I was in search of coffee, as usual. My days always start with a healthy hour of java-sipping before my brain and mouth engage. I’m lead to the kitchen in auto-pilot mode, shuffling my feet with my eyes half shut. Please don’t even try to speak to me at this time in the morning and expect to hear anything witty or even coherent. There is an electric kettle and a coffee press waiting for me on the counter, ready to jump-start me. While into my second (or third) cup the brain cells start to work.
Last November I visited Cuba for a couple of weeks. I’m quite thankful that I was able to experience Havana before the hordes of Norte Americanos made it their next vacation destination. Yes, I’m American, yes I am a tourist, but seriously. Many, many of my fellow Americans are loud, obnoxious, assumptive (that we are the best culture) and rude. I like to be a quiet observer of the culture when I travel. Especially this gem; more about my experiences in Cuba will be reserved for another time. Let’s talk coffee today.
One Sunday morning I went walking along the Malecon from my casita to Havana Viejo, Cuba. And, since I need my coffee fix every morning, I was looking for a cafe. What I discovered is that they start their days much later than we do so nothing was open for business. Really, there was not much open for “business” of any time anywhere since all of that has been run by their government. So along I strolled from the Malecon through the old Spanish architecture and cobblestone, narrow streets. Not a soul was in sight at 8:30 de la mañana.
I stopped to take some pictures in my dazed state and noticed a Cuban man close by. Most Cubans do not speak English since there was a bad relationship between our governments. . They may know Italian, Greek, or French, but not English. This guy did! We chatted for a moment about the normal stuff, where I was visiting from and how long I was staying, then I expressed my need for coffee and that I couldn’t find a place open.
He said, “follow me”, then led me to a door with iron bars as a screen door. Inside that door was an tiny, older Cuban woman there with a thermos of coffee with sugar added. Sugar is always added to their coffee as they used to be a big, global producer of sugar cane. He convinced her to let me have a cup. When I say cup, it’s not a cup like we know. It’s an espresso cup and definitely not enough for my needs. I’d need forty of these little guys to get my juices flowing. But, that one sip was all I was allowed. She frowned at me when I asked if I could have a second and the Cuban man led me away from her, down the street.
The “americano” was actually invented for us. It’s a shot or two of espresso with hot water added to make it bigger with less strength, an improvement from our percolator/drip coffee, but much more flavorful. We are teased internationally for the need for BIG cups of coffee, actually our need for big everything. The fact that we need (actually merely want) bigger things and more things. The “americana” is a perfect analogy for our American culture.
Let’s get to my favorite discovery in Cuba: a cortodito. It satisfied my craving and became my favorite expresso drink to order in the US. It is a latte with a LOT less milk/cream. Tastes like a creamy espresso so I can taste the flavors in the roast with my favorite add, milk.
Try it at your favorite local coffeehouse in the United States. Each place seems to prepare them a little bit differently. Report back to me and let me know what your think!