Colada Shop Brings the Flavors of Cuba and Miami to Washington, D.C.

Images: Rey Lopez

Robust coffee drinks, contemporary updates on classic Cuban cocktails and authentic snacks take you back to Little Havana.

Despite what you might glean from the name (and the fact they whip up a pretty great one), this duo of casual Cuban spots is not an homage to the blended and frozen concoction made with rum, pineapple and coconut. A Colada is actually a type of coffee drink that originated after Italy started exporting its espresso makers to Cuba; its four shots of espresso sweetened with sugar and served in a demitasse cup are all the moxie you need for an a.m. boost or late afternoon pick-me-up.

Colada Shop was born out of the necessity to bring some Caribbean and Latin flavors to the Washington, D.C. area,” says partner and creative director Juan Coronado. Along with partners Daniella Senior, Mario Monte, Asim Walia and Raj Multani, and PR and marketing director Maru Valdes, the team – whose members boast a wealth of experience in the restaurant and beverage industries – set out to fill that overlooked niche in the city by cultivating a casual, authentic environment that can be embraced from breakfast until evening.

For sure, coffee drinks factor prominently on the menu at both the 135-seat Northern Virginia location (the first one to open), and its recently launched D.C. sibling, which has 11 seats inside and 20 on the outdoor patio but will soon be expanding by around 25 more seats. At 4:00 PM, though, guests can move on to something a little more potent, as Coronado (who also serves as Bacardí brand ambassador and is the former cocktail innovator for José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup) has created a list of authentic cocktails – perfectly priced so that no one need commit to just one.

“Cocktails are a way of expressing talent, art and business – I sometimes don’t understand why a cocktail should be $20,” he admits. “But I’m never going to be able to price somebody’s art. We wanted to create something affordable, casual and very easy to enjoy.” Because he wants guests to be able to sample more than one drink, he keeps prices very wallet-friendly (just $8 each at the D.C. location, and slightly more in Sterling, Virginia).

Coronado’s beverage program is a healthy mix of the old and new, created with a goal of reviving the exciting Golden Era of the cocktail that was happening in Cuba when the United States was undergoing the Failed Experiment of Prohibition – when so many beautiful drinks were invented by some of the world’s best bartenders. Some libations went onto Colada Shop’s list in their original form, including a gorgeous, well-balanced, tangy Daiquiri, and the Mary Pickford, named for the silent movie actress, with white rum, pineapple, grenadine and maraschino. Other drinks have been tweaked a bit. “I adapted some of those recipes, made them more contemporary, and brought them back to life.” His Cuba Libre gets a touch of the herbal and bitter via a few dashes of Angostura Bitters, while the Hotel Nacional (named for the Cuban property notoriously known for hosting celebrities back in the day) is mixed with both light and dark spirits, lime, and apricot purees, making for a brighter, not-as-sweet riff on the original. Even the Piña Colada gets an update; Fernet floated on top lends a bracing mintiness that offsets the creamy coconut. “All the cocktails are so delicious, and each one has a story to be shared.”

Cascara – the dried “berry” or “cherry” from the coffee plant – is a trending ingredient right now (Starbucks even started offering a cascara latte), but Coronado points out that it’s long been used in the coffee industry on the islands, where nothing goes to waste. It’s made an impact in cocktails, he says, for its not-so-strong flavors that can lean towards wood and prune; its earthiness really comes out in his Cascara Old Fashioned, where it’s made into a syrup and stirred with aged dark rum and housemade coffee bitters. (Utilizing cascara also decreases carbon footprint, he says, as when it’s instead left to decompose it releases carbon dioxide; this is truly an Old Fashioned you can feel good about consuming.)

The drinks menu will continue to evolve, with speciality cocktails occasionally added for brunch, holidays or events. Coronado did a variant on the Irish Coffee for St. Patrick’s Day with coffee, rum, Fernet Branca, and mint that was dedicated to Chico O’Farrill, a Cuban musician with an Irish father, and a Piña Colada Fizz with rum, prickly pear, lime juice and sparkling wine, in honor of D.C.’s Cherry Blossom Festival. “I’m always working on something,” he notes. “This is my new lab.”

With his background as a Bacardí brand ambassador, it’s not surprising that a lot of the rums in Colada Shop’s cocktails are made by the distillery that was founded by Facundo Bacardí, who invented the Cuban style of rum. But other brands also line the shelves. “We do have a nice selection of rums for those who like to venture out,” he notes. “There is a rum for everybody – it is definitely the most flexible of all the spirits.”

Whether it’s morning and you are grabbing a Café con Leche and tostada (traditional toasted Cuban bread with butter), or lingering late afternoon on the patio with a Mojito and a basket of croquetas de jamón and cauliflower empanadas, Coronado has one simple wish for his guests: “When you go to visit someone in a Caribbean island and you walk in their house and get served with amazing hospitality, smiles and a casual environment, you don’t notice how fast the time flies and you are still enjoying it,” he muses. “The experience is rich in culture, delicious in food, and outstanding in beverages; as for the conversations – we will leave it up to our guests, as that is the Latin way.”

 

Mary Pickford cocktail recipe - Colada Shop recipes

Mary Pickford

Recipe courtesy of Juan Coronado, Beverage Director, Colada Shop

  • 1 ½ oz. Bacardí Superior Rum
  • 1 ½ oz. Pineapple juice
  • 1 tsp. Grenadine
  • 6 drops of Maraschino liqueur
  • Peach wedge or brandied cherry, for garnish

Add first four ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail or Nick & Nora glass, and garnish.

 

Cascara Old Fashioned cocktail recipe - Colada Shop recipes

Cascara Old Fashioned

Recipe courtesy of Juan Coronado, Beverage Director, Colada Shop

  • 2 oz. Bacardí Black Rum
  • ½ oz. Cascara syrup (see Note)
  • 2 dashes Colada Coffee Bitters (can substitute other coffee bitters)
  • Orange peel and cascara shell, for garnish

In a mixing glass, add the first three ingredients, add ice, and stir until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over one large cube, and garnish with the orange peel and cascara shell.

For the cascara syrup:

Combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water and ½ cup cascara in a saucepan. Allow the mixture to come to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Remove it from the heat and allow to cool. Strain out solids, and store in the refrigerator.

 

La Negra Tiene Tumbao cocktail recipe - Colada Shop recipes

La Negra Tiene Tumbao

Recipe courtesy of Juan Coronado, Beverage Director, Colada Shop

  • 1 oz. Coconut milk
  • 2 oz. Pineapple juice
  • 2 oz. Coco Lopez
  • 1 ½ oz. Bacardí Carta Blanca Rum
  • ¼ oz. Fernet Vallet
  • Pineapple leaf, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to a blender, add ice, and blend. Pour into a large stemless wine glass and garnish with the pineapple leaf.

 

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.