When Life Gives You Limes Make A Mojito!
I have never been a rum drinker and certainly not in the middle of a work day, but when the boss’s sister insisted that on a business lunch at Champers Barbados I switch my non alcoholic drink of choice from a cool lime Bentley to a “souped up” version…a Mojito , that was certainly a defining moment in my life.
Not Barbados, but Cuba is said to be the birthplace of this now classic cocktail. Some historians contend that African slaves who worked on the Cuban sugar cane fields during the 19th century inspired this drink from the popular sugar cane juice called Guarapo
A combination of muddled mint, lime and sugar and spiked with white Havana Club rum and sparkling water, this cool and refreshing traditional Cuban Highball was the reason why my two week Cuban vacation transgressed into a pilgrimage in search of the perfect Mojito.
Landing in Cuba via Panama almost at midnight would make one assume that I would have retreated to my comfortable room and begun this adventure the following morning, but the Hotel Melia Habana proved to be one of my most memorable Mojito experiences. Emily and Olga, the two female bartenders were hilarious and created the most wonderful mojito concoctions spiked with Angostura bitters. On finding out that I was from Trinidad, home to this closely guarded secret ingredient, sparked great conversation and artful care in the preparation of each of the six mojitos that I drank at the bar that night. It was not surprising that my trip to old Havana later that day was almost a blur, but still devoted to my vital research. My travels over the next 6 days took me to the interior of Cuba, from the French influenced city of Cienfuego then on to the rustic tobacco producing town of Trinidad to Sancti Spiritus and Santa Clara, the site of the last battle in the Cuban Revolution in late 1958. Each stop was punctuated by my mission to find the perfect mojito or at least some local derivative of it. Returning to Old Havana, I followed the trail marked by Ernest Hemingway from his home at The Finca , to La Terrazas a quaint little eatery sitting on a beautiful waterfront location, another famous watering hole housing a lot of Hemingway memorabilia. From there the trek continued to the infamous La Bodeguita Del Medio and Floridita known for the Hemingway daiquiri.
For me, a Mojito transports one to old Havana, where the legends of Ernest Hemingway’s debauched evenings at La Bodeguita del Medio singing sea shanties and madrigals, speaking impeccable Spanish, palliating his depression and loneliness abound. I have since learned that Hemingway was not as enthused by the Mojito as legend has it, but actually the daiquiri was his drink of choice and he was known to down at least thirteen in one evening. While he lived at Hotel Ambos Mundos home to some of the best mojitos, his daquiri haunt, the Floridita, was in stumbling distance. Below are a few photographs of Ernest Hemingway’s original home in Cuba.
Cuba is a “must visit”. The people are passionate, the history is rich and colourful, the countryside lush and the art is vibrant. There is so much that has been said about the country and so much to be said, but it is a place that pulls you in and makes you decide for yourself.
For me, I returned home enlightened and exhilarated and wanting to share this experience with my children (minus the decadence of course). What I did decide about this ‘perilous’ quest on which I had embarked was that; the perfect mojito is in fact the one that follows the last.
The Perfect Mojito
4 tablespoons cane sugar (plus more to rim glass)
4 cups roughly crushed ice
6 ounces light rum
10 to 12 mint sprigs
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 slices lime
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Moisten the rims of 4 glasses with lime and dip into sugar. Set aside.
Break up half of the mint leaves and add to a beverage shaker with the lime juice and sugar. Muddle with a pestle. Place half of the ice in shaker then add in the rum. Shake well and serve over remainder of ice in a tall glass. Top off each glass with a splash of club soda. Add bitters.
Garnish each glass with a slice of lime and a sprig of mint.