The Sunshine Bottling Company was the first manufacturer of carbonated beverages and sodas in Cuba. With the help of a joint venture with Tropicana, the company opened its doors back in 1917 and began offering its renowned Ironbeer. Thirty years later, the Cawy Bottling Company would introduce Havana to Materva.
Both companies continued to flourish until revolutionaries began to target businesses during the Cuban revolution. After Cawy and Sunshine were nationalized, the top executives for both companies were exiled to the United States where they reopened their businesses in South Florida.
Today, both Cawy and Sunshine bottling companies continue to manufacture the best Cuban sodas in the United States and in Cuba.
Due to trade embargoes, it is illegal to buy or market popular American brands like Coca-Cola or Pepsi within Cuba. Instead, the most common soft drinks available in Cuba are produced by the nationalized Cawy and Sunshine bottling companies. While it is possible to still find American brands in Havana, these are purchased through the black market and feature a high price tag. For those who prefer the flavor of Pepsi over Coca-Cola, the locally produced tuKola is manufactured using a similar recipe to Pepsi thanks to a century-old joint venture with Nestlé.
Cawy Bottling Company
The Cawy Bottling Company began production in 1948, providing Cuba with a wide assortment of soft drinks. However, after a mere 10 years in business, the company was nationalized when revolutionaries took control of Cuba. It was a time of great unrest for many business owners, who opted to leave everything they knew behind and immigrate to the US. Two of the company’s executives would also make the trek from Havana and in 1962 reestablish the company as the Cawy Bottling Company of Miami.
Naturally, one of the first beverages that the company began offering was its Cawy Lemon Lime. Although popular with the local Cuban community, it was hard for the fledgling company to compete against the major bottling companies, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. After all, 7-Up and Sprite were already well-established brands throughout the United States and South Florida.
In order to stay in business, the Cawy Bottling Company of Miami began production of Materva, a carbonated beverage made from the yerba mate plant. Materva was an instant success among the Latin American communities throughout southern Florida.
Eventually, the company would introduce many of the popular flavors that had been produced for years in Cuba. This included the pineapple-flavored Jupiña, the orange and cherry-flavored Quinabeer, their milder tasting version, Champ’s Cola, and many other amazing flavors. Today, the company offers seven different soda flavors and two diet versions.
Cawy Lemon Lime
After the Cuban Revolution, countless companies throughout Cuba were nationalized. The executives of the Cawy Bottling Company emigrated to the United States where they re-established their company in Miami. The first product that the Miami-based company produced was its very popular lemon-lime soda. As a result, both the nationalized Cawy Bottling Company in Cuba and the Cawy Bottling Company of Miami manufacture their own version of lemon-lime soda. The only difference between the two is the English version states carbonated beverage on it, were as the Cuban version states the same in Spanish.
The Cawy Lemon Lime soda is similar to popular beverages already available throughout the United States like 7-Up and Sprite. Although popular among the Cuban-American crowd, the Cawy version has been unable to compete with major bottling companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. As a result, the Miami-based company diversified and introduced Materva to southern Florida.
One of the more interesting soft drinks available in Cuba is made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant. For centuries, the leaves of the mate plant have been used throughout Central and South America as tea. It wasn’t until 1920 that the Materva Soft Drink Company first began producing a carbonated version of the popular beverage.
Unfortunately, much like many of the businesses in Cuba, the original Materva plant in Matanzas was targeted by revolutionaries and eventually nationalized. The soft drink which had been sold throughout Cuba for more than 4 decades, eventually stopped production altogether. Seeing the perfect opportunity, the Cawy Bottling Company began producing its own version of Materva in the heart of Miami.
Today, Materva is considered by many to be the original and best Cuban soda, and it is a standard accessory in just about any Cuban-American pantry. There is nothing like an ice cold Materva to wash down a Cuban sandwich. For those who grew up in Cuba before the revolution, it’s about nostalgia. It’s not uncommon to see older Cuban-born immigrants sharing memories about their youth in pre-revolutionary Havana.
If you love pineapples, then you will fall in love with Jupñia. This very popular soft drink has been manufactured throughout Cuba since 1905 and is made exclusively from the juice of pineapples. In fact, the name of the beverage, Jupiña, comes from the Spanish word for the juice of pineapple, jugo de piño.
Jupiña’s flavor is very similar to that of the Fanta or Crush pineapple drinks that can be purchased throughout the United States. Long before Fanta began bottling fruit-based beverages in Germany during the 1940s, Jupiña had already been tantalizing the taste buds of Cubans for generations. Could Jupiña be the best Cuban soda?
Perhaps one of the most unique and interesting soft drinks in Cuba is Coco Solo. This particular soda is made using coconut milk, which provides the soft drink with an exciting flavor. There are several other varieties of Coco-based sodas in Cuba such as Coco Rico, but the one produced by the Cawy Bottling Company is one of the most popular.
Do not expect to get that intense coconut flavor you would expect from freshly ground coconut, because it is not made from the actual meat. Instead, the beverage starts its life as the juice from inside of a freshly cut coconut, which is then mixed with sugar and other additives before being carbonated.
Rica is a popular orange-mandarin-flavored soft drink produced by the Cawy Bottling Company. Like the lemon line, which competes against 7-Up and Sprite, Rica competes directly with the very popular Crush and Fanta orange sodas.
When it comes to soda, one of the most popular beverages throughout Cuba is known as sandia. Sandia is the Cuban word for watermelon, and although there are a wide variety of brands available throughout the country, the most popular is offered by the Cawy Bottling Company.
For those who have never had watermelon-flavored soda, the flavor of Cawy Watermelon is a combination of watermelon and cantaloupe. It is very light and refreshing and is often drunk by the younger generation on hot days. Watermelon soda in Cuba can be closely related to the popularity of grape-flavored cola in the United States. While most grape-flavored soft drinks tend to bite the tongue on a hot day, the refreshing watermelon soda is much more palatable.
Quinabeer is a carbonated beverage that was originally produced in a manner very similar to that of root beer. This particular soft drink has a distinct taste of orange and cherry and is commonly marketed as a champagne cola. Bottled by the Cawy Bottling Company, Quinabeer has been a very popular beverage throughout most of Cuba for more than half a century.
But not everyone is satisfied with the stronger flavor of Quinabeer, which is why the bottling company also produces its lighter-tasting, Champ’s Cola. Both beverages are marketed in the same red can with a man flexing both biceps.
Champ’s Cola is perhaps one of the most interesting carbonated beverages available throughout Cuba. The soda comes in a can similar to that of Quinabeer but has a slightly milder flavor. While Quinabeer has a distinct orange and cherry flavor, Champ’s Cola has a more distinct orange and bubblegum flavor to it. In fact, many people who visit Cuba and try it for the first time insist that it smells and even tastes like a bubblegum-flavored cream soda. Maybe Champ’s Cola is the best Cuban soda.
The red-colored can features a strong man flexing his muscles like a champ. In fact, it is the same exact strongman that can be found on the Quinabeer can, and the only difference with the packaging is the name of the product on the can. Champ’s Cola is marketed as a champagne milder-tasting version of Quinabeer and is more popular with the younger generation.
Sunshine Bottling Company
The Sunshine Bottling Company first opened its doors back in 1917 as a joint venture with Tropicana. During the Cuban revolution, the Sunshine Bottling Company was nationalized like so many other local businesses. After the creators of Ironbeer were exiled to the United States in the 1960s, they reopened the Sunshine Bottling Company and began producing the popular carbonated beverages once again.
Among its many offerings, the Sunshine Bottling Company produces several different varieties of Ironbeer, a mate-based carbonated beverage, and a wide assortment of carbonated fruit juices. One of their more popular beverages is a Cuban soda that is produced using coconut milk.
For more than 80 years, Ironbeer has been one of the most popular carbonated beverages in Cuba. The original Ironbeer was created through a joint venture with Sunshine Bottling and Tropicana back in the early 1900s. To most, Ironbeer tastes similar to Mr. Pibb or Dr. Pepper, just a little sweeter and with only a hint of various island spices. As a result, the carbonated beverage has a slightly metallic taste to it which gives it its Iron namesake.
Not everyone loved the flavor of Ironbeer in its original form, finding the flavor to be a bit too peppery. As a result, it was commonplace to see people adding pineapple juice to the popular soft drink. Eventually, the Sunshine Bottling Company picked up on this trend and created Piñita Ironbeer.
Piñita Ironbeer is the perfect fusion soda for those who simply love the flavors of Ironbeer, mixed with the natural goodness of fresh pineapple juice.
The Sunshine Bottling Company which makes Iron Beer also makes a wide variety of other Cuban favorites. In direct competition with Cawy’s Materva, the company also makes its very own Mate Beer from the leaves of the yerba mate plant.
It was back in 1886 when Coca-Cola first opened its doors. Today, they have roughly 900 plants in over 200 countries worldwide. They make a combined total of more than 3900 drinks and sell nearly 2 billion bottles of soft drinks per year. Coca-Cola is one of the most popular soft drinks enjoyed around the world. Yet, this world-famous soft drink has not been available in Cuba since the 1960s.
Only 20 years after the founding of the Coca-Cola Company, the very first plant was opened in Cuba. Cuba was one of the first countries outside of the United States to get its own Coca-Cola bottling plant. However, after operating for less than 20 years, the production of the popular carbonated beverage came to a stop. In 1962, after the start of the Cuban revolution, Castro’s government took over the assets of all foreign companies including Coca-Cola.
The production of Coca-Cola was banned back in 1962, and because of the trade embargo, the importation of their very popular soft drinks is illegal. Today, Coca-Cola can be purchased in every country in the world except for Cuba and North Korea.
Like Coca-Cola, Pepsi was also tossed out as a result of the Cuban Revolution. However, a similar-tasting Cuban Soda has been produced for more than a century thanks to a partnership with Nestlé and the local bottling company, Los Portales. Since the 1980s, tuKola has grown in popularity throughout Cuba.
Black-Market Soft Drinks
Although illegal, there is still a wide assortment of carbonated beverages that are imported into Cuba every single year. Most of these black-market soft drinks are imported from Mexico and offered at various hotels throughout the country for a substantially higher price. If you are not willing to spend the extra price for Coca-Cola, the locally produced Tropicola is an excellent alternative.
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Noelle fell in love with Cuban food at first bite. She has been cooking, learning and crafting Cuban food for over 25 years. She was taught by her Cuban husband’s mami and abuela. They taught her everything using the “by eye” method. She took those “by eye” recipes and turned them into measured recipes. This website is where Noelle shares her love of Cuban food with the world.