Miami is a great coffee town. And like other great coffee towns, drinking coffee has become ingrained in the very soul of the city. In Miami, the coffee, like the culture, is Cuban. It’s possible get a traditional American coffee, but if you want to really experience Miami, you need to get your Cuban coffee right.
This post will tell you all you need to know about ordering coffee in Miami, but first we need to talk about where to get it. In Miami, you can get it just about anywhere, in restaurants, in homes and offices, and even banks (yes, it is not uncommon to have someone bring you a cafecito while waiting in line). One of the best places to grab a coffee though is at a ventanita. These little windows are all over town. Some might be a part of a larger restaurant, but many stand alone. In either case, they provide a quick way to grab a coffee and get on with your day.
When you order at a ventanita or any restaurant that serves Cuban coffee, you will have 4 main Cuban coffee options: the café con leche, the cortadito, the cafecito, and the colada. Each has its place during the day and everyone has their favorites. The best thing to do is to try them all and see what you like.
Café con Leche
On paper this is merely coffee with milk, but in the cup it is so much more. At a café, you will be given a coffee cup of steamed milk along with a separate container of espresso. Add the espresso to the milk and then sugar to taste. If you are unsure how strong you would like your coffee, start by adding a little espresso at a time, tasting as you add sugar to find the perfect ratio.
At a ventanita or take-out restaurant the ingredients will come already mixed together in a to-go cup. You might be asked if you would like the café con leche light or dark (indicating the amount of milk added) or if you would like it with or without sugar. The safe route is to take it medium with sugar, but if you aren’t asked I recommend going with the flow and seeing how that particular shop envisions a standard café con leche.
You might consider the cortadito the small child of the café con leche – it’s smaller and it looks a lot like a café con leche, but, like all children, it’s full of a lot more energy and character. It begins with espresso, the first bit of which is added to sugar to create a paste. More espresso is then added and mixed with a small amount of steamed milk and/or steamed evaporated milk. The entire drink only comes out to about 2 ounces, but the flavor and punch is magical. When ordering you might be asked if you would like it light or dark or with or without sugar. Again, when in doubt you can always order it medium with sugar.
If the cortadito is the child of a café con leche, the cafecito is its unruly baby. It comes in a tiny cup and, like a cortadito, it begins with a small amount of espresso, which is mixed with sugar to create a paste. More espresso is then added to fill the cup. There is no milk to cut the power of the coffee and sugar, but then again that’s what makes it so wonderful.
A colada is a drink to be shared. It is essentially a very large cafecito served alongside tiny plastic cups. Be careful, if you try to drink it alone it might kill you. Instead, pour the coffee into the small cups and share it with friends. If you’re at work, bring one back after lunch to brighten everyone’s day. It will certainly wake them up.
For more information on coffee in Miami see our post on Little Havana.