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Taste of the Caribbean: Tu Kola and the Death of the REAL Cuba Libre

Taste of the Caribbean: Tu Kola and the Death of the REAL Cuba Libre
Little Baboo via Flickr
Little Baboo via Flickr

Classic American cars, Havana Club, John Lennon and sexy beach bums in Cayo Largo are but a few of the main draws attracting us to Cuba.

So too is Tu Kola.

No, I’m not being fresh, as some of our bi-lingual Spanish-English readers may be thinking. (Tu cola literally translates to “your tail,” or “your ass.”) What I am being, though, is culturally curious relative to the somewhat sordid history of that most authentic of local libations, the Cuba Libre.

It was round about the turn of the 20th Century when the first Cuba Libre was reputed to have been poured. Coca-Cola had only been invented 15 years prior, its inexorable march toward world soft drink domination just beginning. The Spanish-American War was raging, so Cuba’s streets were filled with American soldiers.

According to Bacardi, it was one such soldier, a Captain Russell with the U.S. Signal Corps, that ordered the first Cuba Libre, a mix of Bacardi Gold and Coca-Cola on ice with a lime, during an off-duty stop at an Old Havana bar. The drink was an instant hit, of course, causing another soldier to exclaim “¡Por Cuba Libre!” upon ordering a second round. The name stuck, and another legendary Caribbean cocktail was born.

Fast-forward 60 years to Castro, La Revolución and the removal of all things American from Cuba’s store shelves. Though I’ve heard that you can procure a real Coca-Cola in some tourist havens on the island, Cuba remains one of only two countries in the world where the planet’s most ubiquitous soft drink is legally not available. (North Korea is the other one.)

In essence, then, it is legally not possible to enjoy a real Cuba Libre, made in its authentic form with Coca-Cola, in the land where the drink was created. Instead, you must make do with Tu Kola.

Legend has it that it’s a pretty good substitute…

You see, there was once a regular Coca-Cola plant operating in Cuba. Upon seizing power, the Castro government nationalized the plant, continuing to produce the new Tu Kola using the same secret Coca-Cola formula used before.

Some say there’s no difference, while others claim Tu Kola tastes like crap.

Either way, each can provides a fascinating look at the Cuban condition, and whets my thirst for experiencing this complex country now before the U.S. Embargo is lifted and real Coke becomes widely available again.

If you’ve tried Tu Kola (the soda) please tell us what you think of it in the comments section below…

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  • Jenn-Ra

    I spent a month in Cuba in 2004 and I loved Tu Kola, I miss it. The orange was really good

  • http://www.mstravelingpants.travel MsTravelingPants

    I’ve always had it with great Cuban rum (Santiago de Cuba brand, not Havana Club). So, Tu Kola was secondary. I have to say that the Tu Kola dietetica version pales in comparison to my go to, Diet Coke.

  • Mark

    I am a huge coka cola fan but if I had the choice I would pic tu kola fewer ingredients and made from real can sugar. :)

  • Joel

    Tu Kola is excellent, as good as Mexican Coca-Cola (also fairly available in Cuba, for sticklers for the original Cuba Libre ingredients), and works well either by itself or as a mixer. It’s way better than the current American Coke formulation with high fructose corn syrup!

  • LvCuba

    FYI – Tu Kola translates to “your kola”
    Tu Culo would translate to your ass
    Get it right buddy