The Cuban Bean
Cuban coffee, most commonly referred to as café Cubano, is one of the most well-known coffees around the world. The signature taste of the Cuban bean comes from a unique combination of the climate, altitude and soil of the Sierra Maestra Mountains, located in the eastern side of the island, where most of Cuba’s coffee is grown in small farms. With the rich soil and sub-tropical climate of the Sierra Maestra region, the coffee beans are able to grow organically, without the need of any artificial fertilizers or pesticides.
With limited to no access to advanced farming technology, Cuban coffee farmers continue to use the same traditional farming methods for the last 100 years. The beans are carefully selected by hand and mules are used to transport the coffee beans for processing. The coffee beans are passed through the farmer’s hand at every stage of the cultivation process. Many say, it is because of this level of care, it remains to be one of the most precious commodities in Cuba.
Coffee in Cuba
In contrast to the Western world, coffee is considered a luxury in Cuba. Due to government restrictions and shortages, Cubans typically have access to coffee through monthly rations. Therefore, coffee is consumed in small amounts in little cups called ‘tacitas’, typically brewed at home. Espresso makers, known as ‘Moka’ pots, are a household essential. ‘Tacitas’ of ‘Café Cubano’ are often sold from Cuban homes through window shops called ‘ventanillas’, to locals and tourists. In Cuba, the moment of drinking ‘una tacita de cafe’ is one to savor and share with your loved ones.
How Cuban Coffee is Made
Believe it or not a tacita of Café Cubano will be enough to suffice your coffee fix. Packed with bold flavor and sweet undertones, this smooth brew unites all coffee lovers alike. Cuban coffee is typically drunk with Demerara sugar, which gives the café that significant caramel-like sweetness. It is usually whipped into a thick frothy paste and layered on top of a freshly brewed cup of coffee. The paste is known as Espuma due to its whipped consistency.
Where to Find the Best Coffee in Havana
Are we making your mouth water yet? Good. We have a list crafted by our own Cuba experts to the best coffee hotspots in Havana:
- Café El Escorial
- Café Bahia
- Café Fortuna Joe
- Belview Arts Café
- El Dandy
- Café Galeria Mamaine
- Cuba Libro
- Any Cuban household- through ventanillas, window shops!
You’ve arrived in Cuba! Now, how do you get to Havana City? Do you take a risk and look for a taxi when you arrive or do you play it smart and save money?
I’m a fan of saving money the smart way, so I took the Shuttle Transfer hosted by Cuba Travel Services. It’s the best way to get into the city. They speak English (thank god) and are super friendly. They also allow you to take a free checked bag on the shuttle (a lot of taxis or buses will charge extra for this). For $30.00 they meet and greet you at the airport and drop you off at your hotel or casa particular.
The best part is that you can order your shuttle pick up on-line and pay in US dollars. This will save you from having to exchange USD in the long line at the airport. In most cases you can get a better exchange rate at your hotel or an exchange center. As a bonus they gave me a free bottle of cold water! Don’t under estimate how hot it is in Cuba, a cold water was just the thing I needed to cool me down.
Ready to hit the town? View the Shuttle Transfers here.
Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow and although it’s not celebrated in Cuba, it has become a tradition for many Cuban Americans in the US.
Cuban or not, chances are your plans include cooking a Thanksgiving meal and rather than doing the same thing you did last year why not add a little Cuban spice and flavor? With that in mind we’d like to share with you the Cuban turkey recipe. Hope you like it and if you try it let us know what you think.
3 heads of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon of black pepper
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of dry oregano
2 tablespoon of salt (or to taste)
2 cups of fresh lime juice
1 cup of white wine
6 ounces of orange juice (concentrated)
1 turkey (15-16 pounds)
Crush the peeled garlic and place in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper and oregano to season. Add the lime juice, white wine and orange juice. Whisk until all ingredients are mixed.
Pierce the turkey breasts, legs and thighs with a sharp knife forming holes for the mix to enter. Pour the mixture over the entire turkey and into the holes. Stuff the crushed garlic heads inside the holes. Cover the turkey and refrigerate overnight to marinate.
Preheat oven to 325° F.
Roast turkey until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the turkey reaches 180° F, this should take about 5 hours. Baste the turkey every 30-40 minutes. Once the breast is golden, cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil to prevent burning.
Total Preparation time 13 hours 40 minutes (preparation 40 minutes, cooking time 5 hours, marinate 8 hours)
When I tell people what I do and where I work (Cuba Travel Services) their first response is “Wow, I didn’t think people from the US were allowed to go to Cuba!” Most people don’t even think it can be done, but like many questions the answer is often “it depends”. On what? Well, it depends on the purpose of your travel. Then of course a series of probing questions follow because it’s complicated and it really does depend.
So instead of telling you about all the categories and regulations which OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Controls) operates under when it comes to traveling to Cuba, my goal today is to break it down and focus on only one form of travel- general vs. specific or students vs. alumni.
The main question is: Are you a student who’s getting school credits when you travel to Cuba? If the answer is yes then you wouldn’t need a license at all from OFAC because this falls under their General Category. If the answer is no and you are alumni and no credits will be granted then the association would have to travel under a specific license (often a people-to-people license) and this has to be granted by OFAC. The process takes 3-4 months and the sample itinerary provided to OFAC needs to be bullet proof, meaning that it has to clearly demonstrate that “meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba” will take place.
So that answers the question, as a student you are better off as long as you get school credit from your institution because there is no drawn out process. If you’re part of an alumni group; however, you now would have to travel under a license whether it’s granted to your own alumni association or another organization. I think of this license as an umbrella, you can’t travel to Cuba from the US without an umbrella (it doesn’t have to be your umbrella but you have to have one).
For more information please refer to OFAC’s COMPREHENSIVE GUIDELINES FOR LICENSE APPLICATIONS TO ENGAGE IN TRAVEL-RELATED TRANSACTIONS INVOLVING CUBA at http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba.pdf
When I was little I always enjoyed taking famous songs and adding my own lyrics. I would change them so that they would relate to what I was experiencing at the moment. My family always found it amusing so I figured you might too (although I am a bit out of practice!) If you plan on reading this blog I would recommend signing it instead, otherwise it won’t make much sense. Hope you like it!
My Favorite Things
Well lit cigars and cold served mojitos
Baseball games and Pete Escovedo
Cha cha cha dancing and shekere shells
These are a few of my favorite things
Rumba music at the Malecón
Clear water beaches and more Cuban rum
Bold colored murals and Spanish flair
These are a few of my favorite things
When the air’s cold
When the mood is dull
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad
Today I was reading about National Geographic’s Photography Exhibition, which is currently being held in Old Havana. For those of you who’ve been, it’s easy to understand why this would make sense as Cuba is to photographers what a candy store is to a child.
As I was thinking about and viewing the top 50 photographs rated by National Geographic I realized how lucky one must be to capture the perfect moment – one that compels action, creates emotion and it’s universally understood and felt. I’m not suggesting luck is all a person needs because talent is also a huge factor, but it’s not always up to the photographer to capture that magic that can only be captured in that very moment, in that very place, in that very specific instant.
For example, one of my favorite images is titled “Lion Profile” and it was submitted by photographer Boza Ivanovic. Although, lions are already a magnificent creature, the photograph really captures a very deep expression on the lion’s face. There’s almost something human about it and it’s the type of image that can make you cry because it’s so beautiful.
Tools today have tried to make everyone a photographer and the truth is that there are some pretty inspiring images that even my 10 year old cousins take. However, one must be very fortunate still to capture not an image but a moment. Although I envy those that can capture these moments, I am also thankful because they are able to share them with the world in the first place.
Did you know that exactly 91 years ago today the “Queen of Salsa”, Celia Cruz was born in Havana, Cuba? Her voice, enthusiasm and passion for music continue to inspire millions around the world. Happy Birthday Celia, you will always be remembered!