Many new visitors to Miami have never had guarapo, the freshly squeezed juice of the sugar cane. It's just one of many traditional Cuban beverages that bewilder the uninitiated.
Judging by the many tourists we see drinking Coca-Cola and Pepsi, this lack of knowledge is depriving them of a great taste treat.
If you don't know a Jupiña from an Iron Beer, don't despair! The Three Guys have prepared this short guide on the best Cuban beverages.
Guarapo is fresh sugar cane juice. It has a very light flavor (NOT supersweet like many people assume) and is extremely refreshing on a hot day. In fact, the sugar content of guarapo makes it just slightly sweeter than orange juice. (14 percent in guarapo, about 11 to 12 percent in Orange juice.) Standard sodas can have as much as four tablespoons of sugar in one can. You'd have to boil down more than a gallon of guarapo to produce that much pure sugar.
Guarapo is really quite healthy and works better than Gatorade to get into your system quickly. Much of the guarapo sold in Miami is made from sugar cane grown in western Palm Beach County, southeast of Lake Okeechobee.
The sweetest and most flavorful guarapo is available in winter when there is not as much rain.
The Cawy Bottling Company was one of the most successful bottlers of soft drinks in Cuba. The company started in 1948, and Cawy Lemon-Lime soda became Cuba's best selling soft drink, even outselling Coca-Cola. With four bottling plants and an efficient distribution network, Cawy was one of the most successful Cuban-owned and run companies. Until 1959, that is, when the communists took over the plants and two of the original partners fled to the United States. In 1964, the company was re-incorporated in the United States.
Materva is a very interesting soda. It is made from an herb, Mate that grows in South America.
In many countries, dried Yerba Mate leaves are used to brew a hot drink, a lot like coffee or tea. As a soda, it is especially popular in Argentina. It is rumored to provide all sorts of health benefits.
Many people find the flavor to be similar to ginger ale. We think Materva has a taste all its own. The perfect compliment to a Cuban pizza. If you can't find a Hatuey beer, that is!
You can find Materva all over Miami. It is distributed by Cawy.
Jupiña (hoo-peen-yah) is pineapple soda pop. Its name is a contraction of "Jugo de Piña " or pineapple juice. It has to be one of the sweetest sodas in the world. Its sweetness and intense pineapple flavor make it a great choice when eating something salty or fatty.
Although some compare it to root beer, we think Iron Beer (pronounced "E-run-beer" is a close cousin to Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb. (It's been bottled for more than 80 years. In fact, legend has it that the original beverage was delivered to a popular Havana cafeteria in 1917 by a mule-driven cart. ) It does have a faintly metallic taste. Could it be that there really is iron in that can?
Coco Rico is Coconut flavor soda. However, don't expect an intense coconut flavor like an Almond Joy bar. Coco Rico is made to mimic the flavor of coconut milk, not coconut meat. If you haven't acquired a taste for fresh coconut juice, you might not like Coco Rico. We believe that Coco-Rico is produced in Puerto Rico.
You have to try an authentic Cuban beer. You'll see the signs for Hatuey (pronounced "ah-tway") all over town. Just look for the Indian head logo. The Indian in question is Hatuey, a Taino indian chief who headed several rebellions against the Spanish in the early 16th century. The Bacardi Rum Company began brewing this beer at the Santiago Brewery in 1926. It, like all of their Cuban holdings was seized by the corrupt Cuban government after the "revolution."
It's a very Cuban tradition to share this beer with a good friend. You step up to the bar and order: "un indio y dos canoas." This means, "one indian and two canoes." You'll get a cold bottle of Hatuey and two small glasses. This is a real display of friendship, and you don't have to stop there. You can order several rounds this way to quench your thirst.
Another great Cuban beer is La Tropical, or Cerveza la Tropical. This beer was first brewed in 1888 by the Blanco Herrera family in Havana.
It was probably Cuba's best selling brand until Castro confiscated it in 1960. Back in the good old days, the La Tropical brewery in Havana was an idyllic spot with a beautiful tropical garden along the banks of the Almendares river. On Sundays, Cubans from all walks of life would gather in the gardens to dance the rumba to live music and drink fresh, cold beer. They also had a professional baseball stadium on the same site.
A couple of years ago, a Cuban-American guy, Manuel Portuondo bought the U. S. trademark and began brewing the beer from the original family recipe. (Our beer drinking expert, Raúl, says it tastes just like the beer he remembers from Cuba.)
One we particularly like is the batido de trigo or wheat shake. You might ask: "Wheat in an ice cream drink?" But think of the tasty puffed wheat cereal from your not too distant childhood and you'll get an idea of what the batido de trigo tastes like.
It's a unique flavor you just won't find anywhere else.
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