The Mojito's humble (but not so modest) origins

Made with some of Cuba’s signature exports – sugar and rum – mojitos are now synonymous with Cuban-ness.

Like most cocktails however, the mojito's origin stories are shaky at best. But when should the truth ever get in the way of a good story? 

First claimant of the mojito was none other than Sir Francis Drake, the infamous privateer and slave trader of the Caribbean; known to his enemies as El Draque. The slaves he traded worked in sugar cane fields, where hierbabuena (spearmint) and limes grow together plentifully. Inevitably someone (perhaps a slave or a plantation owner) put it all together in a vessel– accompanied with high proof alcohol of course! And whom else should they name this concoction after, but El Draque himself? Thus El Draque the cocktail was born – to some El Draque was simply another name for what would later come to be known as the mojito.

But if you ask a Cuban where the mojito comes from, they will tell you it has a modern history. For cubanos the mojito was invented in 1942 in El bodeguita del medio – a quaint Havana bar said to be frequented by Hemmingway, Gabriel García Márquez, Salvador Allende and even Pablo Neruda. In fact, scrawled on the walls one can still read the now famous graffiti 'Mi mojito en La bodeguita, mi daiquiri en El floridita.' – Ernest Hemingway 

Unfortunately, this was actually an epic forgery – a joke planned by the bar owners' friends to help their business along. And boy, did it work! This tiny piece of writing is part of the well-trodden Hemmingway trail around Havana. The place is packed with tourists to this day! Hemmingway biographers still scoff at the thought that the mojito was his favorite drink – as he was far more often spotted with a daiquiri in his hand. Nevertheless, La bodeguita del medio still claims it introduced the mojito to Hemmingway – and indeed the world.

How did the mojito get it's name?

Leaving the truth to one side again, how did the mojito get its name? The Spanish word mojadito (meaning a little wet) and the Cuban lime-based seasoning mojo are both feasible explanations for the mojito’s origins. But our favourite theory is that it comes from an African word mojo, which means to cast a little spell – which is used in the syncretic Cuban religion of Santería.

So how should one cast the mojito spell? Unlike most cocktails, the mojito is neither built nor shaken – but muddled! This process involves gently bruising the mint to release its oils – it’s considered a faux pas to simply tear the leaves! You can buy fancy muddling sticks to make this drink – however the end of a rolling pin suffices for an excellent muddling device! (And you can also crush the ice with it – handy!) Here's how to make it:

A good muddling action: Push down and twist gently - no bashing! (save that for the ice)

How to Make a Mojito:

Get your ingredients ready

  • 1 healthy shot of white rum
  • ½ fresh lime cut into 4 wedges (cut the end bits off before you cut into wedges, it’s easier to crush)
  • Mint leaves – 10 or so per mojito (hierbabuena is spearmint, if you can find it great, if not, ordinary mint will do)
  • 2 heaped bar spoons of caster sugar
  • Soda water to top up
  • Crushed ice (wrap 10 or so ice blocks in a clean tea towel and give it a good whack on the bench or smash it with a rolling pin - and feel all your troubles melt away)

Cast the Spell

Pop the four lime wedges into a tall glass and muddle (gently squish everything together) to release the lime juice, then add sugar.

Place the mint leaves on one hand and *clap*. This will bruise the leaves and release the aroma. Rub the mint leaves around the rim of the glass and drop them in.

Use a muddler (or even a rolling pin) to gently push the mint down, releasing more of it's flavour  - this is a very gentle action though, too much enthusiasm here will leave a bitter taste in the leaves.

Half fill the glass with crushed ice and pour in the rum. Stir with a long spoon until the sugar dissolves. Then try to fold the mint over the ice so it rises closer to the top rather than the bottom of the glass.

Top up with more crushed ice, a splash of the soda water and garnish with a sprig of mint. 


If you'd like to learn all about another famous Latin American cocktail - have a read here about the Pisco Sour!

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