How to Order Cuban Coffee in Miami
This post is for all the Miami visitors who are intrigued by Cuban coffee and about how to order it. If you are in Miami, specially if you are a foodie, you should take a break from the Starbucks. I actually love Startbucks, but I personally only visit the Starbucks in Miami when: (1) someone else is paying for it, (2) I am desperate for a Cuban coffee and there is no Cuban coffee in the near vicinity, (3) I am not ordering espresso (aka Cuban coffee), or (4) I need to deplete a Starbucks gift card. To tell you the truth, 2 rarely happens, as there is always a Cuban restaurant nearby. Here is a tutorial on how to order Cuban coffee for all of you Cuban coffee virgins, so you can truly enjoy your Cuban coffee while you are visiting my Miami.
The Walk-Up Window
Obviously, all Cuban restaurants have Cuban coffee and you can certainly order it after your meal. I personally enjoy my Cuban coffee with a flan, whenever I get a chance. However, you do not have to sit down at the restaurant to enjoy Cuban coffee. You can have your meal in the restaurant of your choice, drive or walk to any Cuban restaurant, and order your Cuban coffee at the walk-up window (ventanita). But you really don't even have to have a meal before you enjoy your Cuban coffee. As a matter of fact, having Cuban coffee is something we do in Miami at all times of the day. Having Cuban coffee in Miami is sort of a social event or ritual, whether at home, at the office, at the walk-up window or inside the restaurant.
What is the walk-up window? I guess I find it to be self-explanatory since I have been going to Cuban restaurants since I was in diapers. But you don't need much explanation besides knowing that the walk-up window is where you order your Cuban coffee. Here is a photo of a walk-up window, so have an idea of what it looks like. This is the walk-up window at the Versailles Restaurant in Miami.
The Choices and How to Order
So for all of you Starbucks aficionados, forget the Starbucks lingo. There is no tall, grande or venti. There is no single shot, double shot, triple shot or any type of shot. There are simply four choices for your Cuban coffee: cafecito, colada, cortadito or café con leche. Let me emphasize (again) that the word "shot" is not part of your order.
Cafecito or Café Cubano
Cafecito or café cubano is simply a single serving of Cuban coffee with sugar. Whether at the walk-up window, inside the restaurant or at home, it is served in an espresso (demitasse) ceramic cup. If you want your cafecito with sugar, just order "un cafecito, por favor" (one cafecito, please). If you absolutely want no sugar in your coffee, or you would rather add the sugar yourself, just order "un cafecito sin azucar, por favor" (one cafecito without sugar, please).
At some Cuban restaurants that serve lots of tourists, you might find that they already serve you the coffee without the sugar. You can always ask "¿Tiene azucar el café?" (Does it come with sugar?) just to make sure.
A colada is actually a cafecito with sugar for about four to six people. A colada is served in a Styrofoam cup and is accompanied by a stack of four to six tiny plastic cups. Don't be fooled by the size of the Styrofoam cup and think you can down it all yourself, as if it were an American coffee. The tiny plastic cups come with the Styrofoam cup for a reason. Believe me when I tell you that if you drink all the contents of the complete Styrofoam cup and you are new to Cuban coffee, you will be feeling it within minutes.
To order a colada, simply say "una colada, por favor". Usually a colada is ordered by a group of people who show up at the window together. Perhaps you showed up at the window with the intention of buying a cafecito just for yourself, but someone you knew was already there or happens to be passing by. Then you as the locals do at ventanitas: socialize and order a colada.
Open the Styrofoam cup and fill up one of the tiny cups for your friend and one for you. After your friend downs the contents of his/her tiny cup in what it usually takes about one nanosecond, offer a second shot and fill up his/her little cup again. Obviously, do the same thing for yourself too. If it is many of you drinking coffee together, then you might have to order several coladas.
The colada always comes with sugar. If you are the only one in your group who doesn't want sugar, consider ordering a cafecito for yourself so your companions can enjoy the true flavors of a colada.
It is a common in Miami offices and business places for an employee to buy a colada or coladas for his/her office a couple of hours after lunch. So, if you hear a "¿Quiere cafecito?" (Do you want cafecito?), you know they are offering a bit of the contents of the colada. My response is always "Sí, como no, gracias" (Yes, of course, thank you).
A cortadito is made with about equal parts of Cuban coffee with sugar and steamed milk. In some Cuban restaurants, the cortadito is made with evaporated or condensed milk. Personally, I make mine at home with condensed milk. Again, just as the cafecito, the cortadito is usually loaded with sugar. You can order by just saying "Un cortadito, por favor." If the sugar is an issue, just do the same thing as in the cafecito: "Un cortadito sin azucar, por favor" and/or "¿Tiene azucar?"
Café con Leche
A café con leche is a single serving of Cuban coffee with milk and sugar but in a larger cup. Usually the café con leche comes in two sizes: regular or large. If you want to know what it tastes like, it is basically the same as a café latte but at a fraction of the price and with all the coffee you want. You order a café con leche by simply saying "un café con leche, por favor."
The café con leche generally only comes with the sugar that was already added to the coffee. I find that it is with the café con leches that the mix is never the same. There is not a uniform taste like in a Starbucks café latte. How much sugar, how much milk and how much coffee you get in your café con leche depends on the person preparing it.
Since I tend to order my café con leches at the same places, I have learned how to order it based on who is preparing it. But you can also ask for the milk and the coffee to be served separately, so you pour the cafecito into your milk until you get the right amount of darkness. You do that by saying "la leche y el café separados, por favor." And if you want to mix the sugar in yourself, too, ask for "la leche y el café separados y sin azucar, por favor."
But let's say that you decided to let the employee give you the already mixed café con leche and it is still too light for you. What do you do? Do not despair! You DO NOT order a double shot or a triple shot or anything with the word "shot" in it and you DO NOT have to pay more. You simply say "más oscuro, por favor" (darker, please) and the employee will just pour more coffee until you say "Ya" or "OK" followed with a "gracias." In some places, the employee might just give you the coffee so you can add it yourself.
How to Pay
OK, you are going to un-Starbucks yourself for the ordering and paying process for your cafecito, colada, cortadito or café con leche. Just stand in front of the window, give them your order and wait right there for your goods. You don't do "the pay, wait for the barista to make your coffee, pick up coffee, get away from the counter and add sugar thing" you do at Starbucks. No one is going to ask for your name and you don't have to go anywhere. The person taking your order is possibly going to be the same person making your coffee and taking your money. And...you don't pay until the goods are delivered.
The Order of Things
So, this is order of things:
You order your coffee at the ventanita. If you don't see the price anywhere, you can ask the employee "¿Cuánto es?"
When you get your cafecito (or colada or cortadito or café con leche), you pay. You basically just put the money on the counter, which will include the price of your coffee plus a tip. It is important that you ALWAYS add a tip, even if the order is to go. I usually leave a quarter in tip for every dollar I spend. If I spend less than a dollar, I still leave a quarter. But you don't have to tip a quarter, you could tip less or you could tip more. But whatever amount you decide to tip, don't resent it. Even with the tip, you are going to pay for your Cuban coffee a fraction of what you would pay at Starbucks.
If it's not a to-go order, just drink your Cuban coffee right there at the walk-up window. You can take all the time in the world to enjoy your coffee, no one is going to complain. You can also hold your coffee while staying just a few feet from the walk-up window. You will often see a bunch of people gathered in front of the ventanitas while chatting and drinking their cafecitos.
Enjoy your Cuban coffee while in Miami!