Cuba's digital destination
by Ricardo Alberto Pérez
For some time now, the prospect of going out in Havana for coffee has become a much more noteworthy event. Both Cubans and visitors are catching on to that pause in the day, whether it’s from work-related activities or tourism, to sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee. Cuban coffee itself continues to be excellent but now we have new places where we can indulge ourselves to a cup and at the same time accompany the ritual with the delights of patisserie and a wide range of desserts.
Part of the transformations that are springing up in the Island, private businesses have been creating original new venues, places that are ideal for spending a wonderful time and enjoying some great conversation.
We have recently discovered the charms and mysteries of two such coffee shops in the historical center of Havana: Bianchini’s. These are the brainchild of an enterprising woman named Katia Bianchini who has been living in Cuba since the age of ten. Her background is a mixture of Italian and Swiss and she is opening our eyes and appetites to the unexpected fantasies of the kingdom of desserts and baked goods. With her talents she also calls on some of our native products such as cacao from Baracoa and some fruits that have been dried in a special process by her and her collaborators.
Katia says that her passion for baking goes far back, to the days of her childhood when her mother taught her how to make desserts. In her home, it was a tradition to make bread, whole-wheat biscuits and croissants and there was a definite ecological tendency in her family. This special gift was honed in the home but inevitably it became more public.
She has some interesting tales to tell, among them anecdotes about her father who is now living in Italy and insists on using solar energy. That summarizes the spirit and the philosophy that reigned in her upbringing, something she transmits to us via the choices she makes in favor of natural products.
The first of her businesses, the one that tends to be the most popular and has more accessible prices, is on Calle Sol No. 12, a few meters from the refurbished Avenida del Puerto; the second establishment is at San Ignacio No. 68, Plaza de La Catedral, very close to the experimental graphic arts studio/workshop. Both attractive shops bear her very personal touches.
In the late afternoon, at Bianchini’s on calle Sol, we can enjoy an espresso or cappuccino and witness the rambunctiousness of school kids who have just ended their school day and have stopped by for frozen yoghurt accompanied with cookies, syrup and fruit. Tourists also appreciate this and other refreshing drinks that allow them to catch their breath and give them the energy to continue exploring Havana.
There is an original image of a cat presiding over these shops; its tail is a sprig of wheat and it seems to reaffirm the natural philosophy of the project. Cats have become the messengers of good vibrations and they have been turned into delicious ginger cookies. Katia’s son designed that cat, a sweet-toothed creature which is both mischievous and hospitable.
The interior decoration of each shop is contemporary in its simplicity and it succeeds in making customers feel very much at home. The menu is written on the walls which are hung with charcoal sketches. Katia has also puts a lot of thought into her selection of the china being used: she tells us with a chuckle that friends consider her to be more of a designer than a baker and she acknowledges that design has always fascinated her.
Katia Bianchini confesses that the way her products turn out is very much influenced by the way they are made, in a pleasant, congenial atmosphere and in a process that is almost like the creation of works of art. Some of the most outstanding items coming from the hand and imagination of Katia are muffins, quiches, cookies, choux-pastries, Paris-Brest, lemon meringue pie, Torte Kiev, croissants and Torte Katia.
You can also order take-out items and so it becomes possible to enjoy these delightful creations in the comfort of our own homes.