A Guide to Ordering & Drinking Cuban Coffee

updated Dec 17, 2019
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(Image credit: Tara Donne)

Stroll down Miami’s Calle Ocho and you’ll pass by any number of coffee windows, or ventanitas. The most famous one is at Versailles, but there’s no shortage on Little Havana’s main drag and elsewhere in Miami. And anywhere you can find a ventanita, you’re likely to find a crowd.

That’s because drinking a café cubano is a social activity. Sure, the coffee is good (and sweet!), but ordering a coffee is less about getting your vente frappu-whatever for the road so you can maximize your productivity and more about slowing down and catching up with your friend — or a complete stranger.

(Image credit: Tara Donne)

Disclosure: I am not Cuban, not even close. I do speak a tiny bit of Spanish, which I learned when I decided to leave my high-powered banking job, become a writer, and move to Madrid. I am also the kind of person that people seem to want to talk to. I feel like it must be my body language. I seem to say, without saying anything at all: Come talk to me! I am not from here, but I want to know everything there is to know.

It is a quality that has served me well while wandering the globe in search of interesting people and customs and delicious foods. In fact, it is a quality that served me well quite recently, on a trip to Miami.

I had been to Miami a few times before — enough times that South Beach, Mid-Beach (an area north of South Beach that is rapidly developing), and even parts of downtown Miami were starting to feel familiar — but I had never been to Little Havana, and I wanted to explore this sub-culture which has had and continues to have such a tremendous influence on the city as a whole.

So, one morning I took a taxi out to Versailles (I figured, if you’re going to go to Little Havana, you may as well go to the most famous spot) for a cafe con leche and a pastelito — and I happened into a conversation with a few regulars.

(Image credit: Tara Donne)

The Cuban Coffee You Should Be Ordering (If You Want to Make Friend)

The most important thing I learned is that, if you want to make friends, the coffee you should order is something called a colada. It’s basically a very large, very strong coffee, served in a styrofoam cup and then poured into smaller cups for sharing. It’s what you order if your plan is to stand around and talk for a while —which is mostly what people intend to do.

Of course, you can order a cafe con leche (this is what I did) or a cortadito or just a straight-forward cafe cubano (aka un cafecito).

Confused? Don’t be. Here are the four cuban coffee drinks you should know.

4 Cuban Coffee Drinks to Know

  1. Cafecito or Café Cubano: The Cuban version of espresso, a cafecito is a small shot of strong coffee with sugar.
  2. Colada: The social coffee! A colada comes in a styrofoam cup with a stack of smaller cups. Share with your friends or drink yourself — at your own risk!
  3. Café con Leche: A shot of espresso with hot or steamed milk, this is similar to a latte with sugar already added.
  4. Cortadito: A short version of a café con leche, this is basically a cafecito with a little bit of milk to soften the flavor.

Have you had Cuban coffee before? What’s your drink of choice?