It’s known as mauby in Trinidad and Barbados, mavi in Puerto Rico, and mabi in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Across the Caribbean, you’ll find island dwellers drinking this bittersweet brew made with the bark of the Snakewood (Colubrina elliptica) tree. Tasters describe the bark as imparting top notes of root beer with an astringent aftertaste.
In the early 1900s, street vendors known as “mauby women” carried vessels of homemade brew on their heads. They mixed sugar and water with C. elliptica bark, then added other botanicals, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, citrus peel, and star anise, to taste. Some brewers fermented their batch, while others opted to serve theirs fresher, before it could develop a beer-like bitterness. Families have passed down preferences and secret recipes over generations, and variations abound.
Today, companies across the Caribbean manufacture several commercial varieties of mauby, both in syrup and soft-drink form. It even turns up in cocktails—primarily of the tiki variety. Many view the syrup as a cure-all, which they mix into water or soda water. Scientists have documented mauby’s effect of lowering blood pressure. But isn’t that what a tropical refresher from paradise is supposed to do?