Gin and tonic with a twist of sustainability: the story behind Quina Fina tonic water

In the 1600s malaria spread through Asia, Africa and Southern Europe and wreaked havoc on communities that were ill-prepared to defend themselves against the devastating impact of the disease.

When Jesuit monks discovered that quinine, found in the bark of the Ecuadorian tree cinchona officinalis (quina fina de Loja), could be used to treat the disease, demand for the tree spread throughout the world, especially in the British colonies in tropical regions.

(Still taken from Cinchona Project video)

At first, consuming the bark was not easy because it had a particularly bitter flavour. So, in an effort to overcome this problem, British soldiers stationed in India mixed the quinine extract with sugar, water, lime and their gin ration, and thereby invented the cocktail today known as the gin and tonic.

In 2009, when Alex Gledhill co-founded Quina Fina tonic water, he wanted to create a traditional variation of tonic water that contained the bark of cinchona. However, after following his research to the Ecuadorian province of Loja – the natural habitat of cinchona – he discovered that the tree was on the brink of extinction due to deforestation caused by the high demand for the antimalarial properties found in the bark.

Despite the obvious encumbrance that this posed to his desire to make an authentic variation of the mixer, Gledhill did not change his goal. Instead, he initiated a fund-raising project in conjunction with the University of Loja dedicated to creating a sustainable plantation of cinchona trees in Ecuador.

“We drink a lot of tonic water, but we don’t really know what it is and what quinine is,” says Gledhill in an interview posted on the University of Loja’s YouTube channel. “It’s very important that we produce the cinchona ourselves and create a sustainable harvest of the bark.”

In order to further this cause, Gledhill has launched a Kickstarter campaign called the ‘Cinchona Project’ that aims to raise the necessary funds.

The goal of the campaign is to raise $20,000, and it has already received over $3,400 in donations.

Those who make larger donations—between $30 and $350—will also receive one of 11 different Quina Fina tonic water packages, depending on how much they contribute.

The packages range from having a seedling in your name to a limited edition of photography shot in Ecuador by photographer Tim White.    

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