Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Potency of Café Cubano (Cuban Coffee)

Returning to my roots in Miami as I do for one month every summer gives me the opportunity to re-examine the things that are in absence of my life in France. For the first few days of what will ultimately be a brief stay, I am lured by the bright blue skies frequently interrupted by spurts of intense showers and decent Cuban cuisine. Amid the comestibles to re-discover, Cuban coffee is at the top of the list.

Being an avid coffee drinker, I'd like to believe that I have a good tolerance for caffeine. There have been times in which people have told me that they customarily stave from drinking any more of the liquid gold past four in the afternoon to prevent undergoing a sleepless night. I contemplate how I have never been able to understand this behavior as I drink my fourth cup of java at six o'clock in the evening.

I should mention that while I do have access to Cuban coffee while living in France, I ration myself to one cup of café con leche in the mornings and supply the rest of the intake with either soluble Nescafé or whatever is offered in the local bars in town. Be what it may, my resistance to caffeine is quite strong and don't have any issues going to bed at a decent time. 

Or so I thought.

On one fine afternoon, I sought shelter from the dense humidity seeping the Miami streets like a suffocating wool blanket and found myself glancing at a menu selling several drink varieties of café cubano. As the time was nearing 5:30 p.m., I reasoned that a café con leche would be too much to drink and that its smaller cousin, the cortadito, would hit the spot. True, while the volume of the cortadito seems puny in comparison to the run-of-the-mill Starbucks latte giants, its power lies in the sweetened espresso mixed with just the right amount of milk. 

I stared at the menu. I read the words "cortadito/colada." I made a mental note that when it would be my turn to place an order, I should say "cortadito" with conviction.

Cortadito, cortadito, cortadito. 

The person in front of me left the line. I stepped closer to the counter. The attendant asked me what I would like to order.

My mind thought "cortadito, cortadito, cortadito."

My mouth uttered "colada." 

In the haze of that silent chant, my mind didn't notice the mistake until I was handed a small cup filled with four shots of sweetened espresso. 

My brain screamed "WHAT THE HELL?! THIS ISN'T WHAT I HAD ORDERED!!! SHE GOT MY ORDER WRONG!!!" In the moment I was going to make my musings vocal, a little voice that had played the past few minutes in vivid succession recalled that, actually, yes, I had indeed ordered a colada, that I was too stupid to have not realized the error earlier and that it was now too late to backtrack and ask the poor attendant to make me another drink.

I forced a smile, paid for the drink then slumped away from the counter preparing myself to face the fate of drinking four sweetened shots of dark espresso. With the colada in hand, I imagined that this was what a walk to the gallows must have been like. I had resigned myself to facing severe heart palpitations and possibly never sleeping again.

Both the mind and mouth pleaded for me not to drink it. I drank it anyway.

At first, it seemed as if the colada's potency would have no effect on me. Yes, I felt more alert than I had been some moments before, but as far as I could tell, there was no perceivable difference as to how I would have felt had I downed a simple cortadito. I was duped into thinking that I was the caffeine-resistant champion of Java land.

I didn't go to sleep until 4:30 a.m.

Now I know why people here refer to the coffee as "Cuban Crack."

Barb the French Bean


  1. Oh yes, you already know how I feel about the Cuban Crack. That stuff messes me up, too. And this is coming from a guy who can drink a double sized mug of coffee just before bed (and sleep just fine).

    Last time I had Cuban coffee it was 5 pm... and that night, at around midnight, as I laid twitching in bed, I felt like I could just blast out of my window and do sprints until my heart gave out.

    1. It's a miracle that you are still alive to tell the tale!

  2. Dangit my comment got eaten. I said at least you got some sleep in the end. That Cuban coffee sounds good. I like some coffee but I prefer iced coffee. It's a great treat when you're warm. I can see one way you're different from most Americans now, but it might have been there all this time; I don't think an American would pay for the wrong order even if they got it wrong. They'd correct either themselves or the waiter. Unless I misunderstood and you said the wrong word for the same order.

    1. I had said the wrong item for what I had wanted to order: I ended up with a colada (4 shots of espresso) when I really wanted a cortadito (small coffee with milk). I realized that I was in the wrong and accepted my fate.

      Funny story: when I was in Oxford chaperoning my French middle school students, my colleagues and I decided to have lunch at a Burger King (as they are relatively non-existent in France). An attendant at a Burger King got my order wrong; I wanted a double cheeseburger and was given some barbecue sauce-slathered monstrosity.

      I am sad to report that I certainly proved to have American genes when I pointed out the mistake made by the Burger King employee because I truly DISLIKE the taste of barbecue sauce. Had my sandwich been something that I would have at least found edible, then I probably wouldn't have mentioned the error and accepted whatever burger came my way. So, in a way, I lose imaginary American cred points for hating barbecue sauce but still keep some cred due to correcting another person's mistake. :P

      I ended up not only with the correct order but also a free barbecue sauce burger which I proceeded to give to a street performer who was juggling balls.

  3. I've never had that, but now you've made me want to try!

    1. Well, you may be in luck! In the U.S., the two predominant brands of Cuban coffee are Bustelo and Pilon. If you do a quick Internet search, you may find a store that carries these coffees in your area.

      I'll send you the links via Twitter!

  4. Welcome to heat and humidity. I'm always happy when I see you in my blog roll.



Apparently, leaving comments on this blog is a hit-or-miss game of Russian roulette: you are either lucky and can comment away, or you are required to log in when the settings are CLEARLY set to allow trouble-free commenting (sorry 'bout that, folks). If anything, the Facebook page is always a viable option. :) -Barb