Saturday, August 19, 2017

Drinking Cuban coffee in the land of dinosaurs

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in NYC is a local treasure. The kids never get tired of marveling at the huge dinosaur replicas (the original bones are stored in the museum’s archives---they are too heavy for display) or watching 3-D movies to pomder the mysteries of the universe while listening to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s soothing baritone.



Earlier this month, another mom and I took our kids to AMNH to spend the day seeing all the IMAX movies and special exhibits.  I was surprised to see a new offering---CUBA! This ambitious exhibit not only explores the astounding biodiversity of Cuba, which in reality is an archipelago comprised of more than 4,000 islands, but it also looks at Cuban society and history in a way that illuminates the beauty and brilliance of the island’s culture and people.

There are huge installations of streetscapes in Havana replete with graceful arches, Spanish charm, and splashes of color everywhere. The presentation is so big and so rich that I wanted to walk in, jump on a bike and start riding.

Beyond biodiversity
AMNH’s extensive exploration of wetlands and intact coral reefs reminds us how big the world is---so vast and dynamic, in fact, that the term “biodiversity” doesn’t really capture the majesty of Cuba.  In Cuba, you can find the smallest bird in the world (the Bee Hummingbird); one of the largest rodents in the world, the Jutia Conga, which weighs on average 15 pounds; and reptiles that are so rare it seems that they exist in a parallel universe where the dinosaurs still roam free.

At one point during the exhibit, visitors stream into a room that makes it seem as if they are on the street in Havana. There is art everywhere, including poster art advertising music festivals and baseball wins, and photographs documenting every aspect of island life, from the opera house to the domino table. But most important for me, there was a complete replica of a café with little delicate ceramic coffee cups (alas, no coffee) and a vent with the smell of coffee wafting out. (Olfactory bliss for sure.)


Coffee is a “thing” in Cuba

Coffee, it turns out, is a Cuban “thing.” Practically everyone drinks it all the time. Everyone there drinks café Cubano, which is espresso sweetened with demerara---sugar that is in the process of being brewed. Some people also like to have a cortadito, a 50-50 mix of coffee and steamed milk, or perhaps they find themselves at work in the middle of the day sharing a colada with their workmates. (A colada is a large cup of espresso---3 to 6 shots---which is intended to be shared.)
At the heart of the Cuban coffee tradition is socializing, taking in culture and lingering for long periods after meals to have lively conversations and share ideas.  It’s a beautiful tradition.  I’d love to try Cuban coffee, but I don’t see a trip to Cuba in my future any time soon. However, lots of Americans who like Cuban coffee order from Artizan. You can also buy Café Bustelo at any supermarket or bodega. And if you want to learn how to make it right, check out this tutorial

Enjoy!
  


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