Cuban Kitchen
4:29 pm
Wed February 19, 2014

A Cinematic Ode To Abuelita's Cuban Coffee

Luisa Toledo and her grandson Michael Toledo
Luisa Toledo and her grandson Michael Toledo
Credit Kenny Malone

As part of our occasional Cuban Kitchen series here at WLRN-Miami Herald News, we bring you stories about our relationship with food and how food shapes our relationships. Listen to the story about Michael Toledo and his grandmother here, and read it below.

Michael Toledo was dozing off at his computer. It was 4 a.m. He was desperately trying to learn a digital video effect to impress his boss.

Against his better judgment, the 24-year-old tip-toed down the hall to his grandparents’ bedroom. Both were was fast asleep.

“¡Nanny, levántate, Nanny!” Michael whispered, nudging his 89-year-old grandmother’s shoulder. He remembers her mumbling "what do you want?" in Spanish: “Qué tu quieres niño?”

What Michael Toledo wanted -- what he told me couldn’t wait until sunrise -- was Nanny’s Cuban coffee.

Recently I visited the Toledo residence in Little Havana and Luisa Toledo -- also known as Nanny -- brewed some of her famous coffee. She wore cat-eye glasses and a scarf. Her hand shook slightly as she filled a metal espresso pot with water. Michael and I looked on.

“He knows how to [make Cuban coffee] ... but he doesn’t like to do it,” said Luisa. “It’s better if I do it, right?”

“It’s not the same,” Michael said. “The coffee needs that certain ‘Nanny-ness’ to it.”

“Oh, my God,” said Luisa. “It’s the same pot. It’s the same sugar. It’s the same.”

“But it’s not the same love,” Michael said, smiling.

Luisa Toledo paused. She looked up at her tall, tattooed grandson. “It’s the same, sweetheart. He’s spoiled, he’s very spoiled.”

Nanny doesn’t love her grandson’s tattoos. She makes fun of his Spanish. But she says she’ll do whatever it takes to help him become the next Steven Spielberg -- even wake from a dead sleep to make his coffee.

Michael says that 4 a.m. emergency was the night his Cuban coffee addiction started. On average he drinks about 32 ounces of café con leche a day. (Twice that during all-nighters.) But of course, Nanny’s coffee is about more than just caffeine.

“I mean, it’s her presence. It’s who she is,” says Michael, who’s lived with his grandparents for most of his life. “She’s always making coffee. So it’s good to wake up to that. It’s a good time right now because I know it’s not going to last forever. So, it’s definitely good to be able to smell that coffee and know she’s OK.”

We asked Michael to make a short film inspired by his Nanny and her Cuban coffee. Here's brought us this:

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