Alternative straws, to serve cocktails with a conscience. By Natasha Hong.
In this era of reusable grocery bags and eco-friendly thinking, bartenders sometimes forget that the nest of straws that fill their trash bags at the end of the night are a very real part of the problem. In the US, organisations like Ecocycle estimate that a total of 500 million straws are thrown away daily, and with plastic taking lifetimes to break down and return to dust, every straw we sip our cocktails out of and throw away after is adding to the destruction of our environment.
Thankfully in Asia, the bar and f&b industries are beginning to take note. Proof and Company Hong Kong and Singapore have begun dispatching Bio Strohhalme biodegradable potato starch straws across the two markets, and over in Jakarta and resource-strained Bali, conscious packaging makers Avani has begun distributing their cornstarch straws, that look pretty much like the real deal. These days, it’s also not-too-tricky to pick up a supply of metal, bamboo or glass straws on Taobao from 3RMB (US$0.45). But, the real heroes are the following three bars and restaurants, each thinking beyond the manufactured tube to devise new ways to suck down a beverage.
Bucatini straws at Honey’s Brooklyn, New York
You could order your straws from a supplier, or pick up a few packs of pasta at the supermarket. At Honey’s in Brooklyn, mixologist-owner Arley Marks does just that, taking reference from the linguine coffee stirrers at fellow NY coffee bar Crema. “I immediately though of using bucatini or uncut macaroni to be used as a straw,” says Marks.
Tossed into glasses of their house-fermented rye bread kvass or honey wines by their first-in-NY meadery, Enlightenment Wines, the hollow long pasta tubes – which would usually be served cooked with rich sauces – don’t add any flavour to the drink. According to the bartender, they take about 1.5 hours to get floppy in a cold beverage, but “it never takes someone that long to finish the drink,” explains Marks. “I also find that people will begin to eat the straw when it begins to soften a bit – sometimes they ask for seconds for the straw!”
Having previously researched metal and glass straws for the bar, he found the prices too high and thought that “every other customer is going to take their straw home if it’s made from expensive materials”, so pasta turned out to be the happy discovery that’s paying off for the bar. “People love them – it’s a story for people to tell once they leave the bar, and it’s good to be reminded about being environmentally conscious in your day to day life,” says Marks.
Morning glory straws at Broccoli Revolution, Bangkok
At vegetarian restaurant Broccoli Revolution in Bangkok, customers are given the option of having a plastic, a natural or no straw when they order a cold-pressed juice.
Asking for the natural option gets them a bright green stem of morning glory in their drink. Over 1,000 species of the plant grows all across the world, but here they use the locally available water spinach variety, commonly used in dishes like the pad pak boong, for its sturdy, hollow stems. “We discussed possibly getting rid of straws altogether, then one of our staff members suggested that the morning glory might work due to its size, flexibility and cost-effectiveness,” says Broccoli Revolution’s chief financial officer Saks Rouypirom. The straws are trimmed, cleaned and prepared daily, and the restaurant’s learned that they last for about three days on average. “The morning glory straws are quite flavourless – even if they have some flavour when chewed on, they work well with our juices,” notes Rouypirom.
Besides the durability of paper straws, which they found broke down easily in their juices “probably due to acidity”, the expense of buying glass and aluminium also had to be taken into consideration. “A big concern was also sanitation, since washing them has to be quite thorough,” says Rouypirom. “With our Thai customers, there’s still a little bit of confusion, but we’re slowly building awareness with our community of the importance of reducing the large amount of plastic waste in Thailand and our neighbouring countries.”
Vanilla pod straws at Operation Dagger, Singapore
Used exclusively for their Fallen Fruit cocktail at Operation Dagger, bar owner Luke Whearty devised this straw as a way to close the loop on the ingredients that go into a pear-shaped vessel with curry leaf, verjuice, caramel and poached pear. Unlike the other rather unobtrusive entries on this list, one benefit of these straws, says Whearty, is that “it adds a really smooth vanilla flavour and fragrance” to each sip, and doubles up on presentation to serve as a natural-looking stem for the drink. “It’s great to be conscious about the environment and employ sustainable practices, but it’s always an extra added bonus when it contributes to a better flavour or aroma,” says Whearty.
To make them, the team puffs up the flattened vanilla pods after their seeds are carefully scraped out, then dries them out in a dehydrator. “Occasionally, you’ll get a customer that calls you over because their vanilla straw isn’t working very well, but that’s the nature of it – they aren’t plastic and manufactured, so they aren’t all going to be identical and perfect,” says Whearty. “But I kind of like that. Anything made by hand has more soul than mass produced in my opinion.”