don Q Cristal and a 2 oz pour of it so while it’s a light and frilly drink, it’s also unctuous, boozy, and complex. The coconut and good pineapple also work as acidifiers, not just fruity sweeteners to balance the full pour. I want it to be rich not sweet, refreshing not heavy, and boozy in the legs but not on the palate. 

Curious to taste sunshine in your piña colada and try LyAnna’s recipe? Check out her Maine-famous piña colada from her Papi bar, below.

Ready to Whip Up LyAnna’s Piña Colada?

LyAnna’s Piña Colada: Sultry, Essential & Elegante

Recipe by LyAnna Sanabria
5.0 from 1 vote
Cuisine: Puerto Rican




  • 2 oz white rum

  • 1 oz coconut helado or cream (see below)

  • 3/4 oz pineapple macerated (see below)

  • 3/4 oz pineapple juice

  • light ice, as needed

  • For the Macerated Pineapple
  • 1 pineapple, whole

  • 2 cups sugar

  • For the Coconut Helado or Cream
  • 320 grams sweetened condensed coconut milk (about 1 ½ cups)

  • 150 grams coconut water with pulp (about 1/2 can; use fresh if possible)

  • 5 grams organic coco extract (about ½ tsp)


  • Macerate the Pineapple
  • Wash a whole pineapple. Peel and chop it into chunks. Reserve the fronds as a garnish.
  • In a large bowl, place the pineapple chunks on the sugar. Mix together. Let sit until all the sugar is dissolved. Strain. Set aside until needed. (You will only use 3/4 ounce in this recipe. Reserve the rest for the next round of piña coladas.)
  • Make the Coconut Helado or Cream
  • Mix the coconut milk, coconut water with pulp, and coco extra. Lightly blend to emulsify.
  • Froth Up the Ingredients
  • With an electric or hand frother, mix rum, pineapple macerate, coconut helado or cream, and light ice until frothy and blended.
  • Serve over rocks or crushed ice.
  • Garnish with a slice of pineapple and a pineapple frond or two, and serve.


  • LyAnna likes to use Don Q Cristal in her piña coladas. “A splash of Don Q Cristal limon and amaretto is muy rico!”

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