I have always been a fan of lemonade – it brings back memories of hot summer picnics, July 4 barbeques, and glossy pictures from my mom’s “Southern Living” magazines. But since arriving in Colombia, lemonade has become dead to me. Now, I have found something even better – even more refreshing, even icier! If you have not yet experienced Colombia’s guarapo, then now’s the time.
Guarapo, sugar cane juice, is served throughout Colombia and in different varieties throughout Central and South America. It’s a traditional drink that wound its way from Spain to the rural and indigenous communities of Latin America. Colombian guarapo consists of pressed sugar cane juice mixed with lots of ice and lots of limes. It can also be made into an alcoholic beverage. It is sweet, but not too sweet, has that fresh lime taste without the puckering sourness, always deliciously cold, and mystifyingly quenching.
In Medellin, when walking through the city center, you see young men carrying trays stacked full with sweating glasses, held high above the heads of the crowd, shouting, “Guarapo, guarapo.” They barely pause when handing buyers a glass before continuing through the busy streets. In parks and plazas it is more common to find vendors with a sugar cane press making the guarapo throughout the day to meet the demands of long lines of customers. Next to these shiny metal presses are usually several white buckets full of halved strips of sugar cane. Often one man serves the juice while another feeds the cane into the press and discards the used pieces. The juice feeds into a bucket below the press where it is sieved and served.