Confession: I was a worldly transplant from a Northern suburb, sitting at a chic Miami café, circa 1990. I was ordering a cup of coffee and a croissant, when the waitress asked, “What kind of coffee?”
I looked up, confused.
She looked down — bemused — and said she’d bring me “an American.”
What I soon learned was that — back then and now — South Florida has had a robust international coffee culture. Soon, I was savoring silky cups of café con leche and craving the thimble-sized, crack-like cafecitos served at so many ventanas (meaning window in Spanish) on Miami street corners.
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But Gertrude’s (an homage to Gertrude Stein and her literati salon in Paris) was a Magic City wonder. Tucked between raw gallery spaces and vintage shops on Lincoln Road, the early-90s coffee bar was a hot spot for South Beach’s high society artists, sun-chasing Europeans and statuesque drag queens. Some patrons identified as all three.
Gertrude’s, like so many places back then, was eventually bitch slapped to its demise by a posse of Starbucks. But today, South Florida’s coffee scene — slow roasting over two decades — is, dare I say, brewing with eclectic, multi-ethnic, late-night possibilities. You’ll also spot several artisan tea houses with subtle hints of family-friendly flavor.
So, set down your double-mocha-soy-sugar-free latte, recycle that super-sized paper cup and follow your nose to Havana Coffee and Tea in downtown Miami. There, classic Latin blends are infused with smooth, hipster vibes (just picture a Cuban coffee shop with brick walls and plush sofas). Choose from your standard cortaditos and coladas to the more exotic yerba mates (a naturally caffeinated, antioxidant-rich tea popular in South America). You’ll also find a generous selection of wine and beer, as well as plenty of pastelitos to stave off the jitters.
For something more salacious, go down to Key West and ask for The All-Nighter at Better Than Sex, a deliciously naughty coffee and dessert bar. The signature beverage — one of several caffeinated libations served there — is described as “liquor with sexy spiced coffee in your choice of a caramel, white chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate rimmed coffee glass.” Make sure to top it off with a dessert; may I suggest a Peanut-Butter Perversion or a Tongue Bath Truffle, perhaps?
Fort Lauderdale’s Awa Na Kava is an enticing last-stop to top a night on “The Drive” (otherwise known as Wilton Drive, the hub of the gayborhood). There are plenty of ways to address your oral fixation here too. Cups of kava, a plant-based, anti-anxiety elixir, are served in coconut shells. You can also enjoy a bit of hookah pipe or grab the mic and serenade your date with some karaoke.
Farther north, Yaxche Tearoom, formerly Shaffer’s Tearoom, in downtown Delray Beach is not your grandmother’s olde tea shoppe. The-multicolored cottage — think: Mad Hatter meets Jimmy Buffet — is home to more than 100 teas. All their beverages are steeped in Goodwater®+ — Yaxche’s certified, 100 percent purified brand of water. Sip some home-brewed kombucha, a Japanese fermented tea favored by feel-good yogi types.
Weekends here get quite lively. This is when you’ll find a guitar player strumming on the porch or a patron’s dog lapping purified water. It’s all oddly reminiscent of South Beach’s early heyday — minus a few bedazzling drag queens.•