Coffee from Cuba: A Step-by-Step Guide

Here's how to make your morning coffee taste like it was freshly brewed in Cuba.
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When you drink a cafecito in Cuba, you're drinking a little bit of the country's rich history. The slightly bitter taste, the sweet espuma atop the dark-brown brew, and the dainty demitasse cups, or tacitas, in which it is served are all iconic hallmarks of a cafecito, and they reflect the history of a country battered by turmoil, hardship, and scarcity. They also represent the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Cuban people, who, since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, have found innovative solutions to virtually every problem they've faced.

Writing Cuba: Recipes and Stories From the Cuban Kitchen, I spent a lot of time in coffee shops throughout Cuba. The baristas who served me strong black coffee with sugar explained that the bitterness comes from the toasted chickpeas that are ground up with Cuban coffee beans in order to stretch the limited supply. To imitate the crema found in more expensive cups of espresso, the espuma is created by whipping sugar with a tiny amount of coffee.

Due to government rationing and food nationalization in 1962, Cubans have had to make do with tiny tacitas and sparse rations ever since. Only four ounces of coffee per month is distributed to each Cuban, so people drink from tiny cups to make the most of it and preserve the coffee culture that is so central to Cuban life.

The moka pot is a staple in Cuban coffee culture and is also widely used in other parts of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. The coffee is brewed in the simple yet ingenious stainless steel pots (which are sometimes glazed in colorful enamel) by using steam pressure to force water up through the coffee grounds.

The fine grind used in Cuban coffee is one of the secrets to its bold flavor. It's available in a wide variety of forms, not just the cafecito. The Spanish word for "small cut," "cortadito," refers to a coffee drink in which a small amount of steamed milk is added to an espresso shot. The ratio of milk to coffee in traditional café con leche is 80:20. It has a lot of sugar and a little salt added to sweeten it. In Cuba, nothing says "let's be friends" like a colada. Four to six shots of sweetened espresso are poured into a single cup (typically styrafome) and shared amongst companions.

Jose Antonio Gelabert was the first person to bring coffee to Cuba in 1748. French colonists who settled in Cuba following the Haitian Revolution at the century's end introduced more modern methods of coffee production, which are still widely used in the country's cafes. When the Cuban coffee industry was at its height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the majority of its exports went to Spain.

Growing coffee, both arabica and robusta beans, was important to the Cuban economy and a source of national pride. For many people, cafes were more than just a place to get a cup of coffee; they were also the center of social and cultural activity. Even though there are fewer coffee shops and less coffee available, most Cubans still plan their day around stopping by a shop or making their own.

After the Cuban Revolution, coffee houses, or ventanitas, became living chronicles of the country's transformation. Over 150 cafes thrived during the height of Havana's cafe culture, when the city was filled with well-to-do, elegantly dressed Cubans strolling along the Malecon, the city's harbor street.

Starting in 1959, the coffee shop began to suffer because of U.S. S a ban on importing and exporting Cuban products When the Soviet Union fell apart in the late 1980s, Cuba's exports to other Communist countries dried up, and the country's cafes suffered again. The Great Recession that followed the Soviet Union's demise was a particularly difficult period for the Cuban people. Still, the rations that Cubans were given meant that they were always on the verge of starvation, and the coffee supply reflected this in its meagerness.

In 2007, Cuba's coffee production hit an all-time low, down from a peak of 440,000 exported bags the previous year. Today, the government of Cuba helps keep coffee production at a steady 120,000 bags. Independent coffee shops, shabbier than they were before the Revolution but still bustling with the optimism and energy of the indefatigable Cuban people, are another sign of the country's slow but steady growth.

Learn how to make a cup of coffee in the Cuban tradition to enjoy with your morning meal.
  • alcohol-free
  • egg-free
  • peanut-free
  • pork-free
  • pescatarian
  • gluten-free
  • tree-nut-free
  • red-meat-free
  • dairy-free
  • fish-free
  • vegetarian
  • shellfish-free
  • vegan
  • no-oil-added
  • soy-free
  • wheat-free
Averaged over 2 servings (as a percentage of a normal diet)
  • Calories 16
  • Fat
  • Saturated
  • Carbs 4.2 g (1 4%)
  • Fiber
  • Sugars 4.2 g
  • Protein
  • Sodium 0.0 mg (0 0%)
  • Ground Cuban coffee, like Café Bustelo.

  • 2 teaspoons
  • 2
  1. Fill the moka pot with water. To use a moka pot, fill the lower chamber with water until the safety valve is submerged.

  2. To the coffee filter, add coffee. Place grounds in filter using a spoon and fill it to the top. You can smooth them out with your finger, but be careful not to squeeze them.

  3. Join the strainer to the kettle. The filter should be inserted into the lower chamber, and the collection chamber should be tightly screwed on top.

  4. Prepare a moka pot of coffee. The moka pot should be heated over moderate heat. If you boil the water too quickly, your coffee won't have time to fully steep, and it won't taste as good.

  5. Put sugar into the coffee mugs. In the meantime, sweeten each espresso or demitasse cup with a teaspoon of sugar.

  6. Bring the water to a boil. Turn up the heat and bring the water to a boil. As a result, the water will be pushed upward through the coffee grounds by the steam pressure and collected as coffee in the upper chamber.

  7. To make espuma, combine sugar with coffee. Once the coffee has finished brewing, take the moka pot off the heat. To make the espuma, put 1 teaspoon of coffee in one of the cups and stir it vigorously into the sugar. It needs to be creamy and foamy. And do it all over again with the second cup.

  8. The remaining coffee should be added. Serve the remaining coffee as soon as possible by pouring it into cups.

Traditional Cuban coffee is already quite sweet, but if you like your drinks extra-dulce, feel free to add more sugar. If you want to make the espuma with more sugar than the recipe calls for, simply combine one teaspoon of sugar with one teaspoon of coffee.

The addition of more coffee causes the espuma to rise to the surface, much like the crema in an espresso.

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