By Jodi Mailander Farrell
Be still for un momento. Hear a hum? It's not our resident blood-thirsty mosquitoes. It's the sound of Miami on a perpetual Bustelo buzz. Cuban coffee, a distinctive molasses-sweet espresso, is the octane that fuels South Florida. Its concentrated flavor comes courtesy of Bustelo or Pilon, both brands owned by Miami-based Rowland Coffee Roasters, founded by a family of Cuban exiles. The sweet, caramel-coated foam at the top of your cup - a creamy head that Cubans call espumita - is the magical result of the first drops of brew pounded with sugar into a syrup.
Sipping at cafecito counters is a daily social event in every Miami neighborhood. It's a cheap thrill that costs 60 cents to $1, depending on what part of town you're standing in. But the walk-up window experience can be intimidating if you don't know the lingo and the lady at the counter is impatiently drumming her fingers.
A quick guide:
* Cafecito or Café Cubano: A small but potent dose of Cuban coffee served in a thimble-sized cup. Twice as strong as American coffee and super sweet, you can sip or down it like a shot.
* Colada: This is what you order when you want to make friends. It typically comes in a large Styrofoam cup, with a stack of four or more small plastic cups. Pour and pass around at the counter or bring it back to the office. You may get that raise after all.
* Café con leche: A Latin latte - hot, steamed milk with a shot of Cuban coffee. If you're watching your sugar intake, ask for sin azucar (without sugar) and add the sweet stuff to your own taste. Good for breakfast or as a comforting cup of warmth on one of Miami's rain-soaked afternoons.
* Cortadito: Cuban coffee with a few tablespoons of milk (a short café con leche). This is a good introduction to cafecito if the straight stuff seems too strong at first.
Top Picks: Cuban Coffee Counters
* Los Pinarenos Fruteria, 1334 SW 8th St., Miami (Little Havana), 305-285-1135.
* El Pub, 1548 SW 8th St., Miami (Little Havana), 305-642-9942.
* Versailles, 3555 SW 8th St., Miami (Little Havana), 305-444-0240.
* David's Café, 1654 Meridian Ave., South Beach, 305-672-8707.
* Enriqueta's, 2830 NE 2nd Ave., Miami (Wynwood), 305-573-4681.
* Cacique's Corner, 100 W. Flagler St., Miami (downtown), 305-371-8317.
* Casa Larios, 5859 SW 73rd St., South Miami, 305-662-5656.
* La Minuta, 14615 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami, 305-949-2471.
* Chicos, 4070 W. 12th Ave., Hialeah, 305-556-8907
* Molina's, 4090 E. 8th Ave., Hialeah, 305-693-0806.
* Latin American Cafeteria, 9608 SW 72nd St., Miami (West Miami-Dade County), 305-279-4353.
* 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 outside Concourse D gates at Miami International Airport, 305-871-3003. (The airport La Carreta will be relocating to the north terminal in 2008.)
Preparing coffee the Miami way. Photo: Roberto Koltun for Miami.com