The mojito is one of Cuba’s best exports to the world. This rum-based highball is loaded with a unique flavor, has a fun style, and an appealing history. This is the history of the mojito and how it has become one of the world’s most celebrated spirited drinks.

History of the mojito, Cuba's signature drink - Frayed Passport

The Mojito is Born

The mojito wasn’t created in a bar and it wasn’t fabricated in a homemaker’s kitchen. The history of the mojito starts with the turmoil of slaves, was brought to life to provide vitality to pirates, and it helped to catapult famous personalities to the status of legendary.

When Cuba was a Spanish slave colony, it held thousands of African slaves. These servants were forced to live a hard life filled with turmoil, drudgery and pain. The African slaves had to find a way to relief their burdened condition and they did this with a drink known as guarapo. Guarapo is sugarcane juice, and was often drunk by the slaves for energy. It was also consumed as an alcoholic beverage.

Africans learned how to make this drink from the native peoples that inhabited Cuba during this era. Many indigenous Cuban people were made slaves by the Spanish, suffering the same fate as the African slaves. After introducing guarapo to the Africans, this drink became a popular tonic for them.

Over time, guarapo started to evolve. Piracy was a way of life from the late 16th century until the latter parts of the 19th century, and Cuba was a haven for pirates during its early years. Many pirates used this region as a base of operations and as a safe haven. While pirates terrorized the high seas, many of them were dying from scurvy—this disease was a huge health concern while on the sea for long periods of time, when necessary vitamins from healthy foods were difficult to come by.

Richard Drake was a famous pirate who created a tonic from guarapo that helped to stop the spread of scurvy among his men. Other pirates caught on to what he was doing. Drake’s drink was called aguardiente de cana which is translated to English as sugar cane firewater. This drink was infused with lime and peppermint leaves. Drake inadvertently set the foundations for the mojito. He couldn’t have realized that his tonic to keep his men alive would become an epic global drink.

Soon this tonic started to spread all throughout the country, and caught on with people from all walks of life. The drink remained the same until around 1862, when Barcardi rum was created. Soon, people started to substitute the guarapo ingredient with rum, and the mojito as we know it was born. The mojito then went on to slowly become a Cuban national drink and one of the world’s most celebrated alcoholic beverages.

The Mojito’s Popularity: 1800s and Beyond

The mojito is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the world. According to Mental Floss, this beverage had some success particularly throughout the 19th century: Cuba was a popular vacation destination during this time, and tourists enjoyed the drink throughout the 1800s and into the early 1900s.

Ernest Hemingway was a famous fan of the mojito, imbibing during his trips to Cuba—he wrote, “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita” which can be seen inscribed on bar walls commemorating the American writer and his celebration of this cocktail.

It took a James Bond movie featuring Pierce Bronson and Halle Berry to bring mojitos back into style in the early 2000s. The film Die Another Day caused the mojito’s popularity to soar—they went on to become an incredibly popular drink in the UK especially, though Americans didn’t gravitate to mojitos until 2011, when commercial mojito mixes made their way to the States.

Different Flavors and Twists on the Mojito

The Today Show provides a few fun recipes for the mojito—here’s a simple one:

What you’ll need: white rum, fresh lime, fresh mint, sugar, club soda

  1. Add 2 tbsp lime juice, 2 tsp sugar, and 8 mint leaves to cocktail shaker
  2. Muddle the mint into the juice until it is aromatic
  3. Add 1 to 2 shots of white rum, stir, and pour into a cocktail glass
  4. Top it off with club soda and ice, and stir together—add additional mint leaves and a slice of lime for garnish

Twists on the mojito include adding strawberry, blueberry, or grapefruit. You can also try different spirits like vodka or gin to mix things up—the mojito is an incredibly versatile drink!

Have recommendations for making an amazing mojito? Have more to add about the history of the mojito? Join our community and share your ideas and stories!

Want to learn about another delicious beverage popular among travelers? Check out our history of the pisco sour, Peru’s signature drink!

About the Author

Sarah Vandenberg

As the managing editor of Frayed Passport, my goal is to help you build your bucket list, plan your travels, and tell your story. I've been to 20 countries and five continents so far, lived for two years as a full-time digital nomad, and while I'm based in Miami now, I spend one-third of the year traveling to amazing destinations around the world. If you would like to contribute an article to Frayed Passport, feel free to get in touch with me at sarah@frayedpassport.com!