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How To Really Make A Mojito

Notes from a Cuban bar in the Cayman Islands

10/15/2007 12:00 AM

Fresh and abundant mint is important.  It grows like weeds, so get off your duff and plant some.
Fresh and abundant mint is important. It
grows like weeds, so get off your duff and
plant some.

On a recent trip to the Cayman Islands, I happened upon the Cohiba Lounge, an authentic Cuban bar and cigar lounge. The Cayman Islands are just south of Cuba. In fact, when you fly to the Cayman Islands from the United States, you go right over Cuba.

Cigars aren't my thing, but Cuban rum and Cuban drinks are. One of the most popular drinks the Cohiba serves is the venerable mojito.

The Cohiba is across the street from the Westin Resort in a strip mall. The unadorned outside belies a dark, stimulating room with a beautiful bar full of old rums from around the Caribbean and Central America.

Service is tops at the Cohiba

The two bartenders, Yadira and Veronica, are very competent, polite, and gracious. Once seated, one of them attends to you without delay. They also remember you when you come back.

As I made my way through the aged rums, I interspaced the sippers with mojitos. And as I watched Yadira and Veronica prepare the mojitos, I realized there is a lot going on here. It is about 2-3 minutes of work to build a mojito at Cohiba. In some bars in the United States, this would get you fired for being slow. At Cohiba, it is almost as fun to watch a mojito being assembled as it is to drink it.

How do you really make that thing?

I asked Yadira and Veronica to explain the process of building a mojito, and in so doing, I learned a secret that is a key to making a good mojito. When you mull the mint, you mull the stems of the mint plant, not the leaves. The stems have the juice for flavor, and the leaves need to remain untouched (or almost untouched) as they have the oils for the aroma. This golden nugget of information helped me realize why the mojitos at Cohiba taste better than the ones I make at home (even though I struggle to get it right at home).

The mint sprig should be big enough to almost fill the palm of your hand.
The mint sprig should be big enough
to almost fill the palm of your hand.

Do this and you will be happy

Here is the full process.

  1. Into a tall glass, pour a heaping teaspoon of bar sugar and about an ounce of lime juice.
  2. Stir this with a long handled bar spoon vigorously to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Put a large sprig of mint in, stem down and leaves up.
  4. Mull the stems of the mint in the sugar and lime juice mixture. Try not to mull the leaves.
  5. Add the rum and club soda.
  6. Stir again with the bar spoon.
  7. Add ice to fill the glass.
  8. Top with a dash of Angostura bitters.

I specify bar sugar because it dissolves quickly. You can use granulated sugar, but you'll have to stir longer. If you're in a country that allows it, by all means use Havana Club Anejo Blanco rum. The bitters may be thought of as not quite standard in a mojito, but add them anyway. They cut the sweetness of the sugar a bit, and add complexity and body.

This procedure makes a truly wonderful mojito. There is a strong, natural mint flavor along with clean mint aromas. If you're on Grand Cayman, stop by Cohiba for some mojitos (and cigars). Say hi to Veronica and Yadira while you're at it.

Cohiba Lounge & Cigar Emporium
West Bay Road, Cayman Falls Plaza
Georgetown, Cayman Islands 32311SMB

Last updated 1/19/2008 11:29 AM