One of the things that always fascinated me about coffee is its ability to bring people together, and Cuban coffee does that in its own distinctive way. But what exactly is Cuban coffee and how did it become so popular?
The Cuban Coffee Phenomenon
When Cubans first moved to South Florida in the United States, they brought their culture and traditions with them. Not before long, they built their own communities, like Little Havana in Miami. The neighbourhood will draw you in with its vibrant colours, street galleries, music corners and Cuban cuisine. Walk around a bit and you will meet locals sitting together drinking Cuban coffee, talking politics and playing dominoes while smoking cigars. It was there, in Miami, where the Cuban coffee phenomenon started! But where can you find Cuban coffee?
If you’ve been in Miami, you couldn't have possibly missed the little walk-up windows that serve coffee. These are the famous ventanitas and they are an essential part of Miami’s identity. The word itself means “small window” and it was invented out of necessity to manage the queues of customers better. At the time there were many street markets in Miami that were closed off by glass, so the idea was to make a little window by cutting the glass and selling Cuban coffee to the people outside without them having to enter the market. Simple and smart, isn’t it?
But what is Cuban Coffee?
So you must be wondering by now, what is Cuban coffee? Well, I’ll tell you one thing, it’s definitely not an espresso! Even though one of the ways of making it is to use an espresso machine, the result is very different from a traditional Italian espresso. That is because to make traditional Cuban coffee, you need a secret ingredient - a mixture of sugar and coffee called azuquita. The baristas in ventanitas are the most experienced people to mix the coffee with the azuquita and serve you the best Cuban coffee in Miami.
Know your order
Now that you have an idea about what Cuban coffee is and where you can find it, you have to make sure you know how to order it. If you’re reading this, please don’t go to a ventanita and ask for a cappuccino or a vanilla latte! The only thing you will be served is the barista’s raised eyebrow. The ventanitas serve Cuban coffee in four different styles:
2) café con leche
If you’re looking for a different type of coffee, then you are definitely in the wrong place.
Two Ways of Preparation
There are two traditional ways you can make a Cuban coffee, either with an espresso machine or with a moka pot. The moka pot is usually something you will find in someone’s home, while the espresso machine is an essential tool of the ventanitas. I would like to explain a bit more about the two of them and their main differences so you know what to expect from each one.
Even though both the moka pot and the espresso machine use pressure to force the hot water through the coffee grounds, the espresso machine uses 8-10 bars of pressure while the moka pot only uses 1-2 bars. This means that the espresso machine can make a much sharper and stronger cup of coffee than the moka pot.
The azuquita is the sweet secret of Cuban coffee! It is a separate sugar mixture prepared while the coffee is brewing. All you need is a few spoonfuls of sugar, the first few drops of the intense black coffee and a strong arm for mixing! The result of mixing the two is a kind of frothy coffee caramel.
The Flavour Profile
Once the azuquita is ready, all you need to do is mix the rest of the coffee in and there you have it: a strong, rich cup of Cuban coffee that has the perfect amount of sweetness! When I talk about coffee I like to talk about its flavour profile, which means the flavours you will taste from drinking it. When it comes to Cuban coffee, I would describe its flavour as smoky with notes of vanilla and a bold sweet aftertaste.
A City’s Beating Heart
It is impossible to visit Miami and not be engulfed in the aroma of Cuban coffee. It is the city’s beating heart. In our day-to-day lives and especially in big cities, we all need to steal moments from our day to enjoy the company of friends. The best place to do this in Miami is in ventanitas, the small coffee windows that serve Cuban coffee.
People love gathering in ventanitas, drinking their cafecito and enjoying a delicious Cuban pastry! It is their chance to meet with friends, talk about politics and everyday life. These small coffee windows represent the meaning of culture and community in Miami, and if you’re lucky then one of your friends will share a colada with you there!
If there is one thing I’ve learned from Cuban coffee and its history, it’s that flavour, aroma, culture, friendship and tradition can all fit in one small cup of coffee. As it’s been said many times before, it’s the small things in life that make it all worth the while.