From the Cuban cafecito to artisan coffee houses grinding exotic beans on the spot, Miami is as synonymous with coffee as it is with long stretches of sandy beach.
KRUPS USA, the maker of coffee and espresso machines, recently singled out five Miami spots for its KRUPS Best Brew Awards 2013. The national competition collects votes on the company’s Facebook page to select winners in several cities across the country.
Nominees are composed of last year’s winners, an internal poll and write-in votes from fans to “uncover favorite local brews,” says KRUPS.
Voting ends on April 12; winners will be announced April 15.
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Miami’s nominees are unique, diverse and infused with Latin flavor. They include Pasion Del Cielo (Dadeland location); Eternity Coffee Roasters; Versailles (restaurant and pick-up window); European Corner; and Tinta y Café, last year’s winner.
“We definitely want to reclaim our title,” said Carlos Santamarina, who runs Tinta y Café with his cousin, Malu Statz.
Located between Little Havana and Brickell, Tinta draws an eclectic clientele. Santamarina said his late father, Ralph, and his aunt first opened the café eight years ago with a concept to “elevate la ventanita,” the traditional Cuban coffee window experience.
Tinta uses a local brew called Tu Café, distributed by a company in Doral. The café also serves freshly made sandwiches, salads, soups and daily specials.
“We get a lot of good feedback from customers,” Santamarina said. “They say our colada is amazing.”
That’s a big claim, especially with Versailles in the running. Popular among the Cuban exile community, Versailles has been a Miami landmark on Calle Ocho for more than 40 years.
Coffee here is simple and to the point, sometimes combined with a little or a lot of milk to make a cortadito or café con leche.
Pasion del Cielo, on the other hand, offers 11 different types of beans, including hard-to-find Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica and Hawaiian Kona coffee.
Each type of bean displays a number on a scale of 1 to 4, which measures how much body, flavor, aroma and acidity to expect. “Our motto is ‘The perfect choice every time,” said Fernanda Salinas, director of operations for Pasion del Cielo.
She is the owner’s daughter and the artist behind those cool, hand-painted lamps that have become signature artwork at both locations. She calls them Fesali lamps and sells them for $250 each.
Passion opened its first store in Coral Gables in 2009 and expanded into its Dadeland-area location last year. Its owners are planning to open a third spot in Midtown in about three months.
The family business model has also proven successful for Italian-born Carlos Tassi, who moved his family from Venezuela to Miami 21 years ago. A year later, he opened European Corner in South Miami. Customers rave about the bakery’s homemade Venezuelan arepas, cachitos, tequeños and cachapas.
“We take care of our customers, know them by name. And that totally makes a difference,” said Maria Carolina Tobenas, Tassi’s daughter.
Their coffee is a combination of Colombian, Brazilian and Venezuelan beans, which she said they brew on the spot “Italian style.”
On another side of town, Eternity Coffee Roasters in downtown Miami has passerby shooting photos of its impressive San Franciscan Roaster.
Eternity is an example of a “third wave coffee” roaster – independent, artisan coffeehouses that brew specialty beans. They serve and sell coffee from around the world, including Colombia, Ethiopia, Panama and Burundi.
Chris Johnson traded his career as an investment banker to become a coffee trader, fell in love with the seed-to-cut process and teamed with a farmer in Colombia to launch Eternity, which opened its doors in Miami in 2011.
“Zagat ranked us #9 among the top 50 coffee houses in the country,” Johnson said. “We work really hard on the quality.”
The coffee spots also pride themselves on their ambience. Tinta, for instance, has a living room vibe, with wicker furniture and dozens of books.
“People think it’s crazy that we don’t have Wi-Fi, but there’s a reason for that,’’ Santamarina said. “When you come here, we want you to escape, get away from work and the Internet.”