Starting your day with Christina Sarasola is a blast. She’s the Cuban woman behind the Alba’s Cuban Coladas Coffee Food Truck, and she has tons of energy. Amazingly, she says it’s not just because she drinks the espresso.
“I was born and raised in Miami; both of my parents are Cuban,” says Sarasota “I grew up drinking Cuban coffee. My parents would put it in my bottle. It is the silliest thing Cubans do. My mother says her mother did it, so that is what she did. Now I am officially wired!”
Cuban coffee is an experience. It’s not an ordinary coffee.
“I can’t find Cuban coffee beans here on Maui,” says Sarasota. “I have to ship them in from Miami. The beans are grown in South America–they used to be grown in Cuba, but not anymore. Anyway, the Cubans roast their coffee at a much higher temperature than most coffee beans to extract even more of the oils. It’s very concentrated. And the way Cubans prepare it is we sweeten it. It’s not like a bomb of sugar. It’s almost like the beans are so dried out it absorbs the sugar for a nice smooth finish. It’s sweet and smooth with no crazy bitter bite like a lot of other espresso has.”
In Miami, Sarasola says the coffee culture is a bit different.
“The name ‘Coloda,’ it comes from the word meaning to brew,” says Sarasota. “I serve it in this four-ounce cup with a stack of little shot glasses–the way they do it in Miami. There is always one employee that comes in with the Colada shots and you start the day in the office, kitchen or wherever, and everyone takes their shot of coffee. Then you do it again for lunch time, and then again at three.”
Just don’t expect her to subtract the sugar out of the equation. It’s an integral part of Cuban coffee.
“Serve this coffee with no sugar? I always say no,” she says. “We don’t serve it that way. We have a lot of people that come and they want black coffee. I have to say, first of all it’s not American coffee, it’s espresso. Second, it’s sweetened. We sweeten it. Most people are like, ‘okay, we will try it.’ And they love it! It’s a totally different style of drinking coffee. and because of the fact that it is so strong you don’t serve it in large portions.”
That’s true–her largest coffee here is served in a tiny cup, by usual standards. Forget the 16-ounce drink, that is not what this is about. Strong and concentrated, creamy and delicious, you won’t miss the larger size.
“My best seller is the Cortadito,” says Sarasola. “It’s two shots of the sweetened Cuban espresso topped off with a little bit steamed evaporated milk. It’s nice and creamy and this small cup here is like having a large cup of coffee.”
Alba is a family name, and her inspiration.
“My company name, Alba’s, comes from my grandmother,” says Sarasola. “I was the first girl grandchild and she couldn’t wait to spoil me. She was an excellent cook. She passed away from Alzheimer’s but before she lost her memory, she bestowed her recipes to me. At the time I couldn’t even cook toast–I burned toast. So we sat down together I got all her recipes down. A month later, she couldn’t cook anymore. I did it just in time. Now I’m using her recipes! It’s all in honor to her.”
On Tuesdays she prepares empanadas. She makes chicken, beef or guava. Sometimes all three, but the day I visited she made beef.
“Today we have seasoned ground beef empanadas,” she says. “It’s ground beef called a Cuban sofrito. It’s a base of onions, garlic and peppers, and a little tomato sauce. It has a lot of herbs and spices. Cuban food is not spicy but it has a lot of spices and ingredients, like I use oregano, parsley, cumin and paprika. Bold flavor, slowly simmered together, and I add some peas. The dough is a basic flour dough and then I fry them. I feel like when you bake them it dries out the meat inside. Frying them keeps it nice and juicy.”
While I was there picking up my coffee, she sold her last empanada. It was before 10am, and people were lining up early to get them. She also makes arroz con pollo, and a few other Cuban dishes.
Find Alba’s Cuban Coladas at the Kahului Small Boat Harbor on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8am until they sell out.
Get updates on the menu at https://www.facebook.com/albascubancoladas