The Decline of Coppelia, Cuba’s Largest Ice Cream Parlor

Isbel Díaz Torres

The original Coppelia Ice Cream parlor menu from 1966.

HAVANA TIMES — In this post, I want to share something of an antiquity with you, a copy of the original menu of Coppelia, Cuba’s largest and most famous ice-cream parlor, published in 1966 (when the establishment was created).

The cover of the menu shows a classical ballerina rendered in a sober combination of red, black and white, frozen in one of the poses which are part of the choreography of Coppelia, the ballet piece, I presume.

This, however, is not what catches the attention of those of us who look inside the historic document today. What does, rather, is the astonishingly varied offer of ice-cream flavors (26 in total), namely:

Almond, coconut, chocolate, walnut, peach, Tutti Frutti, coffee, coconut with almonds, caramel, orange-pineapple, pineapple glace, dairy ice cream, strawberry, strawberry and assorted fruits, banana, guava, vanilla, chocolate and assorted nuts, chocolate walnut, mint chocolate, malt chocolate, vanilla and chocolate chip, mint and chocolate chip, muscatel, malted cream, crème de vie.

For the longest time now, those of us who frequent Cuba’s ice-cream cathedral have been lucky to be offered two flavors, three at the most. And, for the most part, what you get is a white-colored ice-cream with an indescribable flavor, and, less frequently, strawberry and chocolate – perhaps as the occasional tribute to Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s beautiful film.

Today’s menu.

Let us go back in time, to the 1966 menu. The mind-boggling offer of 26 ice-cream flavors becomes even more incredible when we read that these flavors are availble in some 24 different combinations:

Harlequin, Coke and ice-cream, ice-cream float, iced drink, soda, ice-cream shakes, Coppelia shake, Coppelia Special, chocolate soldier, Ice-Cream Sun-Rise, Juanillete, Indian Canoe, Lolita, Special Harlequin, splits, ice-cream salad, Turquoise Special, ice-cream cake, sundae, Sundae Supreme, Spring Sundae Special, Melba Cup, Three-Bowl.

One of the pages of the menu bears a kindly-worded note which reads: “All ice-cream combinations which include almond flavors cost an additional 0.20 pesos” (a reasonable figure, given the cost of living at the time).

The cheapest specialty of the house was the “Harlequin”, which consisted of a two-flavored scoop of ice-cream. It cost 0.50 Cuban pesos.

The most expensive item on the menu was the ice-cream salad, which, at the time, consisted of five scoops of ice-cream (chosen from the parlor’s wide selection of cream and fruit flavors), covered with the appropriate syrup. Today, you get five scoops of the one flavor on the menu, covered with a bit of melted brown sugar.

The hollow ice cream balls served today.

Recently, the Cuban news portal Cubasi published an article describing the experiences of a young journalist who sought to do a piece on the establishment, titled “Coppelia: The Strange Case of the Hollow Chocolate Scoops” (Coppelia: El extraño caso de los casquitos de chocolate).

The humorous text published by this official Cuban government website reports how the journalist was denied permission to film the premises, and the manner in which employees dispense smaller-than-standard scoops to save on ice-cream and sell it elsewhere.

By the looks of it, Coppelia has a lot more in store for us (even when they periodically replace its manager). I am already working on a post about its gardens and another on how ice-cream is stolen, right beneath our very noses, in one of the busiest corners of Havana.

5 thoughts on “The Decline of Coppelia, Cuba’s Largest Ice Cream Parlor

  • If my memory serves me correctly, the year was 1998; I went to this famous establishment twice and had the 3 flavors: vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate. One night my party of five went in and were told that they’d sold out. When we were noticed as being tourist [Although I had been mistaken as a Cubano earlier.], we were let in to be served. I enjoyed the dessert but was saddened because the locals who’d been standing in line forever could NOT get served.

    If the same experience were to happen to me, I would NOT have wanted any of this delicious, cold ice cream if the locals could not have had any, too! At the time my social consciousness was not working, and to date I really do not know why!

    I’ll be returning to this island nation within a few weeks, I do plan to indulge in this delicacy while there during my limited stay of a week!

  • When ever we fly home(monthly) we make it a treat to make sure we stop by for the 2-3 flavors
    Bottom libe who cares its still the best See we can be satisfied we do not need to stand around figuring it out Duh!

  • I still remember the good old days, when Coppelia had scores of flavors, dozens of sundaes with generous portions. I’ll never forget a night there in January of 1970; we met a group of I.C.A.I.C. students who invited us to their campus (then nearby) to view a showing of a Northamerican film! (It was, LOL, the 1958 version of “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” starring, err, Pat Boone!)

  • When I visited Coppelia in 2012, they had only vanilla ice-cream, offered with either chocolate sprinkles or brown sugar. My son chose chocolate and he enjoyed the treat, although I would say the product is rather low quality compared to the range of ice-cream available in Canada.

    It was interesting to visit the place, knowing something of the history to it. But it was decidedly down and shabby looking. I have heard that lately a great deal of corruption and shop-lifting takes place there now, not unlike any other place of work in Cuba.

    Yes, that socialist New Man really turned out well, eh?

  • Hollow ice cream scoops? I did not know about that scam, although I am not surprised. Huber Matos, ex-commandante, now living in exile in Miami, is quoted “El daño que Fidel ha hecho va a demorar mucho en curarse. Se han perdido los valores morales por completo. La gente ha aprendido a robar, a mentir”, (Diario de Cuba 12-8-12)
    Even ice cream is contraband in Cuba.

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