It’s been one year since I made a life-changing journey to Havana, Cuba. Havana is a city with one foot in the past and the other in the future. The sound of classic cars’ engines humming down city streets and the sweet smoldering fragrance of burning cigars hearken back to the first half of the twentieth century when Cuba was a playground for the famous and infamous. Today, young Cubans are taking an active part in revitalizing their beloved Havana. They are planting urban farms, creating jobs in the food and tourism industries and breathing life into the old city, making it a place that future generations will be proud to call home.
You can ask any Cuban what their favorite drink is and the answer will almost unanimously be rum and more specifically, the mojito. The mojito was invented in the early twentieth century in Havana and has become popular the world over, inspiring countless variations. But Havana is the place to find the original. Less sweet than it’s American counterpart, the Cuban mojito is refreshing and light, perfect for meandering through the town squares of Old Havana or sipping underneath a beach umbrella on a hot Caribbean summer’s day.
Upon receiving my first authentic Cuban mojito, I was surprised to find a reddish tint floating through the clear liquid, almost as if someone had accidentally spilled a small drop of red food coloring into the glass. Come to find out, it was angostura bitters, an ingredient not usually found in the American version. It cut the sweetness of the cane juice and accented the lime perfectly. You can absolutely skip the bitters if you don’t have any, but I highly recommend keeping a bottle on hand just for mojitos. I was also surprised to see the stem on the mint left in the glass and muddled along with the leaves. According to our Cuban guide, the stem has a high concentration of flavor so a true mojito needs the mint stem, not just the leaves.
The Real Mojito
1 1/2 oz. good quality white rum (Cubans do not waste time on bad rum)
3 oz. club soda
3-4 fresh mint leaves with the stem attached
Dash of cane syrup
Dash of angostura bitters
Muddle the mint leaves and lime wedge in the bottom of a glass. Fill the glass with ice to your preference. Add the cane syrup, rum, and club soda. Stir to combine. Just before serving, add one quick dash of the bitters. Serve and enjoy!
One quick note about the cane syrup. Sugar cane is grown all over the island of Cuba and is very easy to find there, both raw and in the form of syrup. Not so much here in the United States. You can easily substitute a simple syrup made by boiling down equal parts sugar and water until it becomes thick.
Photos were taken by my dear friend and fellow Cuba adventurer Katie Rains who famously said, “You take me to rum, I’ll drink all the Cuba!”