Adios, $1 colada and ventanitas boost Cuban coffee prices
We had the $1 colada in Miami and we had it all.
We walked around with pocket change and a conscious superiority that we could approach one of the countless Cuban coffee ventanitas in Miami and order a 4-ounce grail of that sweet, dark nectar of the Cuban gods.
For this meager sum, the waitress at the window gave us jet fuel in a small heat-resistant container that we could safely take with us from the hair salon to the meeting room, and share with friends and enemies. It was our birthright, our trophy, topped with a small tower of dice-sized cups to share.
But those days have quietly come to an end.
The average price of a colada at 20 of Miami-Dade’s most popular ventanitas, from Homestead to Hialeah, is now $2.06, double what it costs at many Cuban cafes like the restaurant. Sergio’s Cuban in 2019. The cheapest of them, a tie between El Palacio de los Jugos on Flagler Street and Epicentro de Hialeah, is now $1.50. The highest? Hialeah’s Molina’s Ranch charges a $4.05 Starbucksian.
“You will never see the colada under $2 in the near future. The dollar colada is over,” said Sergio owner CEO Carlos Gazitú, who last sold the dollar colada to his family chain in 2019.
Miami Herald government reporter Doug Hanks tweeted a photo announcing new, higher prices at La Criollita Cafetería in East Hialeah. Responses included everything from “escandalosa!” to the shooting of President Joe Biden. No one thanked Obama.
Miami’s current Cafecito Index registers High. But the end of the dollar colada is just the cafecito in the coal mine.
“NOW WE PAY ATTENTION”
It’s the smallest indicator of widespread cost increases – from paper products to cooking oil – affecting the restaurants behind these ventanitas.
“Coffee is not the real money,” Jesús Ovídez, 83, one of the last two owners of Chico’s restaurant, said on a recent afternoon.
“Do you want to know what real money is?” he asks.
He unrolls a CVS-length receipt from his pocket of purchases he made for the restaurant that morning. He stretches the receipt across the stainless steel kitchen counter of his stuffy West Hialeah restaurant, tracing the most expensive purchases with his finger.
Three of his restaurant’s flagship products soared: eggs ($22 to $85 a case), sugar ($17 to $24) and frying oil ($17 to $41 a jug).
“What money could we make with everything going on like this? »
Still, Ovídez prides himself on serving what he calls the most filling and cheapest breakfast in town at his 42-year-old restaurant on West 12th Avenue in Hialeah. A plate of two eggs (any style), white rice, fried sweet platanos maduros, is $6.55. He laments that he recently had to raise the price by 50 cents; inflation, says Ovídez, is a tangible problem.
Yet each plate is always accompanied by buttery Cuban toast and the first dose of Cuban coffee in a cafe con leche.
“Coffee hasn’t grown much,” Ovídez said. “It’s just that we’re paying attention now.”
On busy Calle Ocho, arguably the world’s best-known Cuban restaurant, customers at Cuban restaurants in Versailles haven’t seen a dollar colada in eight or nine years, said Felipe Valls Jr., who runs the empire of his father, Felipe Sr., began. Today, a colada costs $1.75.
“A colada, at a dollar, you lose money,” Valls said.
Valls’ company imports beans and roasts its own coffee in Miami, using it not only in its restaurants – including Versailles, La Carreta, La Palma and Casa Cuba – but selling it to grocery stores and restaurants, cafes and miami ventanitas.
Its cost for the unroasted green bean rose from $1 a pound to $2.10 a pound last year, Valls said. The end result means the cost of roasted whole bean coffee could have gone from $5 to $6.50 a bag.
Valls tries to protect his business from price swings by fixing a price with a coffee producer — most recently at $1.50 a pound — for six to eight months and storing unroasted beans in bulk. But even then, coffee growers have been reluctant to lock in a price for more than three months as labor and shipping costs fluctuate, thanks in part to rising fuel prices in the world.
Some of that cost was rolled into your long-lost $1 colada.
The rest? Paper.
EVEN SMALL CUPS
The price of the paper cup Sergio uses for his colada (it’s gone from less eco-friendly polystyrene) has risen 30% since 2019, Gazitúa said.
An overloaded supply chain means manufacturers in China and Latin America are even streamlining production by removing custom branding, such as Sergio’s logo and slogan, from mugs.
“We’ve never seen it so high,” Gazitúa said. “It’s getting to a point where cups are more expensive than coffee.”
The cafecito at the window has always been the “value game,” Gazitúa said, “a loss leader to get people in.”
“Everything got so stupid – that’s the only word I can think of. The prices are crazy,” Gazitúa said.
And those little plastic cups? They cost Sergio 10% more than last year, Gazitúa said. The price of sharing the coffee experience has risen for good.
“It’s the end of this era of the $1 colada,” Gazitúa said. “It’s a new world.”