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How To Make Cuban Coffee for a Rich Cup of Joe

Cuban coffee, also known as Café Cubano or Cuban espresso, is a way of life for Cubans. A type of espresso made with finely ground dark roasted coffee beans, Cuban coffee is sweetened with demerara sugar during the brewing process. It’s a daily habit for most Cubans, who often enjoy the rich drink with pastries or sandwiches.

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History of Cuban Coffee

Coffee was not always predominant in Cuba. The plant was first introduced to the island in 1748. By the mid-19th century, coffee had grown to rival sugar as the main economic product of Cuba. Because of this industry, consumption soared and coffee become a daily routine for Cubans. By the 1940s, Cuba was the top coffee exporter in the world, producing 60,000 tons from 1960-1961. However, the Cuban Revolution in 1959 devastated this homegrown Cuban industry, removing the country from its status as a global coffee powerhouse. Despite this, coffee remained a huge part of Cuban life, both on the island and in the large Cuban diaspora in Florida.

Because of this reduction in coffee production, coffee culture changed in Cuba. The Cuban government supplemented this lower supply of coffee by mixing ground coffee with chícharo (a pealike legume) and by importing cheaper Robusta beans. In Florida, the large Cuban immigrant population has proudly maintained their native coffee tradition. However, although the brewing process in Florida is traditional, the most popular Cuban coffee brands now use Arabica beans sourced from other countries.

Cuban Coffee Culture

Cuban coffee at Versailles restaurant in Miami, Florida. versaillesmiami/Instagram

Traditionally, Cuban coffee is brewed in a moka, a stove-top espresso maker instead of a coffee pot or French press. A small amount of coffee is added to a cup containing demerara sugar and mixed until it turns light brown, forming a thick espuma (“foam”). Once the coffee is finished in the moka, the brew is then poured over the whisked mixture. The espuma will rise to the top, producing a darker beverage that’s comparable to strong coffee drinks like Turkish coffee or Italian espresso. When Cuban coffee is served in larger amounts, about four to six shot-served servings, its known as a colada. If topped with steamed milk, its called a cortadito.

Related Guides

Cuban coffee can be served either in small ceramic demitasse cups or plastic cups when purchased from ventanitas, a walk-up coffee vendor. Cubans enjoy coffee throughout the day — breakfast, lunch or dinner. The beverage also serves an important social function as opposed to the more solitary and pragmatic usage of coffee in America, where the drink is mostly consumed for caffeine purpose. Many Cubans enjoy coffee as a leisure activity with friends and family and it is often served to guests in traditional Cuban households.

Cuban Cortadito

(By Josh Molina, Owner of Makers & Finders Coffee Bar in Las Vegas, Nevada)

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Makers & Finders is a vibrant, upbeat restaurant-café-bar where specialty coffee, inspired Latin food, and hospitality are the program pillars. The full service experience transforms a coffee shop into a bustling café. Coffee can be handcrafted during dine-in or to-go, depending on the visit. All syrups are handmade by trained baristas, making it the most unique specialty latte menu in Las Vegas.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp of espresso (“La Llave or Bustelo are the best,” according to Josh)
  • 5 oz of water
  • 8 oz of evaporated milk
  • Sugar to taste

Equipment:

  • Moka pot or espresso machine
  • Saucepan (for your milk) or milk pitcher for your espresso machine steam wand
  • Blender (optional)

Method:

  1. Pour 4 tbsp of espresso in the middle chamber of the Moka Pot. Firmly press on it with the back of a spoon until it looks even and compact.
  2. Add 5 oz of water in the bottom chamber of the Moka Pot. Place on the stovetop at Med-Low heat. Keep the lid of the Moka Pot open to keep an eye on your espresso, it should take 8-10 minutes to brew.
  3. Pour the desired amount of sugar or condensed milk into your mug.
  4. Take 8 oz of evaporated milk (from the can is just fine). Place on Med-Low heat on the stovetop. Bring it to a simmer. Put it in a blender, blend for 20 seconds (to create foam).
  5. Pour your espresso from the Moka Pot into the mug and whisk vigorously to combine the sugar and espresso. The more you whisk, the better and thicker it will get.
  6. Pour your foamy, evaporated milk. If you have an espresso machine at home, this is even easier as you can steam your evaporated milk with the steam wand.
Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
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