Tu Kola and the Death of the REAL Cuba Libre: Taste of the Caribbean
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.
Birth of the Original Cuba Libre (With Coca-Cola)
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 global 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.
Castro Kicks Out Coca-Cola
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…
Tu Cola Takes Flight
You see, there was once a regular Coca-Cola plant operating in Cuba. Upon seizing power, the Castro government nationalized the plant. This ensured that the new Tu Kola was produced using the same secret Coca-Cola formula as before.
Some say there’s no difference. Others, though, 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…