TB Cocktail is a project, and soon-to-be business, from two young bartenders who are opting to use native flora as part of a sustainable business strategy.
HAVANA TIMES – In 2019, Dagoberto Jesus Morejon and Manuel Alejandro Valdes founded the TB Cocktail project, a little bit out of necessity and a lot out of conscience, to create cocktails and products using native Cuban plants.
The 26-year-olds are seeking to navigate problems in finding certain supplies in shortage on the national market, by replacing them with local ingredients. In the meantime, they are promoting a sustainable business model for Cuban bars.
With counsel from a group of biologists from the Cuban Botanical Society, they identified over 50 native, harmless plants that can offer new aromas and flavors, depending on their characteristics.
According to Jesus Morejon, the project can also help to protect Cuba’s biological diversity, one of the richest in the region, given the fact that over 50% of species on the island are autochthonous or regional.
A contribution to biological diversity
“Many plants aren’t cultivated because they don’t have a commercial purpose. For example, mint is grown all over the world partly to make Mojitos, an international cocktail. So, it’s profitable for producers. This is what we want, to incentivize growing these species that we have identified,” Morejon explains.
On Cuba’s Red List of Endangered Plants, published in 2016, 67% of known native flora were featured, out of which 46% fell into some category of in danger of extinction.
The participation of the two young men in different specialist competitions has paved the way for the project’s recognition, which validates the success of its proposals. For example, the Exotic Island – an aperitif cocktail based on Blue Mahoe (Hibiscus elatus), native to Cuba – was the most popular cocktail at Beefeater’s Global Bartender Competition.
Drinks using honeyherb (Phyla scaberrima) and yellow elderflower (Tecoma stans) also won awards.
Sustainability to also be competitive
While eco-friendly bars and restaurants are becoming a trend across the globe, the young business owners are adopting sustainable practices, such as using local ingredients, as a means to get ahead in an industry that is always seeking innovation.
This has evolved a great deal on an international level, and international bartenders are using more and more products and techniques, Morejon says.
“Often we don’t have the ingredients needed to make a certain mixture or to replicate some classic international drinks. This makes us look around here, and ask ourselves what we have that could be innovative,” he says.
In Cuba, there are many references of bars/restaurants that adopt sustainable practices and welcome these kinds of initiatives.
According to Jesus Morejon, the Oasis Nelva Crepe Bar, where he used to work, was a school in this sense. These young men are working on a cocktail menu for this establishment.
However, it hasn’t always been this way. “This depends on business owners, and sometimes you aren’t completely free to create,” he explains.
They created a blog to incentivize a business culture of sustainable management and publish their findings about Cuban flora. They also offer recipes for their drinks and some of the practices they use.
This is how they promote recycling organic waste and reducing plastic use. They train employees and advise customers on the importance of the rational use of water and energy.
They believe it’s crucial that this sustainable business model is shared by suppliers, owners, employees and consumers. This is a type of business that often demands many resources and generates a great deal of waste.
A business venture to supply bars with local ingredients
The next step for these young men is to launch a micro business or cooperative. They want to satisfy national demands of bars, both private and state-led, with different products.
“We want to start by selling syrups to sweeten and flavor cocktails, but also ice creams, crepes, sweets. Then we hope to create bitters, perfumes, tea and even liquors,” Morejon advances.
In order to do this, they are thinking about joining up with farmers focusing on agroecology and permaculture. They can grow native aromatic plants, flowers and fruits, which aren’t used today and are even unknown.
“One of the most important things is they understand the importance of growing our plants and the benefits of this. We can do this with small training sessions, conversations or just by reaching an economic agreement,” Manuel Alejandro points out.
Valdes claims that the business venture has a plan for the waste generated at the places they work. The idea is that it goes back to the land as fertilizer, thereby creating a closed cycle.
The project involves constant research, “which is why we all need a commitment,” said Valdes. “We will slowly propose new species to be grown and feedback is important on both sides. We are also interested in learning about the land and how to cultivate it,” Valdes said.