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Commercial mauby, with carbonation

Until I stepped foot into Taste of Caribbean 2 yesterday, I had only known the place as the unfortunate player in the tug of war over the former Teddy’s Roti Shop space on Georgia Avenue NW. ToC2 has managed to survive, if not thrive, in the year or so since it opened a second store in that contested space, which, ironically, is now just up the avenue from the relocated Teddy’s.

Personally, after tasting ToC2’s dense and chewy “boneless” chicken curry roti (complete with bones), I’d choose Teddy’s version any day of the week. But I did spot something in the cooler that captured my attention. It was a housemade drink in a cylindrical plastic container. A single word was handwritten on a piece of tape affixed to the container: “mauby.” I asked the lone employee at Taste of Caribbean 2 what “mauby” was.

She stared blankly at me for a second. I got the feeling she thought I was an idiot for asking. She then explained that mauby was a bark or a fruit, she couldn’t remember exactly. But she warned me that the drink was bitter. I told her that I liked bitter flavors, which did not increase her enthusiasm for selling me the drink. That’s when I finally picked up on the vibe.

“You don’t like the drink?” I asked.

She shook her head. I was impressed with her honesty, if not her salesmanship. I bought the drink anyway.

Mauby, it turns out, is not a bark or a fruit, but a drink typically made from the bark and/or fruit of a tree that grows in the northern Caribbean and south Florida. It can either be carbonated or not. The ToC2’s version was non-carbonated, apparently made with just mauby syrup, water, and perhaps an added spice or two.

I immediately opened the container while waiting for my roti and took a sip. A sticky sweetness coated my tongue at first, but within moments, the bitterness kicked in. This was root beer that had gone off the reservation. Its bitterness was quite strong, but not unpleasant, particularly if your palate has grown accustomed to all those hop-monster beers on the market.

I would have happily sucked down this taste of the Caribbean, if not for the unfortunate pairing with my roti. Somehow, someway, when you take a sip of mauby after a bite of chicken curry, the bitterness factor increases by a ratio of 1,000. (Note: not scientifically measured.) I had to decide pretty quickly which one I was going to keep consuming and which one I was going to toss.

It was an easy decision really. The roti quickly found a home in the trash can.