Meet Diego, “The Lemongrass Boy”

Lemongrass with Diego in the background
The era of plastic straws is finished, and Diego Valencia thinks he's found their replacement.

I have to say that I am proud and grateful to be a part of this bartending era. Bartenders today show more investment in studying and developing new techniques and using different ingredients, but it’s their growing concern about sustainability that truly shines. At the end of the day, we work with wine, liquor, beer, and spirits which come from the ground; as bartenders, we are responsible for returning to Mother Earth what she is providing us.

At the young age of 22 years old, Diego Valencia is the Head Bartender of Arca, a pivotal component to the rising gastronomical scene in Tulum, Mexico. The restaurant commits itself to using products from local beaches and farms, with both their food and cocktail menus paying homage to the regional culture. One way Diego contributes to this mission is through Herbalstick, eco-friendly straws made from lemongrass grown near Cobá, a local farm near Tulum.

LS: So, how did you come with this brilliant idea?
DV: I started studying plants when I was at high school developing a school project about agriculture and agronomy, and I decided to take a closer look at lemongrass. I loved its smell, flavor, and even its medicinal properties. I learned how to water, root, and grow it myself, eventually discovering how to use the stalk wisely and incorporate it as a straw for my cocktails.

LS: Where do you grow lemongrass? Do you grow it yourself?
DV: We grow it in here near Coba, a local community. It is good because I can help the local people by giving them a part time job with a fair payment policy.

LS: Does the straw changes the flavor profile of the drink?
DV: It actually makes it a little bit more natural; it is the same as the difference between eating with chopsticks and eating with a fork and knife. It changes the way you drink and gives your drink a nice lemon finish.

LS: Do you do any other activities that support sustainability? What’s next?
DV: I make my own jams and compost from fruit leftovers, and sometimes I make homemade Tepache (fermented beverage made from the peel and the rind of pineapples). But apart from that, I also think sustainability is about educating ourselves, our staff, and our customers through trying to be a good example and proliferating environmental practices. Fortunately, here in Tulum most people are concerned about developing eco-friendly behaviors. So let’s spread the word and keep up the green work.

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