Kitchn Love Letters

The Simple-yet-Delicious Cuban Breakfast I Get Whenever I’m in Miami

published Jul 2, 2022
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ypical Coffee Shop window in Little Havana circa July 2012 in Miami, during "cultural fridays" an artistic, cultural, and social fair that takes place monthly.
Credit: Shutterstock/Daniel Korzeniewski

When I was younger, Sundays were often dedicated to a particular set of activities. This included (but was not limited to) cleaning up around the house, taking care of a pile of laundry, and, of course, spending time with family around the dinner table. Every once in a while, though, on a Sunday when we had the to-do list completely crossed out, we’d make a day trip to Miami to see my grandmother and aunt. We’d all get up super-early, stop by the gas station to pick up some snacks, and set off on a two-hour road trip.

Once we finally made it to Miami, we always worked in one pit stop before making our way to my aunt’s house. Just down the road in the Kendall Lakes suburb of Miami is a Cuban bakery named Ricky Bakery, set in the middle of a small plaza that always seemed to be incredibly busy, and for good reason.

You’re immediately hit with the aroma of strong brewed espresso when you walk in. Under the shiny windows, you’re met with a wide variety of traditional Cuban pastries like pastelitos de guayaba y queso and small bites like croquetas de jamón or papas rellanas. We’d usually pile a bunch of these together in a small box to bring to my aunt and grandmother. 

Credit: Cory Fernandez

The simplest — and perhaps the most delicious — option you can order? And a must-have on my list whenever I find myself back in Miami or anywhere in South Florida? A café con leche and a tostada, and yes, you must order these two together. (I’ll explain.) Get it from Ricky or any Cuban bakery.

The espresso is typically made from dark, finely ground coffee in a cafetera, also sometimes referred to as a moka pot. To use a cafetera, the grounds get spooned into a filter insert and the bottom chamber of the cafetera gets filled with water. With the top of the pot screwed into place, the whole thing is heated on the stovetop until the espresso starts to spill from the spout in the middle. The freshly brewed espresso is then mixed with gently scalded milk and, if you’re like my mom, plenty of spoonfuls of sugar. (She orders hers by asking for it “light and sweet.”)

Credit: Cory Fernandez

That’s the café con leche part. Now, onto the tostada. The tostada simply consists of freshly baked Cuban bread split and spread with a liberal amount of softened butter or mantequilla. This butter sandwich of sorts is cooked in a panini press until a finger tap on the bread sounds like a light knock on a glass window. You’ll know it’s properly made, though, once the bakery worker slices into it and you can see that the inside of the bread is golden from the butter that’s soaked in (you’ll know it when you see it).

Aside from this dish being a quick order at a traditional Cuban bakery, it’s also portable. The best way to eat it, in my opinion, is a small table outside of the bakery on a warm and sunny day. It’s also good to snack on during a trip to the Miami Seaquarium or Miami Zoo. Just make sure you dunk every bite of the tostada into the hot coffee. This will make for a delicious combination of sweet, salty, soft, and crunchy. 

Don’t have a trip to Miami on the calendar? Read on to learn how to make a cafe con leche and tostada.

Credit: Cory Fernandez

How to Make Café con Leche (Cuban-Style Coffee with Milk)

  1. Start with a brand of dark, finely ground espresso, particularly Café Pilon, Café Bustelo, or Café La Llave. You’ll also need a cafetera.
  2. Unscrew the top of the pot and remove the filter inside the bottom canister. Fill the canister with cold or lukewarm water up to the screw on the side, but no higher. Place the filter back into the canister. Spoon the espresso into the filter, filling it to the top. Smooth the top with the back of a spoon but don’t firmly pack it. Screw the top of the pot back on.
  3. Heat a burner on the stove to medium or medium-low heat and place the pot just off-center from the middle of the burner and be sure the handle is not directly above the burner or flame, if using a gas stovetop. Leave the lid propped open.
  4. Once the espresso starts to come out of the center spout of the pot, close the lid. If the espresso seems to be spewing out quickly, lower the heat. After a couple minutes, the espresso should be fully brewed. Remove the pot from the heat.
  5. Meanwhile, heat about 1 cup of whole milk in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat; remove just before it boils (you can use less milk if desired). Alternatively, you can heat the milk in a mug in the microwave for about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes on high. Stir in about 2 tablespoons of sugar, or more or less to taste. Slowly pour about 1/4 cup of the espresso into the milk (add more or less if desired) and stir. 
Credit: Cory Fernandez

How to Make Tostada (Cuban-Style Buttered Toast)

  1. Use a loaf of Cuban bread, preferably fresh (if you cannot find Cuban bread near you, Puerto Rican-style pan de agua can be a good substitute). Split the loaf in half lengthwise, without cutting it all the way through. Open the loaf like a book. Spread a generous amount of salted or unsalted softened butter to cover both sides of the loaf, at least a couple tablespoons. Close the loaf and cut it into slices. I like to cut the slices into small planks, which makes them perfect for dunking in the coffee!
  2. Add the slices to a buttered panini press and heat. Alternatively, place the slices into a buttered skillet over medium heat. Occasionally press down firmly on the top of the sandwich with a metal spatula and flip every minute or so. Continue cooking until flat, toasted, and hard on the outside. Then enjoy. Just don’t forget about the dunking!

More on Cuban Coffee

This love letter specifically explores café con leche, which should not be confused with a cafecito, another style of Cuban coffee that is made up entirely of hot espresso and granulated sugar. This drink, which is consumed in small doses, is served in tacitas or demitasse cups — essentially miniature coffee mugs. Many people often use the term “Cuban coffee” to refer to this particular drink, although it can also be an umbrella term for different variations of coffee made in Cuban and Cuban American communities.