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TB Cocktails: the sustainable future of Cuban cocktails

Revealing, admirable, are just some words to describe this project that seeks, based on sustainability, to achieve a cocktail in equilibrium with economic development, care for the environment and social well-being. Tb Cocktails assumes and promotes this trend, not only as a strategy applicable to the bar, but as a philosophy for life.

Dagoberto Jesús Morejón and Manuel Alejandro Valdés―bartenders of El Cocinero Restaurant-Bar―make up this dynamic duo focused on creating a collective awareness of the need to reuse, reduce, recycle and ponder the use of local ingredients in cocktails.

Their main contribution to this cause is the identification of endemic plant species that―without affecting health―can bring new flavors and aromas to cocktails. To do this, they have the support of the Cuban Botanical Society, an institution with which they have established a permanent link for research on national flora.

Creating new jobs through a partnership with farmers of aromatic plants, flowers and indigenous fruits that are currently little used, applying agroecology and permaculture [1] are goals that set the way forward.

Havana Club International S.A. (HCI), in its role as a promoter of the development of cocktails in Cuba and a defender of sustainability, is an inseparable part of the genesis and evolution of the project.

In this interview, the TB Cocktails duo tells its story, and tells us about the future, always sustainable, of the Cuban, and why not, international bar.

The beginning

TB Cocktails first emerged as a friendship. We decided to come together in order to improve ourselves for cocktail competitions: we created cocktails, we trained, we criticized ourselves and we exchanged ideas, which gives way to professional growth, and the result that one achieved was the result of the work of both.

 

There are several factors that influenced the birth of the project. The daily work of a bartender showed us customers’ needs, the resources and trends to meet them.

Also, a lecture given by Alejandro Parmarola, president of the Cuban Botanical Association, in which he spoke of sustainability and the wealth of Cuban flora, opened our eyes to start researching and using local and endemic plants in the making of cocktails and products.

Lastly, the request by Havana Club International S.A. for bartenders to present projects of this type was decisive, first for the Varadero Gourmet International Festival and then for The Tahona Society contest, promoted by the Olmeca tequila brand, belonging to the portfolio of HCI drinks in Cuba. All of this laid the foundation for creating TB Cocktails.

TB Cocktails stands out for the study of the national flora in order to incorporate new species into the ingredients of cocktails. How is this work carried out?

The lack of resources in our bars and the richness of the Cuban flora have made the research, use and development of endemic and indigenous plants the main objective of TB Cocktails.

It is about the use of local ingredients, an important aspect of sustainability, which is one of the trends most used today by bartenders.

In the case of Cuba, it must be more than a trend, it’s a necessity, since there is a deficit of products in our markets, and the country has a flora of great wealth that can provide new aromas and flavors to the national and international sector.

The majagua flower, the orozuz de la tierra, the yellow elderberry, the false sunflower, the abre caminos, the oreganito, the mangrove grape, the caña limón, the country’s cherry, the lantana camara, the vencedor, the doica pepper, the pereskia are species that we have used so far, but in our study we have identified more than 50, with incredible properties for cocktail making.

The TB Cocktails blog talks about different sustainability strategies such as waste management, not using plastics, saving water. How do you apply these principles to your daily work?

We always start off from our strongest point: the use of local ingredients, which allows us to eliminate the carbon footprint and reduce costs.

And the fact exists that to create a cocktail that complies with the principles of sustainability there is a basis: “If the product is not local it is not sustainable.”

The connection between the bar and the kitchen is very important since both generate waste that we can take advantage of to be more creative and expand our sustainable work.

The ideal is to take advantage of each ingredient in its entirety, from the bar to the kitchen or vice versa, and one of the moments where we can best do this is during the mise in place, in which fruits are cut for juices and preparations and decorations are readied.

This is a space that generates a lot of waste: if we cut guavas to make juice, the peel is usually removed and many times they are thrown away; we dehydrate and macerate them in a Havana Club Añejo 3 Years, for example.

The same happens with the waste from other fruits, citrus and aromatic plants, which are used to make syrups, bitters, liqueurs, perfumes, macerations, infusions.

In addition, we use the organic residues of cocktails and other preparations to make compost, a fertilizer that provides many nutrients for the cultivation of these ingredients. In this way, a closed cycle is created.

On the other hand, the elimination of plastics begins by making the client understand the need not to use plastic straws. For this, the glassware and decoration should be comfortable when enjoying your cocktail and, if necessary, use ecological straws.

We also make the most of a resource as important as water. For example, when we cool the glasses and cocktail shakers, or make a cocktail, the remaining ice is almost always discarded. However, it can be stored to water the plants in our bar or in the community where it is located.

Last but not least, there is the in-house training we do in the workplace, from the salon to the kitchen, to incorporate them into our mission on sustainability.

What other bar trends do you develop and promote?

For us everything in cocktail making is related. We use the raw materials obtained with the described techniques to apply other trends, contributing our signature and Cuban flavor.

Some of them are the creation of mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails), the prominence of smells through the use of aromatic plants and perfumes, signature cocktails, the production of artisan products, the creation of cocktails with low sugar levels and alcoholic gradation, the use and creation of teas, and the reinvention of classics are some that we apply the most.

What role has Havana Club played in the development of the project?

From our beginnings, Havana Club has not only supported us, it has been fundamental. The training, the competitive events and the collaboration that it offers us are part of the project’s development.

We believe that many of the things that the brand promotes are common ground with TB Cocktails. That is why when we make liqueurs, bitters, or perfumes we prefer to use Havana Club rum as a base, which together with an endemic or local plant and the hands of these humble servers give way to a 100% Cuban product.

Are we talking about evolutionary cocktails? Why?

Yes, of course, despite the fact that most of the trends that are used today come from the past, their application with innovative ingredients and mixtures constantly make cocktails evolve.

An example is when we transform an organic ingredient, which has not been used before for these purposes, into an artisanal product: this is the case of the yellow elderberry, used in a perfume, or the orozuz de la tierra made into a syrup, which provides new sensations to the most exquisite palates.

Clients are increasingly more demanding, they present more challenges for us, and thus they favor greater professional growth.

How can sustainability be promoted in the bar?

Our aim is for the project to take an independent path, regardless of where we work, to be part of the network of collaborators that Cuban bars need so much to be truly sustainable, to supply ingredients and products, more now when after the pandemic the country will need to reduce imports.

We also boost work on social networks, which is very necessary to promote this topic; updating a blog where we present endemic and local plants to be used in cocktails, and soon we will open our YouTube channel for a more in-depth work in the audiovisual.

To what extent do you consider sustainability is applied in Cuban bars? What can be missing?

Sustainability is a trend and as such is sometimes used as a marketing tool. However, in several places there is good management of water and energy, containers such as jars of mayonnaise or olives are reused, awareness is raised about the elimination of plastic straws.

Some restaurants use organic ingredients and several of our colleagues are committed to the subject and develop their cocktails based on this; but, even so, we believe there’s a long way ahead for our bars to be truly sustainable.

Fundamental principles in sustainability are not applied, such as creating a network of committed collaborators. It’s not enough that some in the establishment take action. Everyone, from producers, suppliers, owners, employees, to customers’ consumption, must put in practice sustainability.

The creation of composting, the separation of waste, the strategy for the reduction of the 9R [2] that define the circular economy, the training of personnel, the use of local ingredients developed by agricultural production to lower costs and reduce imports, are some of the missing strategies in the sector at a time when Cuba needs it so much for its socioeconomic development.

Some TB Cocktails recipes to share with readers

Cóctel Golpes Libres

Characteristic: Appetizer

Method: Stirred
Cocktail Glassware
Havana Club 7 Years: 45 ml
Homemade Oreganito Liqueur: 15 ml
Slice of Sour Orange
Elderberry yellow perfume: 2 dashes
Decoration: Bitter Orange Twist

Cóctel Havana Sour:

Characteristic: Appetizer
Method: Shake

Glassware: Old Fashion Glass
Havana Club 3 Years macerated with dehydrated guava peel: 1 1/2 oz
Orozuz de la tierra syrup: 3/4 oz
lemon juice: 1/2 oz
orange Angostura: 2 dashes
Decoration: Lemon twist and orozuz sprig

 


[1] In the book Permacultura, familia y sustentabilidad, María Caridad Cruz and Carmen Cabrera define the objective of permaculture as the creation of systems that support present and future generations, from a philosophy of cooperation and care for Nature and people, through the design of human settlements that have natural ecosystems with diversity, stability and resilience or ability to recover.

[2] The foundations of the circular economy are defined by 9R: rethink, reuse, repair, restore, remanufacture, reduce, repropose, recycle and recover.


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