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What Makes Cuban Coffee Different?

As an avid coffee drinker (we’re talking any coffee, any time), I love trying different kinds of coffee blends and brews.

Whether you’re mixing it up by trying cold brew for the first time, or making it in a new way using a Chemex, coffee prepared outside of your normal routine is a treat.

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It’s incredible how the slightest changes to your coffee-making routine can yield an entirely different result, and Cuban coffee is the perfect example.

That’s why I am excited to introduce you to Cuban coffee!

What is Cuban Coffee?

Cuban coffee, or café Cubano, is an espresso originating in Cuba that is sweetened with demerara sugar during brewing.

Demerara sugar is a type of raw cane sugar similar to turbinado sugar.

Due to the larger sized crystals, it does not dissolve well in doughs or batters, so it is typically used as a garnishing sugar for a crunchy, sweet topping.

The use of this sugar is a critical part of making traditional Cuban coffee.

Typically composed of dark roasted, finely ground coffee beans, this flavorful brew is most popular served in the morning or as an accompaniment for meals.

Cuba is known for its coffee consumption, and it’s not at all unusual to serve it regularly with each meal or as part of a regular break from the work day.

(Actually, it’s not unusual for me to do that, either…)

A staple in Cuba, Cuban coffee has taken off in the United States and other countries because of its distinct, rich, sweet flavor — not to mention a large Cuban population here, particularly in Miami’s Little Havana, that brought the tradition with them.

If you’re looking for a new flavor combination or a delicious, new pick-me-up, Cuban coffee is worth exploring.

The History and Culture of Cuban Coffee

The coffee plant was introduced to Cuba in 1748, but coffee farming was slower to develop.

In the 1790s, the island was suddenly occupied by an influx of people fleeing the Haitian Revolution, and coffee farming in the area took off.

It replaced sugar as the island’s main export pretty quickly, according to Barista Magazine.

Traditional Cuban coffee is crafted using Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. Both Arabica and Robusta beans were cultivated in the Sierra Maestra mountains; its rich soils coupled with a favorable climate were the perfect mix of conditions for growing healthy, flavorful beans.

Cuba also produces exclusively organic coffee in the Escambray Mountains.

Organic coffee uses a higher quality of soil and no chemicals such as pesticides, meaning that the natural antioxidants found in coffee beans are not destroyed.

Organic coffee is also known for being less acidic and therefore smoother, making it reportedly easier to digest and a more palatable flavor.

Coffee beans are handpicked by local workers, and are both consumed domestically and exported internationally.

In fact, Cuba became the top global coffee exporter in the 1940s.

After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the government nationalized coffee (among many other things).

A decades-long embargo by the United States shut off trade to Cuba after the revolution.

But in 2016, Cuban coffee finally became available in the U.S. again, after then-President Barack Obama restored some relations with Cuba.

Cuban coffee is extremely popular amongst locals and is also a tourist attraction, available at restaurants, coffee shops, and cafes all over Cuba today.

You can also find it throughout Miami, the best place to experience Cuban culture in the United States.

Next time you’re there, look for “ventanitas,” or little windows, throughout the city and at Cuban restaurants that will serve you a cup of Cuban coffee with bold flavors at these walk-up windows.

It’s every coffee lovers dream, and a great way for you to experience a sip of Cuba’s rich history — and you could easily find somewhere to pair it with Cuban bread or a Cuban cigar, if you want!

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What Are the Types of Cuban Coffee?

There are several different types of Cuban coffee you should try.

The best Cuban coffee is really a matter of personal preference, use of sugar, and preferred brewing process.

We suggest you experiment with small quantities to determine which unique flavor you favor.

Here’s a quick guide to several different traditional methods for making your own Cuban-style coffee:

  • Colada: This is a 4-ounce espresso made with sugar foam and served with little miniature cups intended for sharing.
  • Cafecito: This espresso is served black with no additions besides espumita (sugar foam).
  • Cortadito: A shot of unsweetened Cuban espresso with an equal amount of steamed milk and a touch of sugar.
  • Café con Leche: Unsweetened Cuban espresso served with hot, steamed whole milk. Some people optionally add salt and butter, much like bulletproof coffee. Cafe con leche is typically served at breakfast.
What Is Bulletproof Coffee? Photo

How to Make Cuban Coffee

If you’re new to brewing a Cuban coffee, it might feel intimidating to give it a shot.

After all, this coffee is a cultural staple, and making it from home when you’ve never had it, or only tried it while out and about can be daunting.

I’m here to assure you that making Cuban coffee is easier than it seems, and with a little practice, it will become second nature to you!

Step-by-Step Instructions for Brewing Cuban Coffee:

1. Brew the espresso.

Classic Cuban coffee is brewed in a Moka Pot.

To brew coffee with a Moka Pot, follow these simple steps:

  • Fill the base chamber with cold water until it reaches the valve and insert the filter.
  • Completely fill the filter with ground coffee. For Cuban coffee, you will select finely ground, dark roast coffee.
  • Make sure the filter and gasket are in place and screw the chambers tightly together.
  • Place the Moka Pot on the stove on low heat.
  • Keep the lid open so you can see when coffee drops start to form. These drops are the strongest and most concentrated part of the coffee and are critical for the next step!
  • Remove the pot when the coffee starts to gurgle, just before it bubbles.
  • Mix the coffee with a spoon.

2. Make sugar foam mixture.

In a measuring or creamer cup, add 4 tablespoons of demerara sugar.

Add the first few formed drops of espresso (from the previous step) into the cup of sugar — this is called azuquita.

Stir the sugar and the drops of espresso vigorously with a metal spoon until a pale, thick foam forms — this is called espumita.

This will take approximately 2-3 minutes, depending on how quickly you are stirring and the ratio of sugar to espresso.

Only add a few drops at a time and keep the consistency thick but drippy.

You may need to play around with the ratio to figure out what works best for you.

3. Combine the espresso and sugar foam.

Pour the brewed espresso into the cup with the sweet foam.

Stir both together slowly to combine.

This will make a thicker coffee that is sweetened and delicious!

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What Makes Cuban Coffee Different from Other Types of Coffee?

Cuban coffee is unique in its preparation method, strength, and characteristic sweetness.

1. Preparation

Cuban coffee is brewed using a Moka Pot.

A Moka Pot is a stove-top or electric coffee maker that brews coffee by passing pressure-driven hot water through ground coffee.

Finely ground espresso roast beans are used for Cuban coffee.

Brown sugar is added to Cuban coffee until it is sweet and has a thick, syrupy texture.

It can also be made by making a sugar froth with white sugar, where the small amount of coffee is whisked with white sugar to form a thick paste.

(This is a great way to thicken any coffee! But generally, don’t put milk in your coffee maker.)

The rest of the coffee is then poured over the paste and produces a creamy foam.

2. Strength

The strength of coffee is the total dissolved coffee solids that are extracted into each cup.

These consist of acids, oils, and sugars, which all influence the overall flavor of your coffee.

Cuban coffee is considered a strong coffee.

One serving of Cuban coffee is double the strength of pour over, drip, or French Press coffee.

The main reason that Cuban coffee is so strong is that a dark espresso roast is used.

Dark roasts are rich with smoky and bitter notes, creating a robust, hearty flavor in each cup.

The strength of Cuban coffee is also created in part by the brewing method.

The use of Moka Pots to extract coffee using pressure achieves a stronger flavored coffee than most other coffee makers can provide.

3. Flavor

Cuban coffee is very dark compared to other kinds of coffee because it is comprised of dark roast grinds brewed with a high level of extraction.

The unusually dense result yields a bitter, smoky coffee that is overpowering without the introduction of sugar.

Once sweetened, this coffee is balanced, though still strong. Cuban coffee has a distinct flavor that is specific to its brewing style.

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While Cuban coffee may not be something you have tried before, if you’re a coffee lover, I highly recommend it.

The rich, aromatic, flavorful nature of this coffee — coupled with the smooth, sweet, frothy thickness of the sugar blend — makes it a treat worth experiencing!

Want something to go with it? Try our skillet picadillo recipe for a Cuban dish to pair with your coffee.

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