Cool and sweet, Cuban mixed drinks have earned a special place in the world of cocktails. Havana is home to the mojito, the daiquiri, and of course, the Cuba libre. It’s always a good time for a toast.
Cuban drinks, islander-style
“The beverage could not be any better in any other part of the world… Hudson was drinking another frozen daiquiri and when he raised the frost-rimmed glass, he looked at the clear part below the frappéed top and it reminded him of the sea.” This passage is from Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway, who is most likely the person that drank this cool daiquiri.
Hemingway spent 20 years on the island of music and Habano cigars, exploring the nation’s streets and drinks, which he made popular along with the two places that best prepared them. Hemingway loved daiquiris, especially the ones made at Floridita, and also mojitos, particularly those served at La Bodeguita del Medio.
Floridita, which is located between Calle Obispo and Calle Monserrate in Havana, opened its doors 200 years ago in 1817. It was first called La Piña de Plata, then La Florida and it is now Floridita. There, surrounded by the smoke of Habana cigars and an array of conversations, the Nobel Prize winner spent the 1930s sipping his favorite drink as he leaned his arm on the bar. In fact, if you come in for a cocktail, you will see him because there is a life-size statue that marks the exact spot where the writer would enjoy his drink.
What are the ingredients of a Floridita daiquiri? Listing the exact measurements of this Cuban cocktail would be like revealing Coca-Cola’s secret formula, but the ingredients are very clear: rum, lemon, maraschino (a bitter black cherry and honey liqueur) and sugar.
Although it has not been around as long as Floridita, La Bodeguita del Medio has been serving cocktails with the same aged flavor of Old Havana for 75 years and it is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. What started out as a food shop in the middle of the street near the cathedral, this establishment won Hemingway over.
It lays claim to being the birthplace of the most popular cocktail in history (aside from the gin & tonic): the mojito. Since it is often best to stick with the original, the version made today at La Bodeguita is made from mint leaves, sugar and lemon juice, without any additives. After mashing the mixture to release the juices, white rum and soda water are added. Be sure to stop by this establishment to cool off and also try the Creole cuisine they serve.
Aside from ice, which is a fundamental and universal element of any cocktail, there is another ingredient that appears repeatedly in Cuban drinks: rum. According to legend, Christopher Columbus was the first person who transported sugar cane to the island and the locals quickly discovered what could be done with it. After harvesting sugar for centuries, Cuba became one of the greatest producers of this crop and therefore of rum as well because it is extracted from sugar cane.
You have probably heard of a “Cuba libre” at some point in your life. This mixed drink was a favorite of mothers and fathers in the 1990s and it continues to be renowned on the island. According to legend, it was created in the beginning of the 20th century, after the Cuban War of Independence. The Americans stationed at the military base in Havana came up with the idea of mixing one of their own drinks, cola, with Cuban rum and lime, and they toasted to the island’s liberation with the words “Viva Cuba libre!”
The recipe for making a Cuba libre is as simple as drinking it. First, cut open a lime and squeeze the juice of 1/4 of the fruit. Fill a glass halfway with ice, add 5 cl of rum (or more, depending on the glass), and top it off with Coca-Cola and the previously-squeezed lime juice. Cheers!
The history of saoco is not as romantic as that of the daiquiri, mojito or Cuba libre, but you will enjoy this drink as much as the others because it is a star cocktail on Cuba’s beaches. When in Cuba, and since the weather on the island tends to be fantastic, sit on the sand at Varadero and order one. You will know that it is authentic if it contains white rum, coconut water and ice. Simple yet refreshing.