Provisions: Canchanchara

We head to the colonial town of Trinidad to discover this simple rum drink with deep Cuban roots
May 12, 2016Words by Michael van VlietPhotos by Megan McDuffie

Editors Note: In case you missed it, be sure to check out part one, Cuba Unfiltered, of our three-part series on this incedible island nation from Fresh Off the Grid.

As fun to say as it is to drink, the Canchanchara is an invigorating Cuban cocktail from the colonial town of Trinidad. The simple recipe calls for rum, lime, honey, and ice, making it as refreshing as a coastal Caribbean breeze. Invented by guerilla fighters during the 10 Years War of Cuban independence, the Canchanchara is widely considered to be Cuba’s oldest known cocktail. 

We learned about this drink during our recent trip to Cuba with travel company Coast to Costa. One day while exploring the cobblestone streets of Trinidad, our guide struck up a conversation with a woman selling bananas. This conversation consisted of us shouting back and forth with her across a busy street, which, is apparently a common practice in Cuba. (saying you’re going to “call” somebody in Cuba, often means you’re going to hang your head out the window and yell their name.) 

From our exchange with her, we learned about a pottery shop down the street. Inside, we met Chichi, longtime owner and master potter, who was just finishing up a set of traditional clay cups. He explained that these handle-less, bulb-shaped cups were designed for Canchanchara. When we said we didn’t know what that was, he looked at us in shock, stopped what he was doing, and insisted on making us a round right then and there. 

From behind a makeshift bar, he pulled out the proper ingredients and began to tell us the history behind the drink. No one is quite sure where the name Canchanchara comes from, but some say the word sounds like crashing waves at the beach, while others say it’s a term used to describe a mixture of ingredients. But the actual recipe itself has been traced back to the local mambises (pro-independence guerrilla fighters) who were fighting the Spanish in 1869. 

Invented by guerilla fighters during the 10 Years War of Cuban independence, the Canchanchara is widely considered to be Cuba’s oldest known cocktail. 

Used to remedy the morning cold and a variety of other wartime ailments, the drink used simple ingredients that would be available out in the field. Rum if possible, but more likely a rough eau-de-vie or fermented sugarcane juice to produce the right “medicinal” effect. They would then add some sort of local citrus, probably limon criollo or what we would consider a common lime. Then finally they would add in some type of sweetener like honey. While it was probably served as a warm toddy in the beginning, it has since transformed into a refreshing iced drink. Which, after wandering around the hot and humid streets of Trinidad, is the the perfect way to revive your spirits. 

Born out of struggle, made from humble ingredients, yet providing unexpected levity and merriment, we can think of no better cocktail to symbolism the people of Cuba than the Canchanchara. [H]

Michael van Vliet is one half of the team at Fresh Off the Grid, a camp cooking blog. They feature recipes specifically designed for cooking in the outdoors, written on the road as he and his girlfriend travel the United States.

Want to taste an authentic Canchanchara for yourself? Check out Coast to Costa's next Cuba trips here.


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