This tutorial is for anyone who wants to make the sweet, frothy, strong-flavored elixir of life we call Café Cubano. In this post, you will not only learn how to make Cuban Coffee from a born and bred Cuban living in Miami. I will also explain to you why it’s the elixir of life.
Of course, Cafecito Cubano wakes you up in the morning and puts a spring in your step. It’s made from dark roasted beans, and one small shot contains about 2 ounces of coffee and 25 mg of caffeine, plus a good dose of sugar. (One 8-ounce cup of American Coffee has anywhere from 70 – 100 mg of caffeine.) Of course, most of us drink more than one shot of Café Cubano, and we drink it throughout the day. No wonder Cubans talk so fast!! (Yes, yes, we do. It’s not a stereotype.)
A Little Window Into Cuban Coffee Culture
Cuban Coffee is more than just a morning drink or a shot of caffeine in the afternoon. Café Cubano fuels our culture and connection.
You can see it in the landscape of Miami, a city known for its large Cuban community. If you visit Miami, you’ll find a little coffee window at every Cuban restaurant. These ventanitas serve Cuban coffee and pastries and snacks (pastelitos, masa real, croquetas) day and night. In fact, you’ll even find a ventanita in Publix grocery stores in Latin parts of town!
These ventanitas are crowded at just about any time of day. In the morning, you’ll find locals getting their little Cuban fix on their way to work. They order one coffee shot for themselves and a colada to go. A colada is a sharing size of Cuban Coffee, but some have been known to drink it all themselves!
Locals congregate at these little windows day and night, drinking their coffee and gabbing. We do love to gab! Guests banter with the attendants and joke with each other as they wait for their Cafecito. You can bet that many a heated conversation about Castro and politics has taken place at these ventanitas over the years!
Cafecito Day or Night
I have to confess I’m not as Cuban when it comes to my Cuban coffee consumption. I enjoy a shot of Cuban espresso in the morning or after lunch, but I can’t drink it in the afternoon because it interrupts my sleep. Those more Cuban than I can drink coffee throughout the day. My stepfather is one of those. He makes coffee several times a day and will drink it even before bed.
Every visit to Mami’s house involves my stepfather making coffee for my hubby and me. And my hubby loves Cuban Coffee, even more than I do. In fact, he won’t go on vacation without bringing our cafetera and Pilon café along with our little espresso cups. He forgot it on a recent trip to St. Augustine and had to buy a replacement!
Cuban Coffee Makers
When you order coffee at one of those little windows at Cuban restaurants, they use a professional espresso machine that pumps out multiple coladas at once. The attendants spoon generous amounts of sugar into little stainless steel pitchers and the espresso drips in a foamy stream. When it’s served, the coffee has a rich layer of foam at the top that we call espumita (es-pu-mee-tah). This is the secret to great Cuban Coffee!
But this foamy deliciousness (referred to as espumita from this point forward) cannot be achieved as well with run-of-the mill home espresso machines. You can probably achieve the perfect espumita with the more expensive models. But it’s not necessary to go that route when you can buy a Moka Pot Espresso Maker for under $20 on Amazon.
How To Use A Moka Pot
This the Cuban cafetera I grew up using and still use today. It not only vacations with us, it got us through Hurricane Irma. Our power was out for 6 days during Irma, but with our camp stove, we were able to make Cuban Coffee every morning. Let me tell you, it was necessary!
The Moka Pot has a bottom chamber for water. Inside that chamber is a filter that you fill with the ground espresso coffee beans. When you heat the cafetera on the stovetop, the boiling water rises and goes through the ground beans in the basket and is forced into the top chamber in foamy spurts and then a steady stream of rich, black coffee.
To make Cuban Coffee with the Moka Pot, you fill the bottom chamber with water until just under the safety valve. Spoon the ground coffee into the filter, place the top chamber over the filter, and twist it shut. Turn the heat to high and bring the water in the bottom chamber to boil. You’ll hear it start to boil, and soon after the coffee will spurt out of the top. At first slowly and then in a steady stream.
While the water boils, pour the sugar into a little pitcher or glass measuring cup. The sugar is not an exact measurement, it all depends on how sweet you like your coffee. A good rule of thumb is the same amount of coffee to sugar (be warned, I like mine sweet)☕
Making the Perfect Cup of Cuban Coffee
Espumita is the best part of Cuban Coffee. The secret to great espumita is to take the first spoonful of the foamy black coffee and mix it with sugar to make a creamy, light-colored paste. Then, once the rest of the coffee has brewed, you pour all the coffee onto the creamy sugar paste and mix well. You’ll have the best Cuban Coffee with the perfect espumita!
It’s important that you use the first few drops that come out of the Moka Pot and that all the elements you use are dry. You won’t achieve the same pure foamy goodness if you use a spoonful of the coffee that is produced mid-brew or if there’s any water on the spoon, top chamber of the pot or the mixing pitcher.
I learned this the hard way when I would rinse out the Moka Pot and stainless cup and use it right away without drying it first. No bueno!
Three Types of Café Cubano
When you walk up to the ventanita at a Cuban restaurant you can order coffee one of three ways:
Café – this is an espresso shot of rich, black, sweetened coffee with lots of espumita!
Colada – a sharing size of café with little espresso cups for sharing. Some just take this to go and drink it themselves 😉
Cortadito – this is an espresso cup-sized coffee made of half espresso and steamed milk, my favorite! Cortadito means the espresso is “cut” down to size by a little steamed milk.
Café Con Leche – this is a shot or two of espresso with steamed milk in a regular-sized cup. Similar to a latte but better 😛
Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m having a café con leche made with steamed evaporated milk instead of regular milk. That’s more calories, but it reminds me of how my mom (aka Bean Train) used to make it for me when I was in middle school.
Cuban Coffee Brands
Cuban Coffee is sold in 10-ounce bricks already ground. The three most popular brands are Café Bustelo, Café Pilon and Café La Llave. My hubby likes the Pilon Gourmet, but my stepdad loves La Llave. I conducted a very unscientific poll at Little Havana’s famous Domino Park and found that most Cuban old-timers prefer Bustelo.
What you’ll need to Make Cuban Coffee
- Moka Pot
- Cuban Espresso Beans – Fine Ground
- Little Stirring Pitcher – you can use a glass measuring cup, but the pitcher is so much more authentic!
- Sugar – you can use white or brown sugar (I prefer brown sugar)
Want to learn more about Cuban coffee? This Miami Herald Cuban Coffee 101 article is an interesting read.Print
Learn to make Cafe Cuban like a pro! All you need to make the best Cuban coffee is a Moka Pot and this recipe! Prefer a little milk in your coffee? Try the Cortadito or Cafe Con Leche variations.
3 tablespoons Cuban espresso coffee, ground
3 tablespoons brown sugar ( you can also use white sugar, if you prefer)
Moka Pot: The amount of coffee and water will depend on the size of your Moka Pot. Mine holds about 9 ounces of water, enough for about 4 espresso shots of 2 ounces each.
Water: Fill the bottom chamber of your Moka Pot with enough water to reach the safety valve.
Coffee: Fill the coffee filter until it’s full. Pat the coffee down and top off with just a little more. Pat it down so it’s about level. Twist on the top chamber.
Heat: Set the Moka Pot on the stove top on high heat and wait for the water to boil. You will hear it start to boil. For my size pot, boiling starts after 3 minutes. About a minute after that, you should get your first drips of coffee. This is the coffee you want to use for the espumita. Once the coffee starts to spurt out, you can turn off the heat.
Sugar Pitcher: Once you set the pot on the stovetop. Add sugar to your stirring pitcher or glass measuring cup. Add about the same amount of sugar as you did the coffee. My coffee filter holds about 3 tablespoons of coffee, so I end up using 3 tablespoons of sugar. I like my coffee on the sweet side, though. You’ll have to experiment with it and see what coffee/sugar ratio you like best.
Espumita (foam): Take a scant teaspoon of the first brewed coffee and add it to the sugar in the pitcher. Stir until you get a rich, creamy paste. It should be lightened in color as you stir. Once the coffee is down brewing, pour it into the pitcher with the sugar paste and stir.
Espresso Shot: Pour into your demitasse cup and enjoy!
Cortadito: Steam about one ounce of milk and pour into the demitasse cup. Fill with about one ounce of espresso. I like my cortadito light, but others like it stronger and darker. You can alter the ratio to your liking.
Café Con Leche: Steam about six ounces of milk and add to a regular size cup. Add as much espresso as you like. Taste and adjust sugar, if needed.
Evaporated Milk: You can use regular milk or evaporated milk, which is what my mom (aka Bean Train) used to make. If you’re using evaporated milk, you can mix it with water in a one-to-one ratio.
Make sure that all the elements (Moka Pot, pitcher, spoon) are dry before you start brewing. Otherwise, the foam will not be as rich. It will be literally watered down.
- Serving Size: 2 ounces
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