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Cuban to custom roast, these java joints start your day off right



Getting your caffeine fix in the Florida Keys means more than just strolling into a Starbucks and ordering up a venti Frappuccino. From Islamorada to Key West, walk-up windows at Cuban cafes and mom-and-pop shops that roast their own beans offer a sense of time and place that no chain store could ever duplicate. Institutions such as Sandy’s, Cuban Coffee Queen and Five Brothers honor the Cuban culture of Key West, offering up high-test brews with no fuss, no muss. Step up to the window and order a colada, an espresso-style shot to share, or a café con leche, a Latin latte with steamed milk. Coffee houses like Baby’s, Cafe Moka and Midway Cafe take pride in roasting their own blends with fun names like Hemingway's Hair of the Dog and Conch Republic Coffee. For the health- and earth-conscious individuals, Lush Bar and Help Yourself both serve up organic and Fair Trade roasts with specialty sweeteners and milks to meet all dietary needs. The Coffee Plantation and the Original Coffee and Tea House both provide a cool oasis to sit a spell, read the newspaper and catch up on the local gossip. Match one of these ten java joints to your mood, and start your day off right.


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At the halfway point between Miami and Key West, the appropriately named Midway Cafe offers breakfast, lunch and a full coffee bar. This funky little spot in Islamorada offers a convenient fuel-stop on the way to Key West or a regular breakfast spot for guests at the local hotels. They make scrumptious pastries and breads in their full bakery (including Manny & Isa's Key lime pie) and roast all of their coffee beans in-house. Those with diet restrictions will love their extensive menu filled with vegetarian, vegan, sugar-free and gluten-free dishes. Place your order at the counter and then grab a colorful stool facing the large window. You can also get a head start on your souvenir shopping in their gift shop filled with works by local artists. For ultimate indulgence try the Ghirardelli White Chocolate and Caramel Frappe.

Recommended for Coffee because: This funky little cafe, bakery, coffee house and gift shop is conveniently located halfway between Miami and Key West.

Claudia's expert tip: Headed out for a fishing charter in Islamorada? Grab a sandwich or wrap to go.

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Near mile marker 15 just north of Key West, keep watch for the sign with a wide eye, reminiscent of a Santeria talisman. Baby's Coffee is a must-stop on the way in and out of Key West. They've been roasting and serving up some of the best brews in the Florida Keys for over 20 years. Try their potent Sexpresso, a strong dark roast that is actually higher in caffeine than their other blends. You'll also find a nice selection of grab-and-go baked goods and sandwiches, many with a healthy twist. If all you want is a regular cup of Joe, choose from the self-serve coffees available that day. Peruse the small specialty store, and snag some of the different blends by the pound to take home. Located in an unassuming building on Saddlebunch Key, it's easy to miss. If you do, make the u-turn. You'll be glad you did.

Recommended for Coffee because: A must-stop on the outskirts of Key West, Baby's has been roasting the boldest brews in the Keys for over 20 years.

Claudia's expert tip: Order their coffee online by the pound with fun names like Key West Old Town Roast and Hemingway's Hair of the Dog. Roasted and shipped fresh on demand.

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Original Coffee and Tea House
Photo courtesy of Original Coffee and Tea House


A cool respite just off of Duval Street, this coffee and tea house is an inviting spot to sip and sit awhile with a friendly local vibe. Beat the heat with an iced coffee, latte, mocha or cappuccino, which won't get watered down thanks to the coffee ice cubes. Each day they offer a variety of three to four different brews--dark, light, medium roast, flavor and decaf. While they have a nice selection of baked goods, Lynn's delicious coffee cake is not to be missed. In the mood for ice cream? You won't be disappointed with the Emack & Bolio brand, which has been around since the 70s--free of hormones and dyes.

Recommended for Coffee because: A cool respite just off of Duval Street, this coffee house invites you to sit a while and catch up on the local gossip.

Claudia's expert tip: Feel like having something healthy? Try their all-fruit smoothies with no added sugar or ice.

Read more about Original Coffee and Tea House →


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Help Yourself Cafe
Photo courtesy of Lacey Marie Scee


Tucked away on a side street in Old Town, Help Yourself is a colorful natural food market and cafe in a re-purposed gas station. If you like your coffee organic with a wide variety of of milks and sweeteners that meet any dietary need, this is your Mecca. They serve a line of organic and fairly traded coffees by Sweetwater, a local Florida coffee roaster out of Gainesville. In the coffee bar, they have freshly made decaf and espresso, and a new "Daily Roast" brewed coffee each day. Everything can be made with your choice of organic milks: freshly made coconut milk, hemp milk, almond milk, soy milk, rice milk and whole milk. Organic flavoring syrups come in three great flavors--salted caramel, French vanilla, and hazelnut. To sweeten beverages, customers can choose from organic agave nectar, coconut palm sugar, Florida sugar, stevia and honey.

Recommended for Coffee because: If you like your coffee organic with a wide variety of milks and sweeteners that meet any dietary need, this is your Mecca.

Claudia's expert tip: Looking for coffee but not the caffeine? Try the Dandy Blend Latte--an instant herbal beverage with restorative dandelion root.

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Duval Street


Hidden at the back of Key West's Green Pineapple boutique on Duval Street, you'll find the organic cafe--date & thyme. A satellite of the larger store and cafe on Fleming Street, they offer coffee, fresh smoothies and juices bound to give you a shopping boost. They serve a line of organic and fairly traded coffees by Sweetwater, a local Florida coffee roaster out of Gainesville along with a wide variety of of milks and sweeteners that meet any dietary need. Visit their walk-up counter for a wide selection of tasty breakfast and lunch items to-go.

Recommended for Coffee because: Hidden at the back of Green Pineapple boutique, date & thyme offers a shopping boost with organic coffee, juice and smoothies.

Claudia's expert tip: While you're there, why not peruse the boutique's up-cycled items?

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Upper Keys
Cafe Moka
Photo courtesy of Cafe Moka

Looking for a pick-me-up on the road to Key West? Café Moka in Tavernier provides a touch of France with fresh quiche, pastries and coffee made with in-house roasted beans. The flavorful almond croissants get rave reviews and are often the first to sell out each day. Generous sandwiches on fresh baguette with smoked salmon and brie or prosciutto and arugula make the perfect light lunch. Sit inside next to the wide windows overlooking their courtyard, or dine al fresco at one of the outdoor tables. For dessert don't miss the macaroons imported from France or the gelato. Free WiFi is also available--just ask for the code.

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Coffee Plantation
Photo courtesy of Coffee Plantation

This Caribbean-style coffee shop is a mix of coffee house, art gallery, real estate office and Internet café. Owners Theo and Diane Glorie have played host at this little spot in the historic seaport district since 2005. They've created a homey atmosphere with wicker furniture, brightly-colored décor and plenty of books and magazines scattered about. Relax on their front porch with a Tropical Machiato (espresso with vanilla and coconut), and watch the Key West characters strolling past. Fresh quiche, warm muffins, spinach-filled croissants and scones will help get your morning started, while their Lite Bite lunch items will get you through the afternoon.

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For over 26 years, locals have been lining up outside this grocery store's grab-and-go window for authentic Cuban coffee and sandwiches. Even tourists have gotten hip to this spot off the beaten path, the adventurous seek it out at the corner of Southard and Grinnell Streets. While the high-test Cuban coffee will start your day off with a jolt, don't go looking for the soy milk and the artificial sweetener. You're only choices are "yes" or "no" to whole milk and sugar. Just roll with it. Family-owned, they're known for having the best Cuban Mix sandwich in town. The traditional Cuban sandwich has mustard, dill pickles, roast pork, ham and Swiss cheese layered between pressed Cuban bread. The Key West Mix version adds mayonnaise lettuce and tomato. Closed on Sundays.

Recommended for Coffee because: For over 26 years, people have been lining up outside this grocery store for authentic Cuban coffee and the best Cuban Mix sandwich.

Claudia's expert tip: Try the bollos, a hush puppy style snack made from black eyed peas. The old-timers claim this is the only place that makes them right. Cash only.

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Get your day started at Sandy's Café, a small Cuban restaurant at the end of the M& M Laundry building on White Street. Yes, you read right. It's at a laundromat. Let this be your introduction to the funky synergy of Key West. Step up to the window and order a colada, an espresso-style brew to share, or a café con leche, a Latin latte with steamed milk. Try any of their breakfast sandwiches on fresh pressed Cuban bread. Don't miss the pastelitos, a delicious pastry similar to an American turnover but in fun Caribbean flavors like guava. If you're lucky, you might get one of the few stools, but otherwise, plan to get your goods to go.

Recommended for Coffee because: Start your day right with a cafe con leche and fresh pressed breakfast sandwich from this small Cuban joint.

Claudia's expert tip: Sandy's is open 24 hours and only accepts cash.

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Located in front of the harbor, this little outdoor stand is loved by locals and tourists alike. Their cafe con leche is not to be missed, and if you're feeling the heat, you can even get it iced with coffee ice cubes. Paired with delicious Cuban breakfast sandwiches and fresh smoothies, it means there's usually a bit of a wait. However, you'll find service is friendly and efficient. After a late night, try the "Hangover Helper," a combination of pineapple, mixed berries, ginseng, orange juice, and Emergen-C. Like most Cuban stands, there's limited bench seating. Unlike most other Cuban stands, they do accept credit cards, and WiFi is available. If you visit close to 8 am, you may have a longer wait, as the passengers headed to the Dry Tortugas on the Yankee Freedom get their early morning buzz.

Recommended for Coffee because: In front of the harbor, this little outdoor stand makes a great iced café con leche with coffee ice cubes.

Claudia's expert tip: Bring your own mug and get 25 cents off.

Read more about Cuban Coffee Queen →


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Meet Claudia Miller

Claudia Miller has been writing about South Florida for over 17 years--seven from Key Largo. A budding photographer, she can usually be found stalking a sunset. Despite being a tad...  More About Claudia

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