September 29th marks National Coffee Day, as well as the date that KRUPS USA, the maker of coffee and espresso machines, will announce the winners of its annual Best Brew Awards. This is the fifth year of the national competition and five Miami spots have been nominated: Eternity Coffee Roasters, Panther Coffee (all three locations), Café Demetrio, Versailles, and Segafredo L'Originale on Lincoln Rd. A winner is picked in each of the thirteen featured U.S. cities, and you can visit the brand's Facebook page to cast your vote. Participants may vote as often as once per day from now till the 29th. Just think of all the coffee you can sample from now till then...
The goal of the competition is to highlight the best local coffee shops in each city and to let the general public get involved in the voting process. Eternity Coffee Roasters in downtown Miami has won the title the past two years, while in 2012 the winner was Tinta Y Café, and before that, News Café on Ocean Drive.
Miami's list of nominees are as diverse as the city's inhabitants, proving that while some prefer an artisan experience starring globally sourced beans roasted in small batches (Panther, Eternity), others like a more straightforward approach when it comes to their cortadito or café con leche (Versailles). And then there are those who favor a traditional Italian style espresso or cappuccino in lieu of Cuban coffee (Segafredo L'Originale).
Arguably the lesser known contestant among the bunch is Café Demetrio in Coral Gables. Demetrio's point of differentiation, if you will, is its commitment to maintaining a coffee house culture similar to one that's existed in certain European cities for centuries. Though there are much fewer today, in parts of Europe you can still find elegant coffee houses that are hubs for sharing poetry, politics, music and ideas. In some, chess is played, and this is what initially lured Demetrio Piña to open such a place in South Miami. The avid chess player came to Miami in 1988 from Venezuela to study business and wanted to open a café that would be different from the popular Cuban cafeterias.
Piña and his wife opened Café Demetrio in 1997 and became the first official coffee house in Coral Gables. Nearly eighteen years later, and with son Leo on board, you can still come here to enjoy a cup of coffee, listen to live music, chat with friends, do work, and of course, play chess. This is the first time the spot has been nominated for a KRUPS Best Brew Award, and Piña is very pleased. "Coffee comes first for us," he said. "People who come here know they'll get coffee that's 90 percent perfect, because no one is perfect."
Café Demetrio serves coffee from the popular Italian supplier Lavazza, because as Piña explains, people like it and he doesn't want to complicate things by making a sudden switch on them. His coffee house serves both Italian and Cuban style beverages, as well as more decadent options like caramel and mocha frappes. Patrons can also grab a soup, sandwich or salad.
Piña says he hasn't tried the brews of his "competitors", but he's sure they're good. What he's most proud of is the level of service one will receive at Café Demetrio, and the personal touch his place offers. " At our store, by the fourth visit we'll know your preferences and we'll make you want you want. We don't want to lose that personal touch here in the U.S."
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The Gables' first coffee house is in the process of remodelling and has a brand new kitchen. They may also get a second coffee machine which would enable them to offer beans from purveyors other than Lavazza. In the meantime, we're raising our cup of Jo to Miami's increasingly more vibrant coffee culture, and wishing all of the nominees plenty of luck.