Just like the vintage 1950s Chevrolets and Chryslers we all picture when we think of Havana, Cuban coffee developed a colorful, unique personality that originally came out of necessity—and making the best with what is available.
Along with other unique entries like ropa vieja, media noches, and toasted cuban bread, Cuban coffee is yet one more classic flavor of Cuban cuisine. It’s enjoyed accordingly, at any time of the day: at breakfast with pastelitos or Cuban toast, at lunch, at dinner—even after dinner.
Cuban coffee has a unique flavor, one that Cuban (and Miami) expats tend to miss once they’re in a place that doesn’t have it readily available. (For example, 98.5% of the United States.)
Fortunately, Cuban coffee can be made easily at home.
While there are several coffee drinks that come from Cuba, the one known simply as Cuban coffee (or café Cubano) is made of strong Cuban espresso blended with sugar that becomes a caramel foam.
(Okay, sorry, I won’t do that again. But it is damn delicious.)
Remember that part about making do with what’s available?
Coffee beans in Cuba are very dark roast, which means that Cuban espresso naturally tends to end up on the bitter side. The sugar foam in Cuban Coffee isn’t there to make it extra sweet, it’s there to counter the bitterness. It also means that milk/cream is not needed to lighten it up.
How to make Café Cubano (Cuban Coffee)
Tip: Just for clarity, Cuban Coffee, Café Cubano, and cafecito are all different ways to refer to the same drink. Other names you might hear when discussing Cuban coffee, like cortado/cortadito and café con leche, refer to different drinks.
To make Cuban coffee, you’ll need:
- A Moka Pot or Espresso Maker (If you have an AeroPress, this can work too—I’ve tested it)
- Measuring cup
- Small cups/mugs
- Ground espresso or ground dark roast coffee (eg. Black Insomnia Dark Roast)
*Tip: While Cuban coffee is often made with white granulated sugar, you can substitute brown sugar for a thicker foam and sweeter overall flavor with some notes of molasses flavor.
- Brew the coffee according to the directions for your moka pot, espresso maker, or AeroPress. If you’re using an AeroPress, don’t add water after brewing the coffee.
- Add the sugar into the measuring cup. Add a few drops of the hot coffee/espresso into the cup of sugar.
- Stir the sugar with the few drops of espresso until it creates a thick sugar foam. (This may take a few attempts to get right if you’ve never done it before. Eventually you’ll get a feel for how much coffee to add to the sugar to get the right foam consistency.
- Combine the espresso/coffee with the sugar foam, and stir slowly to combine them.
- Serve and enjoy!