In Cuba, people will often gather around ventanitas, or small windows, and serve coffee from their homes. The tradition encourages people to gather in their neighborhoods and make conversation. “Coffee shops here are austere and quiet, with people with headphones on, not talking,” says Daniella Senior, partner and director of operations at Washington’s recently opened Colada Shop.
The first Colada opened in August in Sterling, Va. The D.C. location (1405 T St. NW) opened Feb. 1 off 14th Street NW, on a busy block alongside Taqueria Nacional, Ice Cream Jubilee and Italian restaurant Lupo Verde. It wasn’t long before Colada was winning praise from Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema.
Senior and her partners, Juan Coronado and Mario Monte, wanted to change the District’s coffee shop culture. Their shop is a hybrid cafe and cocktail bar. The small and colorful space has a welcoming open window connecting the front patio and shop. It is named for the colada drink, which is made of four to six shots of sweetened espresso. “Sip slowly and talk, that’s the idea of the colada,” Coronado says. It’s customary to enjoy the drink while discussing politics. That makes it a natural for the nation’s capital. Coronado also recommends dunking toast in the drink.
I tried the cafe con leche, sweetened just a bit, and though I didn’t dunk, I enjoyed the rich, unique flavor. The shop also offers traditional Cuban quick bites such as empanadas and croquetas, sandwiches and desserts from chef Monte. In the afternoon Colada becomes a cocktail bar. A note above the kitchen says, “Share the Cuban way to start and end the day. Stop by or spend the times in between.” Among the offerings: eight cocktails for $8 each.
The day I visited I chatted with Jessica Carson, a customer who was reading on the patio. She’d been to Colada before and had tried a piña colada and mojito. She was surprised when she saw the place was also a coffee shop.
Nearby, Michelle King enjoyed a spinach and egg breakfast sandwich with her iced coffee. It was weeks before President Trump’s administration announced its tightening of travel policies to Cuba. King made a casual and lighthearted comment that now has an air of prescience: “Just in case they close us off from Cuba again,” she said, “we’ll still have this place.”