New generation of Miami coffee bars
07/03/2014 12:49 PM
07/03/2014 6:36 PM
It’s 2 p.m. and Karen Tuvia is on her second espresso macchiato of the day. Later on, she’ll probably have a cup of iced coffee, followed by a cup of French Press coffee.
“The coffee is so good it sends chills up my spine,” said Tuvia, 54, who runs Alaska Coffee Roasting in North Miami.
The café is among a growing number of locally owned coffeehouses, where baristas roast the beans in small batches, grind them on site, and in some cases, even test the water to determine its quality — all to brew the perfect cup of java.
Of course, Miami is not new to coffee. Its Cuban coffee bars, with their stand-up windows, cortaditos and café con leches, are a fixture on the corners of Calle Ocho and Flagler, long predating Starbucks.
But this is a new generation of coffee entrepreneurs, building their business by sourcing beans around the globe, serving homemade baked goods and working the social media networks. And in the case of one longtime Cuban spot, getting the Pilón just right.
“Miami is so diverse,” said Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop manager Belkis Pla. “Everybody makes it differently, but everybody drinks coffee.”
Alaska Coffee Roasting Co.
13130 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami
Everything is made in house, including the dough. While the café is big on coffee, it also serves up salads, pizzas and sandwiches. Tuvia, the owner, described the café as cozy and welcoming. She often stops to hug regulars, give them coffee suggestions and hosts public roastings.
Her brother Michael Gesser, 64, founder and CEO, runs the original location in Fairbanks, Alaska.
“I hated coffee until I had his coffee,” Tuvia said. “I thought coffee tasted like a dirty ashtray. Then I went to Alaska, and now I can’t stay away from our coffee.”
They use a fluid bed air roaster to roast the beans, which uses hot air instead of direct heat.
“We can precisely say, ‘I’m roasting these beans to 451 degrees Fahrenheit.’ It starts to cool immediately because it’s not sitting on a hot bed,” Tuvia said.
“The goal has always been to look for special coffees and treat coffee as a special product, like craft beer and wine,” Gesser said.
In addition to espresso, cold-brewed coffee and other coffee drinks, Alaska Coffee Roasting offers single-origin coffees brewed individually in a French Press. And for the baked goods, they buy a special Italian flour used in pizzas and pasta.
“We buy ‘00’ flour from Italy. We break down our espresso machine every night. Why? Because otherwise, you’re going to have a crappy cup of coffee,” Tuvia said. “We’re picky. That’s what makes us different.”
Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop
186 NE 29th St., Miami
Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop is known for its Cuban coffee. (The other coffee spots sell coffee beans from around the globe.) Like the others, the family-run business emphasizes the importance of a fresh grind and fresh coffee beans.
“All of the machines are the same, but you need to have the touch,” said manager Belkis Pla, 43, daughter of Jose Luis Pla, who took ownership of the restaurant in 2001. “It’s not just about getting into a pattern [of using the machines].”
The restaurant, which has been around for about 50 years, makes its coffee from premium Pilón Cuban coffee.
“[Making coffee] is the first thing we do in the morning,” she said. “We’re busy all day long — from the minute we open to the minute we close.”
Pla was first introduced to coffee as a young child in Cuba, where her grandfather owned a restaurant and bakery.
“I used to remember my grandmother putting coffee in my pacifier,” she said. “My father’s family was in the food business. It’s what he grew up doing. It’s what we grew up doing and what our kids do in the summer.”
Eternity Coffee Roasters
117 SE Second Ave., Miami
Chris Johnson saw a hole in the Miami market for a micro roaster and decided to fill it.
Johnson, who worked in investment banking for 12 years in Boston before starting an import company focused on trading Fair Trade coffee, opened the coffee shop in 2011.
Johnson chose downtown Miami because of its proximity to businesses and condos, and because of the availability and affordability of space for his micro roaster, called the San Franciscan Roaster, which looks like an antique locomotive with its brass fittings and red-enameled base.
Along with his business partner Cristina Garces, Johnson owns coffee farms in Colombia. Johnson refers to Garces’ father, Ernesto, as “the godfather of coffee growing,” planting his first tree in the volcanic mountains of Colombia 60 years ago.
Johnson, 43, said his shop is focused on the science behind growing, roasting and brewing coffee. Even the smallest details matter: Johnson measures the water’s hardness and adjusts it for espresso and pour-overs.
“I look for fruited notes and acidity,” he said. Eighteen hours is the key to his cold brew. He filters it through cotton to eliminate acidity and bitterness.
Cloud Perez, a barista, said she was a coffee nerd without the experience when she started working there.
“Every time someone comes in, it’s like an experience,” she said. “(People are) used to it on the West Coast. Here, people expect a cortadito or a colada. We’re kind of purists when it comes to coffee.”
Miami, Johnson said, is growing up.
“We’re surrounded by condos and businesses,” he said. “I’d like to see a lot more roasteries down here. Downtown has a big future.”
Eternity also sells single-origin coffees, meaning the beans come from one region or farm, on its website and at Whole Foods.
2390 NW Second Ave., Wynwood
1875 Purdy Ave., Miami Beach
Joel Pollock and his wife Leticia moved to Miami from Portland, Oregon, and opened Panther Coffee in December 2010 during Art Basel. Since then, they’ve opened a second location in Miami Beach, expanded into grocery stores, restaurants and hotels, and are working on opening third and fourth locations.
They chose Miami because it was lacking in coffee roasters.
“It was the only American city that didn’t have that,” said Joel Pollock, 42. “Long before Wynwood became something and before people thought it was cool, it was a good location. It developed so fast. It blew us away.”
Panther roasts its coffee beans on-site and sells pastries from local bakers. The East Coast espresso is its No. 1 seller, and the cold brew is also popular year-round.
“Everybody talks about our cold brew,” said Leticia, 29. Their secret? Let it sit for nine hours at room temperature. It’s about the time, not the grind.
“You could [brew it] in a mason jar,” Joel Pollock said. “You could even [brew it] in a bucket.”
Pasión del Cielo
100 Giralda Ave., Coral Gables
8915 SW 72nd Pl., Miami
Choices are what drive people to Pasión del Cielo. Customers choose the bean — Jamaican, Costa Rican and Brazilian, to name a few — and the drink.
“You can taste the difference,” said director of operations Fernanda Salinas, 26. “Each type of coffee bean is ground in its own grinder.”
The company has a Coral Gables and a Dadeland location, and is opening a third in Midtown, 3301 NE First Ave., in about two weeks.
Coral Gables resident Ana Maria Rego wasn’t a big coffee drinker until a Starbucks opened up in the hotel where she works. Rego, who goes to Pasión del Cielo a few times a month, grew up drinking the occasional café con leche but now says she doesn’t feel right without her cup of coffee at her desk in the morning, usually a white mocha with whipped cream.
“If I don’t have my cup of coffee, I’m a little crazy,” she said. “The reason I like Pasión del Cielo is because it tastes better.”
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