Tuba the Manzanillo Coastal Drink

Tuba: A large, valved brass wind instrument with a bass tone? Okay, but that’s not at all what I’m talking about. The tuba I have in mind is a coastal drink in our area of ​​Manzanillo. This drink is made from coconut palm sap and is sweet and pleasant on its own, but can be fermented into a type of wine. The tuba is unique to the coast, Manzanillo and Colima.

The workers climb the palm tree, one not used for coconut production, and bruise the stem of the coconut blossom until the liquid begins to flow. The stem is tied with bamboo strips and a bamboo container or bottle is used to collect the sap. Up to 3 flowers can be made from a tree to produce sap. Each flower produces tuba for two months, then is dried and cut from the tree. Tuba quenches thirst and is said to be good for indigestion.

If you think that “first thing in the morning” is 10 am, you and I are having similar impressions of Mexico. But the workers, called tubers, are already working at dawn. Workers climb up the narrow trunks to collect the sap. If you have never seen the workers climb these trees to collect coconuts or prune the palms (palapas) you have missed a real spectacle! This work, and the tuba, is part of what makes our Mexican Pacific unique in its rich culture, customs, history and art.

Colima is known for its food and drink and following the tradition the tuberos climb to the highest point to take advantage of the sap of the palm flower. The tuba originated in the Philippines and arrived in Mexico, along with the coconut palms that line the highway to Colima, in the 16th century. The Philippines had been conquered by the Spanish and from there came workers with the seeds and knowledge to grow sugar cane and rice in the rich volcanic soil. They worked and exchanged customs with the local Mexicans. This sweet drink is also known as tuba in the Philippines.

You will find this drink in the streets and markets of the state of Colima and Manzanillo. It is sold by men dressed in white linen clothes who shout “tuuuuuba”. They offer the drink served from a huge wooden pitcher on a stand or from pitchers that they carry hanging from a stick on their shoulders. For a few pesos they will prepare you a cup of fresh tuba served with peanuts.

The tuba is picked in the morning and maintains its distinctive color and flavor for two hours after being picked. Barely five hours later, it begins to shut down. The sap can begin to ferment while still in the tree’s container, but the alcohol content increases with fermentation. If it rests for eight days, it becomes vinegar for cooking and pickling. The same vinegar that is used in a famous bread soup that is served at weddings and baptisms.

The tree itself has an interesting history. Today Colima is dominated by the non-native coconut palm (Cocus nucifera). Came from the Solomon Islands in the early 16th century. Growing in popularity, it began to replace cocoa as a more profitable crop with less work. With the coconut seeds came some Filipino slaves. Known as Chinese Indians, they were brought ashore in Salagua to evade the customs of Acapulco. Due to their method of entry, there is little historical documentation on them. The owners hid them to avoid the slave tax of the time. These new immigrants became free landowners and mixed with the local population. They had the secrets and extensive knowledge of palm cultivation, its potential and the juices and nectars that could be obtained.

The fermented tuba became a quality, low-price wine that gathered followers. It competed with the Castilla wine of the royal monopoly. The growers were persecuted under the pretext of “social welfare and hygiene”. The Royal Court of Mexico ordered the destruction of all coconut fields in 1612 but this order was never obeyed due to local resistance. The drinking of the tuba continued and by the end of the 18th century the Coco Culture had become ingrained in the fabric of Colima’s identity.

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