May 28, 2020

A Guide to Miami Coffee Culture

Miami’s coffee culture can’t be separated from its Latino influences. Over 60 years of Cuban migration has helped create a culture with an approach to enjoying coffee that differs from most major US cities. This means that if you’re a roaster or coffee shop looking to enter this market, you should understand what shapes this population’s attitude towards the drink.

In order to understand Miami’s coffee scene better, here’s more information on what they drink, how and why they enjoy these drinks, and how businesses are using this knowledge to successfully establish themselves locally.

Lee este artículo en español Guía de la Cultura Del Café en Miami

Cuba’s Influence on Miami’s Coffee Culture

To understand how Cuba has shaped Miami’s coffee culture, you need to understand how its residents ended up in Florida in the first place. In 1959, Fidel Castro’s resistance against President Fulgencio Batista culminated in the Cuban Revolution. This kickstarted the mass migration of millions of Cubans. Many settled in Florida, as it had a familiar climate, was close to the island, and had a Spanish speaking Latino population.

Those who lived under Castro’s rule had faced many challenges, including the nationalisation of food production which forced them to register for rations. During this time, food frequently ran out or became unaffordable, as US embargoes and the Soviet Union’s collapse prevented goods from being imported into Cuba.

Because of rationing, each citizen only got four ounces of coffee a month. To make this small amount last as long as possible, toasted chickpeas were added to the ground coffee and serving sizes were kept small. The Cuban population who relocated to Miami brought this method of coffee preparation with them, and while some adjustments have been made, coffee is still enjoyed this way across Miami today.

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What Makes Miami’s Coffee Culture Unique?

Cuban migrants brought their unique way of brewing coffee to Miami – helping shape its coffee drinking culture and making coffee consumption a social affair that’s more about congregating with others than the drink itself. 

Martin Mayorga is a local resident and has recently opened a coffee roasting and processing facility in the area. He says, “In Miami, coffee is deeply ingrained in our culture. It’s part of our childhood [and] heritage…Miami has been ahead in the social aspect of coffee consumption for decades… The social aspect of coffee was powerful, and still is.”

This social aspect of coffee consumption has undoubtedly been influenced by the experiences of those who lived under Castro’s rule. As a result, it’s less about the type and quality of coffee consumed, and more about socialising while drinking it and bringing people together. Even those who prefer specialty coffee will consume coffee prepared this way in a social setting.

Social coffee drinking is so pervasive in Miami that in 2013, PR firm JLPR campaigned to make 3:05 PM Miami’s official Cafecito drinking time. The campaign aimed to unite Cuban coffee culture and create an online community surrounding it, as “the window of a Cuban restaurant is the original social network… Sharing a Colada is an act of friendship and solidarity.”

How Miami Residents Drink Coffee

While Cuban coffee consumption centres on socialisation on not coffee, the drinks enjoyed often share a few traits.

For starters, they’re typically made with low quality, dark roasted coffee and topped with faux crema or espumita. Both these characteristics are throwbacks to how coffee was prepared in Cuba and are how the drinks are often enjoyed today. Like in Cuba, coffee can be prepared at home using a Moka pot, or enjoyed in public at a local ventanita or take out window in the area.

Espumita mimics the appearance of espresso crema. Usually, an espresso’s crema is created when ground coffee is extracted under high pressure in an espresso machine. However, Cubans without access to the equipment were forced to improvise. By whipping up a small amount of sugar and coffee, an aerated foam is created. When the coffee is poured it transfers over to the cup and the espumita floats to the top of the drink.

Popular Drinks

While a variety of coffees are consumed by Miami residents, three that are commonly enjoyed by Miami’s Latino community are the Colada, Cortadito, and Café con Leche. 

Colada

The Colada is also known as the Café Cubano or Cuban espresso. It’s a strong and sweet drink consisting of a dark roasted double espresso, plenty of sugar and an espumita topping. It’s traditionally served in small demitasse cups. While the Colada is intense, its bitterness is balanced by the sugar and espumita.

Cortadito

The Cortadito, or ‘small cut’, is made with half coffee and half milk, and resembles a Macchiato as the amount of milk used can differ from person to person. The milk can be replaced with evaporated milk (which has had most of its water removed) for a thicker, more intense drink. Condensed milk can also be used instead of milk for a rich, dessert-like beverage.

Café Con Leche

Café con Leche translates to ‘coffee with milk’. However it differs from milk and coffee combinations like cappuccinos as it uses steamed milk instead of milk froth. A Café con Leche contains two coffee shots with plenty of steamed milk and sugar added to it. You can ask for it clarito (light) or oscurito (dark), and some people add a pinch of salt to it to enhance the flavour.

Coffee shops or roasters wanting to enter Miami’s market or increase their share of it should recognise these drinks and the rich history behind their preparation. While it’s true that these coffees are usually made using low quality roasts and involve specific social rituals, this doesn’t mean that there’s no place for specialty coffee’s involvement. 

Converting the Cuban Coffee Drinker to Specialty 

Miami’s coffee market offers many opportunities for businesses wanting to enter it. However, these businesses will need to decide which segment of the market they’d like to target, as each will require a different approach.

Many specialty coffee brands have already made a name for themselves in Miami’s coffee market, including coffee shops like ALL DAY and Vice City Bean and roasters like Panther Coffee and Great Circle Coffee, to name a few. These businesses have helped pioneer Miami’s third wave coffee culture, and have found success catering to a small but growing market. Coffee shops and roasters wanting to appeal to Miami’s growing third wave coffee consumers will need to balance offering standard options like light filter coffee roasts, as well as more exotic origins and varieties.

Businesses wanting to scale up their operations will need to consider the average coffee drinker, which is dominated by those who enjoy dark roasted, sweetened coffees like Coladas and Cortaditos. This means considering their approach to coffee – and their expectations regarding it. To do this they should recognise that they can’t bank on brand recognition to guarantee sales. They’ll need to get to know the area’s culture, take time to build customer relationships, and adapt themselves to the market – instead of expecting the market to adapt to them.

Martin Mayorga has experience with this, having recently moved into a 43,000 square foot packaging and roasting facility that was used by Café Bustelo before they vacated Miami. Café Bustelo has been popular with the local market for decades, having historically promoted its Latino heritage. However, when the business was bought out by retailer J.M. Smuckers in 2011, they departed the local market. The facility will now be used by Mayorga to communicate his brand’s “unapologetically and proudly Latino” heritage to the market.

Martin cautions that brands wanting to enter the market and compete at scale must adapt their brand to consumers. While a brand might initially be popular due to its novelty, he says that it “eventually that fades out, and consumers go back to their favourite ventanita or kitchens to prepare and enjoy coffee with their families.”

He also reiterates that while businesses will need to adapt themselves to the market (and not the other way around), that this doesn’t mean that they will need to give up their specialty coffee offering altogether. Instead, it provides them with an opportunity to give their customers a better quality version of the drinks they currently enjoy.

He explains, “If Miamians love dark roast blends, offer them better, more sustainably sourced blends. Don’t try to convince them that they should appreciate the huckleberry notes of a light roasted Ethiopian natural. I don’t expect consumers here to turn away from their dark, thick Cafecitos.”

Businesses should recognise that Miami consumers are increasingly interested in where their coffee comes from. Martin explains that this market recognises the importance of origins and sustainability, and that many younger Latino consumers are aware of the impact coffee production has on farmers and producing countries, as their parents or grandparents come from these countries. Educating them on this and the farm to cup process, will help consumers recognise the role their coffee purchases play in keeping producers and farms in production.

Miami’s relationship with coffee is intertwined with the area’s population. Opportunities are plentiful for specialty coffee brands looking to establish their presence here – provided they’re willing to accept the market as it is and adapt to it.

Recognising the existing desires of the Latino community will mean accepting their existing coffee tastes and preferences. By doing so, businesses will put themselves in the best position to introduce their audience to specialty coffee offerings – and cement themselves in the market.

Enjoyed this? Then Read Crema: How It’s Formed, What It Tells Us, & How to Learn From It

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Perfect Daily Grind

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