"I don't know why people give me coffee mugs as gifts", my mother would say. "I don't drink coffee out of mugs." Like practically anything that had to do with food, or in this case beverage, my mother was irascible and easily incensed. No, she did not drink coffee out mugs. She drank it out of cups with saucers. Demi-tasses for espresso, regular sized for cafe con leche. At some point, maybe influenced by my affectations or by some trip to France, oversized cups. Though possibly not, I can't remember, since she never dipped her morning bread in cafe con leche like I do, a trait she said I inherited, genetically since he died before I was born, from her father.
Like so many other things I regret never having gotten around to asking her, I'll never know the reason for her mug aversion. Perhaps it was an American thing she found annoying or distasteful, and, to be fair, she also found a number of food habits from her native Cuba so, preferring the Spanish ways of her parents, just like she was equally vexed by other countries' ways, preferring Cuba's. Hers was a shifting chauvinism, and since that word is French, let me say she loved French food and was crazy for croissants
I can see, though, why how one drinks coffee was important to her because she was Cuban. We are a nation of coffee drinkers. So is the U.S., sure, but like our coffee our coffee culture is stronger. Long before the era of baristas, Cuban drank espresso, a custom we brought to Miami, where every Cuban coffee-shop, which we call cafeterias, has a street window for dispensing little cups of espresso or big ones of coladas, which are meant to be taken back to work and shared with colleagues in little paper cups.
Unlike espresso-bar fare, our espresso is served already sweetened. Some Cubans will add even more -- we come, after all, from a sugar-producing country. Ask for it without sugar and you will automatically be served packets of sugar substitute, under the assumption that you shun sugar for health or weight reasons. No one imagines you want to drink your coffee unsweetened.
And, in fact, you don't. Most Cuban coffee is roasted so dark it is bitter and of overwhelming acidity. Sugar is a necessity. Like elsewhere in America, Miami was invaded by Starbucks, except that the city already had an espresso (Cuban) culture with a different protocol. Once at a Starbucks I witnessed a Cuban lady say her latte was too light. The barista complied, adding another shot and then charging her for it. The lady was outraged. At a Cuban cafeteria they'll keep adding coffe or milk until you're satisfied, a policy that later Starbucks adopted on its own.
Although Starbucks came from Seattle's espresso culture and some cities already had barista spots before the chain invaded, most didn't. However, today in many cities Starbucks is the lowest common denominator, with many choices of locally roasted (Fair Trade, etc.) coffee emporia. Miami is no exception. In Miami, Cuban and other Latino hipsters drink their brew -- sometimes with no sugar! -- at espresso bars sometimes owned and run by Cuban and other Latino hipsters. They're good.
And elsewhere in the country such places, where the only Cuban/Latino is me when I walk in, they now serve cafe cubano -- espresso brewed with sugar -- and cafe con leche -- a concoction made with sugar and condensed and/or evaporated milk that I confess liking.
It all comes round. The coffee beverages I grew up drinking have entered the menu of the barista culture that flowed from the Northwest -- where coffee is religion, or maybe the income of an anarchist collective, no shit, I've been there, damn good. However, they don't serve cafe cubano or cafe con leche at Starbucks. Yet.