The Origin of Onces, That Colombian Afternoon Snack

July 2015

Michael: Our friend finished her story about how onces came about in Colombia. I found it fascinating though doubting it’s authenticity. However with more thought and study of Colombia my position has shifted much. This could very well be how it happened.

oNCES COFFEEGraciela: First an explanation is in order. Colombia is the only country in which they call the afternoon snack onces. In my country it usually means a bread product or cake with a drink. The great smelling and tasting food from the oven include buñuelo, pan de chocolate, pan de queso, pan de yuca, corazón or almojabana. It is not unusual around 2:30 p.m. to see a panaderia (bakery) with customers sitting at tables and talking. This has gone on for as long as I can remember and believe the tradition goes back hundreds of years.

Important to the story is the pronunciation of the word. It is different than what many people who have English as their first language may think. The pronunciation is like someone is saying “ohn-says”.

BOTTLE ONCESMichael: Setting the stage a little for the story – My wife and I along with many others take our between lunch and dinner break at a coffee shop. Others use the time to grab an alcoholic drink. From my readings of old stories about Colombia this latter beverage has been a tradition of  men in the the country for over 100 years.

By far the most popular hard alcoholic drink in this Andean region of Colombia is Aguardiente. It is an anise flavored (black licorice tasting) liquor of about 29% alcohol.

Aguardiente 1 11 640 177Graciela: Indeed it seems the afternoon tradition of taking a break applied only to men and their drinking of Aguardiente. The story goes that since saying something like, “I am going drinking aguardiente with the boys,” has the potential of causing unwanted discussions the men started disguising it. The word “aguardiente” has eleven characters in it. Eleven in Spanish is “once” (ohn-say). The men just started saying “I am going to onces”. Now the term refers to an afternoon snack and drink. More often nowadays the beverage is coffee.

Michael: In the same vein I have also noticed that many of the billiard halls in Colombia have the name “The Office.”

A big thanks to our friend, Yolanda, for bringing us this story of the origin of the word.


  1. Clever, yes! Like good colombian humor, but I doubt the story. Perhaps it is tongue in cheek humor of some to have discovered how to cleverly refer to their afternoon alcohol, that may very-well be the case.

    However, keeping in mind that the word onces can also be understood to refer to an hour of the day. And, that early morning snack, especially for school children was referred to by the hour of the day “medias nueves” I am more inclined to think that it was a late morning snack that got moved to the afternoon, but never lost it’s name.

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