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For Miami’s Cuban community, the afternoon coffee break is about more than getting through the rest of the working day – it’s about reconnecting with friends, savoring a taste of the homeland and overindulging your sweet tooth.
At 3.05pm – when Miami takes its official cafecito break – swarms of people descend on Little Havana’s Calle Ocho searching for a mid-afternoon caffeine boost. This is a ritual for the city’s Cuban community. People make a point of visiting their go-to ventanita – a walk-up window serving Cuban-style coffee and golden pastries – virtually every day. There are no nut milks or fancy aromatic blends of the month here, just traditional cafecito served the way Miami’s Cubans used to drink it in their homeland.
“Cuban coffee, for the most part, is very similar to espresso,” explains Nicole Valls, the owner of Versailles, a beloved Cuban restaurant with one of the busiest ventanitas in the city. “The difference is the way you make it. Here we add sugar while it’s brewing, which is what gives it that espumita [a frothy consistency]. It’s different than if you just poured sugar into an espresso. Here you’re doing it while it’s brewing, so you’re making a thicker, creamier, obviously sweeter coffee.”
Having a cafe cubano is a social event. It’s made to be shared and comes with a stack of tiny cups so the buyer can pour thimble-size servings for fellow patrons. A cooler perched on the counter provides water in paper cones to sip with the coffee.
A cafe cubano will cost you less than a dollar, and groups will often linger by the window, taking it in turns to purchase rounds while discussing the hot-button issues of the day. When a politician needs to generate support or a TV channel needs Cuban voices for a news segment, the ventanitas are where they come to trade shots of coffee for honest opinions.
“The magic of cafe cubano is that it opens the conversation,” says Grace Della, founder of Miami Culinary Tours. “If you’re pouring a cafe cubano, you’re inviting other folks to come and talk to you.”
Ventanitas offer more than a convenient caffeine fix. They are gathering places where a diaspora can revisit its roots, indulge in nostalgia and strengthen community bonds through the simple, significant ritual of shared coffee.