The Daiquiri at the Havana Club, straight from the pages of Graham Greene
While in Havana, when I wasn’t drinking Mojitos I could often be found in close proximity to a Daiquiri. I already discussed the Daiquiri in detail here, so there is no need to say too much more. Still, it would be a shame not to share a few observations on how the drink is made in Cuba.
First, when you order a Daiquiri in Cuba you are generally asked how you would like it. No, you don’t get offered fifty flavors ranging from blueberry to bubblegum. You simply choose between a Daiquiri Naturál or a Daiquiri Frappé. That is, you can have either a shaken drink served up or a blended drink served with a straw (in some bars the Frappé version is created by shaking with crushed ice rather than blending). Flavored Daiquiris exist too. For example fancy hotel bars may offer Banana Daiquiris and so on. But in your typical Cuban bar a Daiquiri is a simple affair that a drinker can enjoy in either of two ways.
An elegant Daiquiri Naturál in the Hotel Florida
Rather than sweetening Daiquiris solely with sugar or simple syrup, many bars also add a dash of liqueur. This concoction generally remains a simple ‘Daiquiri’ – it does not get labeled a ‘Floridita’ or something similarly fancy sounding. Triple sec is the standard addition, but maraschino is also common. The liqueurs used for this are domestic brands. I never got around to tasting them straight, but I assume they are fairly average.
Possibly I just have the look of a problem customer, but bartenders would often ask how sweet I wanted my Daiquiri. A very sensible question, and one that should be asked more often. Even better, if I asked for a drier Daiquiri I got one. Awesome or not?
There seems to be no real agreement in Cuba as to what glass a Daiquiri should be served in. Depending on the bar you might get your Daiquiri in a cocktail glass, wine glass, or simple tumbler.
Finally, although Daiquiris are widely available in Cuba, they are less popular than the Mojito and Cuba Libre. Tastes have probably changed since Hemingway’s day. These changes may partly result from the recent popularity of Mojitos in the West. Mojitos are definitely the tourist drink in Cuba these days.
A straightforward Daiquiri Frappé at the Hotel Ambos Mundos
So where is the best place in Havana for a Daiquiri?
It certainly isn’t the famous El Floridita.
For those determined to feel the spirit of Hemingway while sipping on their Daiquiri, Hotel Ambos Mundos scores highly for a nice dry version. The simple tumbler they serve it in may appear a touch homely, but Hemingway often drank Daiquiris from tumblers (check the photographs in my earlier Daiquiri post – link above). Naturally, since Hemingway spent several months living and writing in the Hotel Ambos Mundos, he would have drank Daiquiris in this very bar. Not a bad choice.
Slightly further down the street, the quiet Hotel Florida serves a nicely balanced Daiquiri in a wine glass. They also serve Banana Daiquiris should the need arise.
For me, the Most Memorable Daiquiri Award goes to the Havana Club, where my Daiquiri Frappé came elegantly garnished in a cocktail glass, and “frozen so stiffly that it had to be drunk in tiny drops to avoid a sinus-pain”. This really was life as fiction, a drink straight from the pages of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, and well worth the trip into the suburbs. This memorable drink was the stiffest Daiquiri Frappé I came across in Havana, a touch sweet, but still very tasty.