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How to Make Cuban Coffee (Cafe Cubano Recipe)

Cuba has a thriving coffee culture! They serve strong coffee or espresso throughout the day. The country is even starting to grow some excellent coffee of its own.

Cuban coffee is also known by its Spanish name, café Cubano, or as a cafecito, which literally translates to “small coffee.” It consists of a shot of espresso sweetened with a rich sugar foam, often enjoyed as a dessert beverage.

Sound delicious? This step-by-step guide will walk you through how to brew your own Cuban coffee.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • Ground coffee
  • ¼ Cup sugar
  • Moka pot
  • A large bowl or measuring cup
  • One tablespoon measuring spoon
  • A spoon, fork, or small whisk
  • Four small serving glasses, between 3 and 4oz

AT A GLANCE

BREW TIME

15 minutes

YIELD

4 cups

A word or two about the Ingredients

  • Ground coffee: Traditionally, Cuban coffee uses a very dark roast, either an Italian roast or a Spanish roast. This is so dark it’s almost burnt. Because these roasts are inherently very bitter, they respond well to sugar in the drink. 

In this case, your specialty light roast probably won’t work. 

  • The most popular brands of coffee to use in Cuba are Cafe Bustelo, Cafe La Llave, and Cafe Pilon, but feel free to use your own favorite dark roast or check out our picks for the best dark roast beans.

¼ Cup sugar: You can use either white or brown sugar. White sugar has a cleaner taste, so you’ll get more of the coffee flavor. Brown or demerara sugar, which are more popular in Cuba, yields a thicker foam and a sweeter drink with more of a molasses flavor.

Equipment

  • A six-cup stovetop espresso maker aka Moka pot: Because Moka pots make very strong coffee, a cup measures just two ounces. So a six-cup stovetop espresso maker makes 12 ounces of strong espresso-like coffee. 
  • A large bowl or measuring cup: You will prepare the Cuban coffee in this and then pour it into small serving glasses, so choose something with a pourable spout.
  • A one tablespoon measuring spoon
  • A spoon, fork, or small whisk
  • Four small serving glasses, between 3 and 4 ounces each, such as espresso cups

How to Make Cuban Coffee

Like much of Cuba’s daily life, its coffee culture has been shaped by the United States’ embargo in 1960. But that hasn’t stopped it from thriving (1).

In the early days, to supplement scarce coffee rations, the government concocted a unique blend of coffee, roasted beans, and roasted chickpeas. This brew was incredibly bitter and formed the basis for Cubans’ current love of heavily sweetened, super dark roast coffee. The country’s willingness to embrace this bitter bean-blend brew indicates the vital role coffee plays in the culture. It’s about community more than specialty beans (2).

Growing up in a Cuban household a large pot of coffee kept warm on the stove was the centerpiece of many social gatherings and long conversations.

Though the café Cubano arose from humble roots, you’ll now find it served worldwide, often in top cafés. To make it in the comfort of your own home, follow the steps below. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to make something so delicious.

How to make a cuban coffee
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1. Prepare the espresso

Cubans almost always prepare espresso in a Moka pot instead of a standard espresso machine.

Moka pots have a reputation for burnt-tasting coffee. but you can avoid this with the proper technique. Start by filling the bottom of the espresso maker with water according to the manufacturer’s directions, but use boiling rather than cold water. Then heat it over low-medium heat until you hear the characteristic gurgle. Remove the brewer from the heat as soon as you hear the gurgle to avoid over-cooking your coffee.

Pro tip: The café Cubano is a very forgiving drink. If you don’t have a Moka pot, any strong coffee will work just as well. You can brew using an AeroPress or an extra-strong French press, or you can even use an espresso machine or coffee maker. If you know how to make Vietnamese coffee using a phin, this is also an excellent foundation for Cuban coffee.

2. Prepare the espuma

The espuma, which is also sometimes called the espumita, is the sweet foamy syrup you create by whipping coffee and sugar together. Indeed, espuma is the Spanish word for foam. It sort of looks like the crema on a traditional espresso, but far sweeter. 

If you took note of the Dalgona coffee craze in 2020, then you understand the principle. Though, fresh coffee doesn’t yield quite the same airy foam as spray-dried instant (3). In this case, you’ll be looking for more of a thick, frothy syrup.

To make it, put the ¼ C of sugar in  the bowl, and then add one tablespoon of the brewed coffee into the sugar. Beat the sugar and coffee mixture vigorously until you’ve incorporated enough air to produce a foamy syrup.

If it feels too dry, add a few more drops of coffee at a time. 

The exact amount of coffee will vary depending on your sugar choice and even the humidity in your house.

So this step might take a bit of trial and error at first.

Pro tip:  If you’re serving fewer people, you can use a smaller Moka pot and scale the sugar quantity accordingly. However, be aware that if your sugar quantity is too low, it will be more challenging to whip effectively. I recommend making at least two servings at a time.

3. Complete the Cuban coffee

From here, the rest of the drink is simple. Add the remaining coffee from the Moka pot to the bowl, and stir it gently through the espuma. Divide the finished product between four small espresso cups and serve immediately.

Cubans often enjoy the café Cubano as a sweet finish to a meal, usually lunch or dinner, rather than as a breakfast drink.

At breakfast time, Cubans are more likely to enjoy a traditional café con Leche, an unsweetened Cuban espresso topped with steamed milk. They often serve it with hot buttered toast that you dip in the creamy coffee. Delicious!

Final Thoughts

Brewing up a traditional Cuban coffee is a fun and easy way to try a new espresso drink. Because it arose during Cuba’s isolation, you don’t need any special equipment, and you don’t even need to buy fancy coffee beans.

The sweet and creamy result is the perfect way to end any meal. Give a Cuban coffee a try today, and let us know what you thought in the comments below!

FAQs

A Cortadito is a Cuban espresso sweetened with sugar and topped with an equal amount of steamed milk. However, they don’t always add sugar. Here’s how to make a cortadito coffee. This is similar to a Cortado, a Spanish espresso topped with steamed milk, usually not sweetened.

Cuban coffee is served in small cups because it is very strong and sweet, just like espresso. Drinking a big mugful of it would be overwhelming for the tastebuds, and the hit of sugar and caffeine would have you bouncing off the walls.

Turkish coffee is more a method of preparation than a type of coffee. Even finer than espresso, very finely ground coffee is boiled in a traditional vessel called a cezve or ibrik. Sometimes sugar, cardamom, or other spices are added. It’s served straight from the brewer without filtering.

Sound interesting? We have a complete guide if you want to learn how to make Turkish coffee.

Mexican coffee is also known as café de olla. As with Cuban coffee, it usually starts with a strong brew of a very dark roast. Its defining feature is that it’s flavored with piloncillo, an unrefined sugar ordinary in Mexico, and cinnamon. Sometimes orange peel or other spices are added.

  1. Cavallo, C. (2016, February 25). Why People in Havana Are so Crazy for Their Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.saveur.com/cuban-coffee-culture/
  2. DUNIA Mag. (2017, March 12). Cuba Has a Rich Coffee Culture – 3 Significances. Retrieved from https://duniamagazine.com/2017/03/cuba-has-a-rich-coffee-culture/
  3. Tian, J. (2020, May 11). Dalgona coffee explained: The science behind why instant coffee foams. Retrieved from https://blog.scienceborealis.ca/dalgona-coffee-explained-the-science-behind-why-instant-coffee-foams/
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I love trail running, rock climbing, coffee, food, and my tiny dog — and writing about all of them. I start every morning with a fresh Americano from my home espresso machine, or I don’t start it at all.

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