A Taste of Miami's Spicy New Coffee Culture

Miami’s Coffee Scene is Heating Up

I never thought I’d say this, but Miami’s got game. Coffee game, that is. And it’s as spicy as you would expect from the city known as “The Gateway to Latin America.” Also known as “Little Cuba,” “the Capital of Latin America” and the “Fifth Borough”—because so many New York Latinos move to Miami (22,000 per year to be exact)—don’t be surprised when damn near every coffee shop here has ties to our Latin American neighbors to the south.  

For example, All Day MIA, one of city’s hottest new cafés is Cuban owned.. The beans at Per’la Coffee Roasters, an up-and-coming roaster out of South Miami, are roasted by a Colombian. And leading the charge for South Florida speciality coffee pioneers, Panther Coffee, you’ll find a Brazilian at the helm. Some serious serious Latin spice in Miami’s coffee scene, I’d say. 

And no, we’re not just talking about those Cuban cafecitos that you’ll find at the ventanitas on every other corner. You know, the ones serving up the all familiar Cuban and Colombian canned coffee brands, Cafe Bustelo and Pilon. Why, well, sometimes you just don’t want a coffee that tastes like you’re drinking it out of a chimney. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld would say. 

Except that there is, because there’s this new trend happening all over the globe. You may have heard of it: it’s called speciality coffee, third-wave coffee, or as the haters like to call it, hipster coffee. And, as it seems, no other major American city has managed to neglect this trend as much as Miami has. 

Until recently of course, when players like Panther Coffee have paved the way for a slew of up-and-comers. Among the already-popular All Day cafe in the Park West neighborhood of downtown, other South Florida shops like Perl'a, EternityCuruba, Alaska, Pasión del Cielo and Switchbox in Fort Lauderdale are also starting to catch fire.

All Day's neon green menu has become a focal point of Miami's burgeoning coffee scene.

All Day's neon green menu has become a focal point of Miami's burgeoning coffee scene.

What is Miami Doing Differently?

Though unique to the speciality coffee industry is pretty much everything that these Miami coffee slingers are doing. You’d think, in this first-class floating metropolis known as the Magic City, that they’d be riding on the backs of other coffee cities like New York and San Francisco. But they’re not. Miami, a mini Latin America, is getting inventive. And they're doing to while paying tribute to their homeland, and their neighbors. 

Let’s start with All Day for example. In just about one year, they’ve managed to garner quite the reputation, earning themselves a National award from Eater for best new coffee shop, and getting nominated for a Sprudgie for best new cafe. Rightfully so, their coffee shop is an Instagrammer’s paradise. But more importantly, Ramos, formerly of Panther Coffee, is killing it as a Cuban female business owner. Her, alongside Brazilian co-owner of Panther Coffee, Leticia Pollock, are using nostalgic Latin-American-inspired beverages, baked goods and tasty egg sandwiches to carve out their menus. 

Some Cuban inspired menu items that you’ll find on All Day’s food menu include a pan con croqueta sandwich (homemade smoked pork, gouda, gribiche sauce, and pickles all on Cuban sweet bread), Uncle Pong’s black beans (Cuban-style bean soup), and of course, empanadas. Ramos wanted her shop to be more than just a coffee shop, offering her customers of all backgrounds tasty egg-centric sandwiches too. 

At Panther, they serve two different blends of espresso to spark conversation: west coast and east coast. Husband and wife duo Joel and Leticia Pollock offer these two blends to pay tribute to their original home out west in Portland, and to their new South Florida home. In the west coast blend, you will taste brighter, sweeter and more citrusy notes. And in the east coast, like they’ve liked it for many years in Miami, this blend boasts a heavier body, is chocolatier, and finishes perfectly sweet. 

Also served at Panther, and one thing you are seeing a lot more of in coffee shops, is Cascara. Known as the outer husk of the coffee cherry—or as the direct translation explains, the masking— Cascara is being used for teas, lemonades and in this case, a sweet simple syrup. When at the shop, go for something ultra local like their cascara cortado. In this guy, they reduce their cascara tea to a syrup and add it to their cortado (nearly equal parts espresso and lightly steamed milk served in a Gibraltar glass). It’s like a taste of Spain, Cuba and Miami all in one. 

Panther's Coconut Grove location. All of their locations feature these orange chandelier. 

Panther's Coconut Grove location. All of their locations feature these orange chandelier. 

What has Taken Miami So Long? 

As you probably know by now, virtually every major city in America now has a speciality coffee scene. From New York to San Diego, and Seattle to…now, Miami. All corners of the country are now covered, and it just so happens that Miami, a city of nearly half a million people, came last. But why? I’m convinced there are a number of possible reasons. 

As far as coffee goes, with so many Latin-Americans living in Miami, a lot of them are used to their cafecito. They like it dark, nearly burnt and with loads of sugar. When you dark roast the coffee and add a generic sugar to it, often times it’s not going to matter what kind of coffee you’re drinking, as it will all taste the same. Also, when drinking your cafecito, much like in Italian coffee culture, you drink it fast, standing up and all throughout the day. So who’s to say this type of coffee drinker is going to sit-down in a cafe and order a latte for five bucks? After all, Miami is a very fast-paced city and for a long time, this type culture surrounding coffee has never really been a thing. 

Another one of my theories is that this could be a generational thing. Frequenting these new Miami coffee shops—or even in some cases, starting them—are the second and third generation Latin Americans. It is their parents generation that is used to throwing on the sturdy ol’ Moka Pot when family is in town. The younger generations however prefer hitting the town, showing their family the local coffee scene and engaging with the community. What’s cool about what is happening in Miami is that these new customers have been drinking coffee with there family since they were kids. Really, this stuff isn’t new to them. The culture, the shop, the trendiness, however, is. 

A Moka Pot on display at Cafe don Pepe in Trinidad, Cuba.

A Moka Pot on display at Cafe don Pepe in Trinidad, Cuba.

What does it Mean for Big coffee Brands?

Blue Bottle from the Bay Area is already there. Cafe Grumpy from Brooklyn is coming. Intelligentsia from Chicago is around the corner. And Counter Culture from Durham is even opening up a training center here. But why did it take this long? And why do these major speciality coffee players seem to be dropping anchor in Miami all at the same time? 

It’s almost like a new law was passed allowing more coffee businesses to open up shop. After all, 

Miamians have been drinking coffee since before Miami was known as the capital of South America. But the biggest question is, will these big brands alter their approach to new markets and cater to the rooted coffee preferences of Miamians? 

Or, will these brands serve the same coffee they’ve been serving at their other locations?

 In an ideal, culturally connected and diverse society, these brands will at the very least feature a few different locally-inspired drinks or menu items. For example, I would love to see Panther’s cascara cortado take off and become popular in other cities. Or perhaps a tourist visiting Miami falls in love with a shop’s spin on a Cuban cafecito with caramelized sugar and candied orange. 

Try these drinks and maybe you’ll get a history lesson of not just Miami, but Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Haiti, or even Jamaica. In Miami, the possibilities of using coffee to make people more culturally aware are damn-near endless. And that is precisely why I think this influx of speciality coffee in Miami will be good for not just the city, but the entire speciality coffee industry. 

Specialty coffee in miami is good for industry

So yes, specialty coffee in Miami will work. The coffee will adapt to the locals, and the locals will adapt to the coffee. Speciality coffee brands in Miami, where for so long the concept of “speciality” coffee seemed so foreign, will be a change that is welcome. It’ll be this new and beautiful, mutually beneficial relationship between Miamian and coffee. While it may seem weird at first to many locals venturing outside their comfort zone that is Bustelo and Pilon, it will catch on. As will it for the out-of-towners visiting from all over the world, getting a small, sweet taste of Latin America, one sip of coffee at a time.

To read more about Miami's coffee scene, check out Zagat's article here. Or, if you have more you'd like to share with us, go ahead and do so in the comments below. And as always, don't forget to join the Global Coffee Counter community here