At Abuela’s Kitchen, a newly opened Cuban restaurant on Lincoln Road — Miami’s crowded and eclectic outdoor shopping mall — the women at the counter greet sólo en español. Since I don’t know much Spanish, I stick to what I do know: coffee. “Cortadito, please,” I ordered on a breezy Friday morning. “Non!” the waitress countered, shaking her head. “Too small. You want a cafe con leche — very strong and good.” It was early, and Cubans, like Italians, drink their heavy milk drinks in the early hours of the day.
Cubans are one of the many cultures that make up the multifaceted community of Miami, and the influence on the culture is unmistakable. Walking around Miami Beach often feels like wandering through foreign streets, from Brazil to Paris, Haiti to Cuba; as one Colombian immigrant told me, “Everyone in Miami is from somewhere else.” While I’m sure Miami natives exist, the city’s strong Latin presence is evident in Miami’s coffee scene. In nearly every cafe, one will see a café cubano on the menu.
A café cubano is a shot of espresso, often made with Bustelo beans, pulled with sugar, or sometimes, poured over sugar. The sugar caramelizes and turns into a kind of syrup, creating the notable sweetness Cuban coffee is adored for. Bustelo beans are darkly roasted, so the sugar is never overpowering because the undercurrent of the coffee is so strong.
A café con leche is one part café cubano, two parts steamed milk. Often, condensed milk is used, creating an extra sweet treat.
Finally, a cortadito is the perfect blend of the two. It is a Cuban version of the macchiato: a potent shot of Bustelo, laced with sugar and a drop of steamed milk.
Cuban coffee is engrained in Miami culture. Gazing at the crowd huddled around the the outdoor window at Abuela’s, it’s full of locals, tourists, Latinos, Haitians, and Europeans alike: a snapshot of Miami, all drinking a café cubano.