Cuban Coffee 101: Everything to know about ordering coffee in Miami

Miami runs on coffee — but don’t come here looking for that tall, non-fat latte with a caramel drizzle.

Cuban coffee is the center of our universe.

Don’t call it an espresso, either. Whipping spoonfuls of sugar into those first few of drops of freshly brewed café forms the syrupy goodness that makes café cubano the original Red Bull. It’s hot, sweet — and strong.

READ: No Cuban abuela? No problem. These are Miami’s best Cuban restaurants

If you’re new to Miami or here on vacation, you may have already discovered our devotion to “ventanitas,” the ubiquitous walk-up windows where a coffee queen will whip up a cup of jet fuel while calling you cariño or mi amor. (One guy even spent a summer visiting more than 100 of them across Miami.)

Gabriela Carbone, 20, a barista at Amelia’s 1931, prepares a cortadito.

There’s a right way to order coffee in Miami that won’t earn you a strange look. Locals know there are only four acceptable coffee drinks to order at the ventanita:

Cafecito

Cafecitos are life.Matias Ocner

Order “un cafecito” and la señora at the ventanita will set down a cup and saucer in front of you that looks like it came from a child’s play set.

Do not be fooled.

That ounce-and-a-half or so of Cuban coffee may be a single serving, but it’ll be enough to power you through lunch — until someone inevitably shows up to work with una colada. (See below). When done right, the cafecito will be sweet but not cloying, covered in a rich, creamy head that’ll stick to your hipster mustache — and your ribs.

Colada

cuban coffee
A colada is the perfect way to share Cuban coffee with soon-to-be new friends.Matias Ocner/Miami Herald

Ask for “una colada” and the ventanita waitress will pour you a four-ounce Styrofoam cup of hot, sweet Cuban coffee — to go. You may be tempted to peel off the plastic lid and drink it like a Starbucks espresso.

Do not do this. This is “Game of Thrones” dragonfire.

There’s a reason she will hand it to you with a half-dozen corrugated, thimble-sized plastic cups. Bring these back to work after your lunch break, share with five of your closest friends, and you’ll quickly be caught up on office politics.

Pro tip: Pinch the lip of the Styrofoam cup to make a spout that makes the coffee easier to pour.

Cortadito

Cuban coffee
Cortadito: when a straight cafecito is just too muchMatias Ocner

For some people, even locals, it’s just too much to pour the gasoline that is Cuban coffee into an empty stomach. For that, order a cortadito — a single serving of Cuban coffee “cut” with steamed, whole milk.

For a special treat, ask for a cortadito con evaporada and the waitress will substitute milk with sweet, steamed evaporated milk. It makes the perfect finish to a meal in lieu of dessert.

Café con leche

Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my café con leche.Matias Ocner

Mornings in Miami don’t begin until after a café con leche: a cup of warm, steamed or boiled milk with a shot of Cuban coffee. They may ask you if you want it clarito or oscurito — light or dark — depending on how much coffee you want to darken you drink. Feel free to say mediano for Goldilocks perfection.

Done right, the sugar in the Cuban coffee should be enough to sweeten the café con leche. (This also applies to the cortadito.) But you can always ask for it sin azucar if you prefer to sweeten it yourself or sub out (gasp!) Splenda.

Pro top: Add the tiniest pinch of salt to your café con leche and not only will it heighten the flavor, it’ll earn you major street cred with the old-timers at la ventanita.

Some of our favorite ventanitas:

  • Amelia’s 1931, 13695 SW 26th St., Miami, 305-554-4949
  • Cacique’s Corner, 100 W. Flagler St., Miami (downtown), 305-371-8317
  • Chicos, 4070 W. 12th Ave., Hialeah, 305-556-8907
  • David’s Café, 919 Alton Rd., South Beach, 305-534-8736
  • El Pub, 1548 SW 8th St., Miami (Little Havana), 305-642-9942
  • Enriqueta’s, 2830 NE 2nd Ave., Miami (Wynwood), 305-573-4681
  • Islas Canarias, 13695 SW 26th St, Miami, 305-559-6666
  • La Carreta, nine locations throughout Miami-Dade County, including a sublime one on Key Biscayne, 12 Crandon Blvd., 305-365-1177, and a convenient stop at Miami International Airport, 305-871-3003
  • La Fragua, 7931 NW 2nd St., Miami, 305-266-3226
  • La Minuta, 14615 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami, 305-949-2471
  • Los Pinareños Fruteria, 1334 SW 8th St., Miami (Little Havana), 305-285-1135
  • Latin American Bakery & Cafe, 9608 SW 72nd St., Miami (West Miami-Dade County), 305-279-4353
  • Latin Café 2000, 875 NW 42nd Ave., Miami, 305-642-4700
  • Manolo and Rene Grill, 188 NE 3rd Ave., Miami (downtown, new location)
  • Molina’s, 4090 E. 8th Ave., Hialeah, 305-693-0806
  • Tinta y Café, 1315 Ponce De Leon Blvd, Coral Gables, 305-285-0101
  • Versailles, 3555 SW 8th St., Miami (Little Havana), 305-444-0240

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