Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ventana de Café

Photo courtesy of Julie Hicks

Depending upon one’s perspective, the word "Miami" conjures up different images. Many people think of South Beach and its Art Deco architecture and the “beautiful people.” For others, cigars are the main attraction.

My thing though, is the coffee window. For the uninitiated, a coffee window is an espresso bar open to the sidewalk. Most Cuban restaurants have them, and they are a local institution. Owing at least in part to the year-round pleasant weather and the fact that Cubans love a good, spirited conversation, at almost any hour you can find a few people socializing outside while enjoying a cafecito.

Coffee in Miami is a little (ok, a lot) different than what you may be used to. First of all, there is no brewed coffee. All of it comes from the espresso machine, and it isn’t served up in 20 oz. portions either. The basic drinks are the cafecito, colada, cortadito, and café con leche.

Cafecito – espresso with lots of sugar added. Cuban coffee tends to be quite overextracted and the sugar helps offset the bitterness.

Colada – a large portion, perhaps 4 oz., served in a small styrofoam cup and accompanied by several small plastic cups. The cups are for you to share your coffee with your friends or workmates.

Cortadito – a cafecito with anywhere from a tablespoon of milk to half milk/half coffee.

Café con leche – the Cuban equivalent of a latte; usually drunk in the morning.

Although I don’t get into Miami as often as I like, I pass through Miami International a few times a year and get to indulge my cafecito jones at La Carreta, a Cuban restaurant located at the entrance to concourse D. There’s no better way to shake out the cobwebs of an 8-hour overnighter than with a cafecito and a couple of ham croquettes!