Cuba Libre Cocktail: A Simple Drink With a Complicated Story

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The Cuba Libre cocktail isn’t just a rum and Coke with lime, it has a fascinating story.

In Canada, I don’t drink rum often, but in Latin America it’s a different story.

There’s something about the Cuba Libre cocktail that transports me back to such good memories.

Cuba makes some of the best rum cocktails around the world, and the most iconic is its Cuba Libre. 

How much Cuban money will you need and more Cuba money questions answered.

A Classic Cuba Libre

But the best way to drink it is with lime. It seems like such a small detail but it brings back such great memories of sunny days and humid nights.

It wasn’t a time I felt carefree at all, instead I was so focused on figuring out what I should do with my life.

Eventually I learned that I didn’t need to figure out what to do, I was already living life and that was enough.

21 CLASSIC: Cuban Drinks

Anyone who has traveled south knows the Cuba Libre cocktail it as rum and Coke. But it’s not as simple as that.

Because I hate the traditional sweet-on-sweet rum and Coke cocktail, but somehow I love Cuba Libres when traveling.

It’s for two reasons:

  1. Sugar is cheap in the Caribbean and Latin America so most soda is made with real sugar instead of corn syrup.
  2. Lime is used, not as a garnish but as a flavour to cut the syrupy sweetness of the rum and Coke you’ve known to abhor.

The national drink of Cuba celebrates its independence. And that is complicated, and so if you get a good one it’s complex as well.

The traditional recipe includes muddling the skin of the lime in the bottom of the glass. With this you get the bitterness of the skin and the aroma.

Cuba is home to the Cuba Libre cocktail but you may be surprised who named it and why, here's the complex story of this simple drink.

The Invention of Cuba Libre

The story is a bit complicated and while everyone seems to agree it’s a toast to celebrate a free Cuba, the details are a bit fuzzy. Maybe from too much rum. Rum maker Bacardi lays claim as the original choice of rum but some dates don’t quite add up to the legendary story.

It’s often tied to the Spanish-American War because the literal translation is Free Cuba, which was the battle cry for independence.

However, the war happened in 1898 and Coca-Cola wasn’t available in Cuba until American troops introduced it in 1900.

Cuban Recipes

Rum maker Havana Club, doesn’t lay claim to it, only stating it was it was introduced in 1900s in Havana. Others say the Cuba Libre cocktail was invented in 1901 or 1902.

Regardless of the year, it’s generally believed to be a toast to the country’s independence.

Perhaps most notable because Americans avoiding prohibition in the United States toasted a free Cuba, in a high ball glass of rum and Coke.

Havana restaurants food on dark blue tablecloth

Why Mix Rum and Coke?

The popularity of this drink in America is actually quite simple. Both were cheap.

After the second World War, American distillers were low on product as they had forfeited production space to the war effort.

Caribbean spirits were cheap, especially Caribbean rum, which increased 400%.

Havana Restaurants

Interestingly, these countries also capitalized by producing gin and vodka from sugarcane to meet American spirits demand.

The war also created sugar rations; however Coca-Cola was exempt.

So while it was difficult to find ginger ale and other colas needed for cocktails, Coca-Cola was cheap and plentiful.

Havana Cuba is home to the Cuba Libre cocktail and you may be surprised at how it got its name and who named the Cuba Libre.

Cuba Libre Cocktail Variations

The Cuba Campechana

Rum mixed with an equal amount of half soda and half Coke.

Cuba Light

Rum and diet Coke.

Cuban Missile Crisis

The same recipe as a Cuba Libre cocktail but uses a higher proof rum.

Cuba Pintada

Also known as “stained Cuba” uses twice as much soda to rum and just a tiny bit of Coke so that it is stained.

Cuba Libre Preparado

From Venezuela, it uses less Coke, a bit of gin and Angostura bitters

Hot Cuba Libre

Adds a dash of hot sauce and is popular in the West Indies.


Substitutes cream soda for Coke and spiced rum for regular rum. It’s called Mias because it’s bright gold.

Nica Libre

Uses Flor de Caña Nicaraguan rum.

Santo Libre

From the Dominican Republic uses local rum and Sprite.

Witch Doctor

Substitutes the Coke with Dr. Pepper.

Iranian restaurant Topoly terrace in the Vedado neighbourhood of Havana.

Where to Drink a Cuba Libre in Cuba?

Due to the American embargo on Cuba, Coca-Cola is banned in Cuba.

And that is a good thing.

Over the years American Coca-Cola started using corn syrup instead of sugar in its products, which just doesn’t taste as good.

Instead, you can find the Mexican version of Coca Cola in Cuba, which still uses sugar. Just ask for Tukola, the national Cuban cola.

Pair it with tasty Cuban food and you have a great meal.

The Cuba libre cocktail isn't just rum and Coke, it also comes with a fascinating history.

Cuba Libre Cocktail Recipe

The official recipe uses a highball or tom collins glass.

I prefer a shorter glass using the same amount of lime to make the cocktail less sweet from the Coca-Cola.

Also this recipe really needs fresh lime as you want the aroma and bitterness from the peel.

This is not the time to use the juice from the plastic lime or lime syrup.

Cuba libre cocktail in a glass garnished with lime on a black background.

Cuba Libre Cocktail

Yield: 1
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

The Cuba Libre cocktail isn’t just a rum and Coke with lime, it has a fascinating story.


  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 oz quality rum
  • 3-4 oz Coca-Cola


  1. Squeeze lime juice into glass.
  2. Add peel and muddle for one minute. Remove peel.
  3. Add ice, rum and Coke. Stir to combine.
  4. Garnish with a slice of lime.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1 Amount Per Serving: Calories: 291Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 12mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 0gSugar: 37gProtein: 0g

Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate only. This information comes from online calculators. Although attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.

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Images of Havana (c) Pedro Szekely
The Cuba Libre cocktail isn't just rum and Coke, it also comes with a fascinating history.
cuba libre

Join the Conversation

  1. Golden Triangle Tour 3 Days says:

    You shared such a awesome drink. It really looks amazing and great story! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Not a big lover of Rum but this one looks amazing.Cheers!

  3. Cuba rocks and so does the Libre Cocktail!

  4. Jillian Michelle says:

    I was never a huge fan of rum and coke, but I love love LOVE anything with fresh lime in it, so I need to give this a try. The picture certainly looks delicious. I also think I might love the Midas variation because cream soda is my favorite. In the Midas version, I’m assuming they still add lime as well after substituting the coke and rum for cream soda and spiced rum? Because that sounds great! <3

  5. El Biky in Habana. I have also drank cubata which is similar.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yes! I should have included Cubata, which includes aged dark rum instead of the white 1 or 3 year in Cuba. Let me add it!

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