Cafecito Time in Miami Beach

It’s sizzling hot and spine-tinglingly cool.


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Cafecito, the Cuban espresso is dark, strong, and sugary-sweet, is served all over town.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia-CC

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Indian Creek Drive is underwater. It’s Friday night in Miami Beach and tourists are wading through ankle-high seawater, shopping bags in one hand, shoes in the other. Miami’s infamous king tide is in full effect, thanks to a supermoon playing havoc on already high water levels. In one of the country’s lowest-lying municipalities, that’s very bad news. Pumps are being installed to deal with the worst of the flooding, but most locals agree it’s only a temporary solution.

But if Miami Beach is sinking, it’s not going down without a fight. Ocean Drive still plays host to a seemingly never-ending parade of hot cars, lithe bodies, and tiny dogs. On Saturday afternoon, the floodwaters recede; South Beach reverberates with EDM bass. You can hear it from inside the Miami Design Preservation League, a small museum that tells the story of how this swamp-covered sandspit became a glitzy tourist mecca, and how the efforts of one woman, the indomitable Barbara Capitman, saved its unique architectural treasures from the developers’ bulldozer in the late 1970s. A fuller history of the area is on display a few blocks away at the Wolfsonian-FIU, a surprisingly playful decorative arts museum housed in what was once a high-end storage facility for wealthy northern snowbirds.

Start imagining this man-made island as a sort of tropical Atlantis, and it’s not long before you’re picturing it tipping into the water, east side first. Miami Beach is profoundly imbalanced: intensively developed shopping malls and hotel towers on one side and schools, parks, and bungalows on the other. Most visitors never venture into the western residential districts, but these provide a welcome respite from the tourist scrums. For a decent latte, try the boutique roastery Panther Coffee, whose name is a tribute to Florida’s state animal, and where tattooed baristas pull small-batch roasted espressos and extol the virtues of their $14,000 BKON, a vacuum-based machine with which Panther is pioneering high-quality iced coffee—vital work in a city as reliably hot and sticky as this.

 

 

Hipster-style coffee is gaining ground, but Miami is still overwhelmingly a cafecito town. The Cuban espresso—dark, strong, and sugary-sweet—is served from walk-up windows, or ventanitas, all over town, for a fraction of the price of a single-origin cup. The afternoon coffee break is such an integral part of Miami life that there’s even an officially designated “Cafecito Time”: 3:05 p.m., a play on the city’s 305 area code.

With your coffee, a Cuban snack: a ham and cheese croqueta, perhaps, or a sugary puff-pastry pastelito. Though the Spanish-speaking population today hails from all over Latin America, Cuban culture retains a strong hold on Miami society. In Little Havana, exiles still gather to talk Castro and communism over lunch at restaurants such as Versailles, long the unofficial HQ of Miami’s Cuban diaspora. In the afternoons, old timers gravitate toward Máximo Gómez Park, commonly known as Domino Park, where they sit four to a table, filling the air with Spanish-language banter and the snap of plastic tile against varnished tabletop. Down the road, Cuban-born tobacconists roll cigars using tobacco grown in Central America from Cuban seed; outside on Calle Ocho, Little Havana’s main drag, you might spot a 1950s Chevrolet seemingly straight from prerevolution Havana.

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