Tea Time In Chile: Onces

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When the British settled in Chile in the 1800s, they brought with them a peculiar, or strange, tradition.

Tea Time In Chile Onces

This tradition was inherited by Chilean nationals, and it has become deeply rooted in Chilean culture. This tradition is, of course, Onces.

There is much debate about where the name of this warm tradition comes from. It is argued that ‘Onces’ finds its origins in the word ‘aguardiente’. This eleven-letter word sounds warm and loving and literally translates to firewater.

You might be wondering what this word has to do with the tradition of Onces, but it all stems back to the 19th century. 

Back in the 19th century, the main work in Chile was in the salt mines. These mines were run by the English, and the workers were granted a break for tea.

During these tea breaks, the workers would also be given shots of firewater, and this is where the name ‘Onces’ comes from.

The salt mine workers would refer to these breaks as ‘Once’ to disguise the true meaning, but over time this has evolved into ‘Onces’. 

Although Onces finds its origin in the 19th century, this tradition is just as popular in Chile today as it was back then.

The closest way that I can describe Onces to someone who isn’t from Chile is breakfast for dinner. It is almost brunch, except it isn’t served at mid-day, instead, it is served in the evening. 

This tradition usually takes place at home with family, friends, and loved ones and comes with lots of different variations.

Tea time with cake

Onces could consist of a nice cup of tea, and some marraqueta (a type of bread) and butter, with a variety of different fillings, such as avocado, cold cuts, cheese, or jam.

Likewise, it could also consist of a nice cup of tea and a large slice of cake.

There is simply no strict way to do Onces. Whether salty or sweet, the main reason behind the tradition of Onces is to be surrounded by those that you love. 

As I said, Onces traditionally takes place at home, but a lot of businesses are now also offering this.

In villages, towns, and cities across Chile, you will find a wide variety of cafés and restaurants that offer Onces to their customers.

Eating out for Onces is usually a popular choice if you want to spend this tradition with friends.

Visiting a café means that nobody has to do the preparation work or hosting, instead, you can all enjoy Onces on neutral ground and spend the time catching up and chatting. 

Onces isn’t a tradition just for those in Chile, even as a visitor in Chile you will find yourself pulled into this tradition. Especially if you are an exchange student staying with a family out there.

When I think of Onces, I am transported back to the beautiful towns in Chile and the delicious treats I enjoyed out there.

When you leave Chile, it is often easy to fall out of the habit of Onces, but this is a tradition that you will never forget. 

Tea time