We, the long suffering Cuban coffee lovers of Miracle Mile, prayed for a cafecito miracle.
Instead, the coffee gods have sent us a Starbucks “ventanita.”
If you’re prone to fits of white-hot internet rage, especially about cultural appropriation, this seems like a fine time to close your laptop, brew some tea and ponder a Buddhist koan to clear your mind.
For the rest of us there’s this: Starbucks has a new Coral Gables location with what it’s calling a “ventanita,” where they sell Starbucks versions of Cuban cortaditos and café con leche at Stabucks prices.
This location opened three weeks ago next to the Miracle Theater, opposite the corner where it stood for 21 years (it was the oldest Starbucks in Florida). People quickly noticed there is something different about this Starbucks and took their observations to the thoughtful cauldron of the internet.
The bright, clean, lovely new Starbucks sports the first walk-up coffee window on Miracle Mile, the stretch of Coral Way between Le Jeune and Douglas roads. The Mile had been notably lacking one of Miami’s ubiquitous ventanitas where one can walk up for hot, sweet, powerful Cuban coffee after a fine meal or a night out.
The first the city granted? To Starbucks.
And Starbucks ran with the concept. A chalkboard outside the wide, sliding windows welcomes coffee lovers to “la ventanita” (quotes theirs). And below it, these options:
Cortadito: “Our signature espresso roast topped with steamed milk with some sweetness and a little bit of foam.” Cost: $3.15 (plus tax).
Café con leche (complete with accent): “Our signature espresso roast with some velvety smooth steamed milk and sugar.” Cost: $3.35 for a tall, $3.65 for a grande.
And below them both: a nitro cold brew coffee.
If you’re Cuban or from Miami, the words tall or grande in front of café con leche — and on the same menu as a nitro cold brew — is enough to give you a caffeine headache.
At a true Cuban ventanita, you always know what you’re getting. I’ve already been clear that there only four drinks you should ever be able to order at a real Cuban ventanita: a cafecito, a cortadito, a café con leche and a colada to share. (Spoiler alert: Anything like a non-fat latte with a caramel drizzle earns an immediate disqualification.)
At Versailles, a true cortadito will run you $1.85, an even $2 if you want it with evaporated milk. (Hint: you do.) A café con leche will set you back $2.50.
The Starbucks cortadito I ordered was enormous. It came in an 8-ounce “short” paper cup, and when I checked my receipt, it rang up as a double macchiato with one pump of white mocha syrup and three packets of raw sugar.
The café con leche rang up as a triple macchiato with two pumps of white mocha and four sugars.
Want to know the worst of it? These Starbucks concoctions are actually pretty good.
By that, I mean not that these are good interpretations of a café con leche or a cortadito. Rather, I mean that they taste good if you take them completely out of context.
Let’s say your friend was treating you to Starbucks. She asks you what you want. You say: Oh, whatever is fine, and she returns with a short, white chocolate mocha double macchiato. You sip it, make a yummy sound and thank her for her magnanimous gift.
As a short, white mocha double macchiato served from a walk-up window? Delicious. As a Cuban cortadito served out of a ventanita? Catastrophe.
It makes me sad that a tourist might come to Miami, see this ad for a cortadito, and walk away thinking this typical Starbucks beverage — albeit tasty — is anything like a Cuban cortadito.
And a real cortadito at a true ventanita in this part of Coral Gables is hard to come by. Vicky Bakery is a hearty half-mile hike directly south on Salzedo Street. It’s a mile car ride to Tinta y Cafe (which had to fight residents for the right to build its own ventanita two years ago, and then had to settle for limited hours). And it’s a mile and a half to my personal reigning champion of the cortadito, Versailles.
That said, locals love the new window.
“It’s awesome. It’s convenient, and you can get your things fast,” said Elizabeth Jimenez, who works in Coral Gables and stopped at the Starbucks window with her friend, Brandon Whitice, and his German Shepherd puppy, Rayna, to whom the nice barista served a cup of water and a Puppuccino (a short of whipped cream).
Jeanette Castro grabbed an iced coffee on her way to city hall and hadn’t even noticed the Starbuckized Cuban drinks. “Don’t get me wrong, I like being inside, but the window is so convenient,” she said as she walked and talked.
When I visited Tuesday, I happened upon the restaurant’s district, general and store managers in a meeting. They weren’t authorized to speak on the record and directed me to corporate. (Emails and voicemails have been left.) But they were all excited that I at least found the drinks tasty.
All of them said they tried to be respectful of Miami’s deep coffee culture, and that their cortadito and café con leche are meant to be “an homage” to their Cuban counterparts, not to emulate them. This is the first and only of Starbucks’ 27,000 locations to sell them.
“It’s not a cortadito. It’s a Starbucks cortadito,” one told me.
You wouldn’t go to Versailles and order a Unicorn Frapuccino, he added.
Fair enough. And you wouldn’t go to Starbucks expecting a real cortadito.