I love a good cocktail, especially one with a rum base.
So when I knew I was going to Havana, I was as excited about going as I was about all the rummy cocktails I knew I’d get to drink.
But it was the mojito, the perfect refreshing antidote to hot days, that looked forward to downing.
Unfortunately, my first Havana mojito sucked!
And it wasn’t just that it needed more sugar. We tried that and it still tasted ‘off.’
So did the next one at the second bar.
The mojitos I’ve had in New York and elsewhere – the taste I’ve come to love – are a delicate balance between rum, sugar, mint, lime juice and ice. Even allowing for slight variations in the taste of the ingredients and the quantity of each that was used, I couldn’t explain the big difference in taste between Havana’s mojitos and New York’s.
I was disappointed.
I just knew the mojitos in Havana would have been good, so good, I’d be drinking them instead of water. And I knew I’d be raving about them when I returned home. I just knew!
Instead, I found myself doing what I do when I’m out and can’t find my favorite brand of spirits, I revert to something that’s foolproof: in this case, rum and coke.
(Yes, even though Cuba has its own brand of cola, this American import is available, especially in tourist areas.)
Now, there’s really nothing wrong with my backup drink: rum and Coke or the rum, Coke and lime mix called Cuba Libre. But since my taste buds had been primed for weeks in anticipation of the mojito, it felt like a poor substitute.
Several days later, while we were having lunch in a hotel restaurant, I noticed something that to me explained why the mojitos tasted so different.
There, on the bar, were rows of glasses. Each had sugar, lime wedges and several sprigs of mint leaves. How long had they been sitting there, waiting?
Could this slow marinating of these two ingredients account for the difference in taste?
Even from where I sat, I could see that the mint leaves had wilted to a deep green and a brownish yellow was slowly overtaking the vibrant green of the wedges of lime.
I watched as a waiter walked over, picked up a glass, added rum and ice, muddled the ingredients and served it to a diner.
I’m not a purist. Neither am I one of those people who thinks food has to taste the same everywhere, you know, like McDonald’s?
But you cannot convince me that that wasn’t the reason for the difference.
Tell me if you agree.