Hidden around a corner off busy Ponce de Leon Boulevard in Coral Gables, Cafe Curuba serves the best coffee in the neighborhood. Not only does it brew Panther Coffee, Miami's iconic bean, but Cafe Curuba also features Counter Culture, a North Carolina-based roaster that can't be found anywhere else in the city. On the menu, you'll see words like "single origin," "French press," and "clever" -- uncommon terminology for Miami coffee drinkers who might be more accustomed to seeing "colada," "cortadito," and (dare we utter it) "tall," "grande," and "venti."
But with one sip, any coffee novice or pro can certainly taste why places like Cafe Curuba are setting the Magic City's new coffee standards and why the Gables is lucky to have a place like this one.
Cafe Curuba opened two months ago despite owner Debbie Rabinovici signing a lease in January 2013. In February of last year, her health took a turn for the worse and she ended up in a local ICU diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare disease that left her paralyzed, intubated, and in a state of catatonia. Unsure of how her precarious state would affect the future business, she went back to the property's landlord, Alberto Jose Perez of AJP Ventures, and asked for her deposit back. However, Perez instead agreed to delay the commencement of her lease, offering the café a fighting chance. Today, Rabinovici credits him for pushing her to recovery and eventually opening the space.
Rabinovici is originally from Colombia, and the flavors of her homeland influence much of the shop, including the name. Curuba is a Colombian fruit referred to in the States as banana passionfruit. During morning hours, you'll find freshly baked pan de bono, a typical Colombian bread roll, but here it has a sweet guava filling -- the perfect hybrid for Miami. She also makes many of the baked goods from scratch, including buttery palmeras, raspberry muffins, biscotti, and her favorite, spinach soufflé.
When word spread to local businesses about the café, many requested sandwiches, which led to her creation of tempting combinations like chorizo with manchego cheese and olive oil, and avocado with hummus, all made with freshly baked bread. She also has some beverages for non-java drinkers, such as agua fresca with daily rotating flavors (watermelon is the most popular) and the classic Milo shake, intended for kids but a go-to treat for the Mercedes-Benz dealers down the street, she says.
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Around the small storefront, you'll see other treats for sale. Rabinovici makes her own granola blend and also roasts peanuts with two flavors: sweet 'n' spicy and honey. She also sells local Cao Chocolates, JoJo Tea, and honey from a supplier in Weston.
As for the coffee, Rabinovici gets samples sent to her from two reputable roasters and picks what's good. On this particular visit, she had two beans from Africa and two from Brazil. Sitting down with her, you'll learn quickly how coffee is just as complex as any wine. She'll tell you the best way to order your coffee based on the type of beans (the clever dripper cone offers more clarity and less residue than the French press), and you can discover why coffee from certain regions offers a unique taste -- priceless knowledge gleaned from many years in the business.
With one step inside, you'll see this place is unlike any other in the Gables. For that reason, and so many others, we hope it sticks around.