July 30, 2009

Cafe Cubano

Filed under: drinks,philosophy,recipes — Jose @ 11:05 pm

Years ago, I worked at a small technology consulting firm in Miami. We did hardware, software, technology presentations etc. I enjoyed the work and got along well with the staff of whom there were about a dozen. Not surprisingly (it’s Miami, yo) there were 3 Jose’s on the payroll. Actually, we all worked in the same 20′ x 20′ office. For the sake of clarity, a naming system was devised to avoid 3 responses each time someone called out “Jose”. By order of seniority, I was the first and thus managed to retain my birth-given name “Hose-A”. The successive “Jose’s” were nicknamed “Hose-B” and “Hose-C”. To this day, I remain friends with both Jose’s and recently, Hose-B was my house guest and during his stay he demonstrated an incredible talent for making “el nectar negro de los dioses blancos” also known as “cafecito”.


In most offices in Miami, a “colada” of café (please don’t call it espresso) is made about 25 times a day. That is a conservative estimate. This means you are riding the caffeine superhighway from sun up to til sun down–a glorious thing. Actually, I know plenty of people who take a shot (perhaps mixed with some milk to make “cortadito”) before bedtime.

What distinguishes Cuban Coffee from other similar brews (Thai, Turkish or Italian) is two things: Mucho sugar and frothing up that sugar into “espumita”. To make it, you’ll need some specialized hardware in the form of an Italian coffee maker called a “Macchinetta”. Realize no one I know actually calls it by its Italian name, even if it is distinctly Cuban sounding “¡Oye Fefo, traeme la maquineta!” alas, we call it a “Cafetera”. Cafeteras come in all shapes and sizes but the principle is the same, pressurized steam goes up through the coffee and out of a spout into a covered vessel. Here’s a really informative page about this device. You can find these cafeteras anywhere, even Wal-Mart has them. I bought mine at Marshall’s for like 6 dollars. Works like a charm.

Although you can use any espresso roast ground up as fine as possible, most Cubanos use one of two pre-ground arabicas:


Prepare the cafetera:

1. Fill the lower vessel with water (preferably bottled/filtered) up to the steam release nut.

2. Insert the funnel looking thing that holds the coffee grounds. Insert one spoonful of coffee at a time in to the funnel, packing it down with the back of the spoon after each spoonful. You want the coffee to really be packed in there. Fill to the top edge and then add a bit more to make a slight mound.

3. Carefully screw on the top part of the cafetera. Screw it on really tight, using a towel but careful not to use the plastic handle to do so, it will break.

Prepare your colada container:

1. In a cup or mug (I use a pyrex measuring cup) add your sugar. Depending on the size of the cafetera, you will have to adjust the amount of sugar used. My cafetera makes about 1 cup of coffee and I use about 3 tablespoons of sugar. Adjust accordingly keeping in mind that it should be VERY sweet. Set aside.


Start Making café:

1. Open the top lid and turn heat to high and position the cafetera so as to keep the plastic handle away from the flame/heat as it will melt.

2. Depending on your stove, in about 5 minutes the dark brown coffee will begin to pipe out of the top of the vessel. Watch closely! This is critical as this is the most concentrated coffee which you must use to make your espumita. Remove from heat and pour about 1 teaspoon of coffee into the colada container you prepared.

3. Return the cafetera to the high heat, this time closing the lid.

4. Meanwhile, stir the coffee and sugar together with a small spoon adding wee bits of coffee a bit at a time in order to gain a thick milkshake like consistency. The resultant pre-espumita should be beige, not brown, in color.

5. The coffee will continue to pour out of the cafetera in to the upper vessel and if left under heat for long enough it will run out of water and start making a sputtering sound. You don’t want to let it come to that point. You are to remove the cafetera from the heat when the upper vessel is like 3/4 full or less. This is because we want thick and syrupy coffee, not watery coffee.

6. Add the remaining coffee to the espumita mix and stir, carefully pour into demi-tasse cups or shot glasses and serve immediately with plenty of ice water.


Additional notes:

  • Don’t use soap to clean the cafetera, a quick rinse with water and perhaps a rag to wipe down the oily remains of the coffee. Me? I leave that residue in there as it seasons the cafetera. If you insist on cleaning it, run the cafetera through a cycle using half water, half vinegar and NO coffee.
  • It is customary to offer visitors café at any time of day.
  • Despite everything you’ve ever read and/or felt, the darker the roast of coffee, the LESS caffeine it has (roasting diminishes caffeine’s efficacy)


  1. Great post, and not because it’s about me and coffee (my two favorite things!). Definitely drink in espresso/cafecito cups…it just adds to the overall experience!


    Comment by Hose-B — July 30, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

  2. I love making my Cuban coffee with one of these old fashioned percolators.

    Comment by Juju — July 31, 2009 @ 5:39 am

  3. There is nothing more fundamentally Cuban than the cafezito.

    At the manufcaturing plant where I work, the owner buys 12 coladas a day and pours everyone a shot. If he is late or doesnt show for whatever reason, people start to go bat shit!

    Comment by Alex — July 31, 2009 @ 8:35 am

  4. Great write up HoseA! However, I have attempted to make “Cafe Cubano” with an Italian Roast and it just does not have the “Chispa” you get from Bustelo and Pilón. I am off to have una tasita de café now.


    Comment by Mike — July 31, 2009 @ 8:42 am

  5. Great writeup.

    Calle Ocho style in NYC. I still make my Cafe Bustelo every morning before going to work with a hand me down cafetera thats seen hundreds of thousands of uses from my parents y abuela. Miss Miami.

    Comment by Kevin — July 31, 2009 @ 9:11 am

  6. Thank you Hose-A!
    I am a Miami original, with Cuban roots, who cannot dance salsa (although I have fun trying), cook, or make cafecito. Now there is one less reason for abuela to be ashamed 🙂

    Comment by Yoly — July 31, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

  7. espumita, that’s the trick! My little cuban joint I go to on Miami Beach, La Cachita, switched out to a new espresso machine once, and within a week switched back to the old one. Something about the residue made the old one better…

    Comment by asher — July 31, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

  8. Love the write-up! The espumita is a must, especially for Tia Chiquitica who won’t drink it if it’s missing. And let’s not forget that us Cuban girls can’t get married until we know how to make cafe cubano! Something I heard many many times growing up. Ironically, I seldom put my skills to the test. It’s american coffee at my house. And very few times, the cafesito for “la visita”.

    Comment by Vari — July 31, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

  9. Jose, great write up, you forgot to mention the following:
    – the 25 coladas allowed us to do great work and have productivity well over 20x the average IT worker 😉
    – the cheap cafeteras make great coffee, but if you have a gas stove, you have to put it on the edge so the handle doesn’t melt

    Comment by Norb — August 1, 2009 @ 6:20 am

  10. Great post. Great details. I recently stopped drinking cafecito and replaced it with 5 Hr. Energy shots. Big mistake. The shots gave me stomach pain and the level of cafecito dropped so low in my blood that I had trouble rolling my R’s. I’m okay now though and back on cafecito.
    Thanks for the article cuz.

    Comment by Roy — August 1, 2009 @ 10:26 am

  11. Glad you know how to make your cafecito!!! If you think it plays an important part in your life now, just wait! It is critical in order to function at work.. after a night of NO SLEEP due to a crying baby…aaaah the screeches and high pitched screaming….the kind of screams that pulsate down to your culo and hurt real bad. But don’t worry, its fun the first couple of nights,,enjoy! After not sleeping for 1-42 weeks straight and you got mocos, caca and compota all over you… trust me when I say…you will not have time to make the fancy wancy espumita that makes it soooo tasty. Good luck and God Bless our Cafecito!

    Comment by Manduco — August 5, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

  12. Munne this was great. A step by step. Most Cuban parents never really give their kids a lesson on how to make it. They just scream “Patricia, has un cafesito”. By some act of Cuban genius we are suppose to know how to make it.

    For those who have never tried it, a cafecito cures everything. Can be used for a headache, when you have “fatiga” (are tired), when you have not slept, when you are sad or depressed, if your sinuses are bothering you, it even cures a hangover. Do not use when you have a stomach ache. IT DOES NOT WORK. But for most other things, works like a charm.

    Comment by Pattie — August 6, 2009 @ 9:17 am

  13. Man do I miss going for a Cafe Cubano on Calle Ocho. Although I have a feeling my system doesn’t miss the day long buzz. I was first introduced to this method by my Cuban co-worker in Naples, FL. We would have just two a day, though I’m sure he had more. But when I moved to Miami I had no less than 5-10 a day or night depending on the work load.

    BTW, who is Hose-B?

    Comment by Alvin — August 8, 2009 @ 10:52 am

  14. Hey Jose-A! Good write-up…now we will have to get a cafetera and start drinking cafecitos for their miraculous healing powers! Hope all is well with you three…

    Comment by Susan — August 8, 2009 @ 11:12 am

  15. Alvin: Jose-B is a friend from a post-Expert job…
    Susan: Thanks, we’re doing great!

    Comment by Jose — August 8, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

  16. I did it! Tastes like Miami. Thanks Jose!

    Comment by asher — August 9, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

  17. hey jose, it turned out great! we also documented the process. pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/misdemeanor/3806266460/in/photostream/

    Comment by shappy — August 9, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

  18. Muy buena la demostracion para quien nunca ha hecho el delicioso cafe cubano. Solo de imaginarme el aroma que inunda la cocina cuando la cafetera esta colando se me hace agua la boca Y en mi caso que lo tomo “decaff”, lo disfruto igual!

    Comment by mami — August 10, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

  19. Hi Jose,
    Thank you so much for the great post.
    The tip of not washing with detergent, but rather just rinsing with water, is one I’m taking on board today. I might make the world of difference to my coffee!

    Comment by DannyBee — October 21, 2009 @ 12:39 am

  20. […] Cafe Cubano       Great article! A must read. […]

    Pingback by The Bialetti Moka Express | stovetop espresso blog — October 21, 2009 @ 12:49 am

  21. I never liked coffee until I visited Miami with my former Cuban girlfriend. When she dropped me off at the home of her cousin to stay over night, she told me, “If they offer you coffee, take it”. “You know I don’t like coffee.” “If they offer you coffee, take it”, she repeats. I figured I would just choke it down and hope they don’t offer a second cup.

    One sip, and I was hooked. Then I was afraid they wouldn’t offer me a second cup. I’ve since learned to make it the proper way, but have been successful it making good espumita only about half the time. I hope your more detailed instructions will make it easier for me.

    Comment by Steve — October 25, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

  22. hi from Chester, England.

    As a fellow coffee whore (after visiting Cuba & Latvia suprisingly)
    I have failed on the first attempt, I just made very sweet coffee, good but not right!

    We don’t get Cuban coffee beans here, just lots of italian. Does this cause
    a big change in results (using italian beans instead of Cuban)
    what I can remember of Cuban coffee is that as soon as it came out of the big silver machine, without sugar, it was very viscous and delicious, how do I replicate this at home on the stovetop?

    Any help would be appreciated!

    I’m going to order some cubita online now!


    Comment by Funky Drummer — October 26, 2009 @ 12:43 am

  23. Hello Chester, England! I don’t think think there is a huge difference in Italian espresso grinds and Cuban coffee. Just be sure it is not ground at the finest setting, but one under. Why bother though, as you said, just buy the stuff online (click on the coffee above and that will link you to Amazon)

    If you’re using the Macchinetta as described in this post, you really should be getting that visco-deliciousness you describe in the first bit of output. Let us know how it goes!

    Comment by Jose — October 26, 2009 @ 7:44 am

  24. Thank you so very much! I just returned from my 1st ever trip to Miami. In fact I had never been to FL before. Outside the Miami-Dade Police Dept Headquarters, I ran into El Ray De Las Fritas, a small open air restaurant. My coworker said, I must have a cafe negra, and I immediately fell in love with this concoction.

    I came home to Minneapolis and just could not drink that large cup of American style coffee anymore! This Cuban coffee is a must have, right now. I need to get setup immediately.

    Comment by Amit — December 4, 2009 @ 2:17 pm

  25. Oye chico adonde estas! Your blog and Cuban recipes are amazing. I miss your post I tell you if you posted more frequently like once a month a Cuban recipe you’d have one of the best cuban cooking blogs out there. Your posts, pictures, and recipes are of high quality and very authentic 🙂 I love how you share techniques.

    You need to come back!

    Comment by Nathan — January 1, 2010 @ 4:48 pm

  26. What a great post! I’ve always wanted to get me one of these but I didnt know how to use it right.This is great!Thanks for sharing this!

    Comment by Alisa — March 13, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  27. i could use one right about now…love your blog…cheers!

    Comment by annieinexile — April 14, 2010 @ 10:55 am

  28. Hey great article.

    I was browsing the net and found your blog. Nice. A lot of interesting information one can use in RL.
    I also have a site on net. My site is dedicated to coffee.

    Come and see my site that is dedicvated to how to make coffee and see for yourself.

    All best with your site in the future.

    Comment by roman — May 2, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

  29. Amigofoods.com is a great source to buy coffee as well as latin food on line.

    Comment by jr — May 10, 2010 @ 6:30 am

  30. If I may be so bold, I grew up with my mother’s cafetera on the stovetop, and it’s still my favorite way to get my cafe at home. (and Papi still makes his espumitas EXACTLY as you have described, and he passed it on to all his sons – uncanny!)

    But recently, to avoid using aluminum cooking instruments when possible, I got a stainless steel one from Visions Espresso online, and after using it and loving it, I gave one to my parents as well. I recommend it – it’s the italian stovetop espresso maker, VEVK06 (6 cup) or VEVK12 (12 cup).

    The makers are MUCH more high-quality than most espresso makers – you can feel the tight tolerances in the threads when tightening the pots before starting the perk. Occasionally, with good tight pressure when tamping, the espumita actually occurs in the brewing stage, which we had never seen with the lower quality aluminum pots.

    Great website!

    Comment by Michael Prieto — August 13, 2010 @ 9:46 am

  31. Thanks Michael, I will check those out. I’m a sucker for excellent engineering, particularly of the Italian variety…

    Comment by Jose — August 13, 2010 @ 11:42 am

  32. Well Hose-A…you my friend are missing the last part of the secret to an incredible cafecito – the ingredients! Bustelo Supreme Whole Beans – the ones in the black bag or can.

    I grind them before making my cafecito, uhh, actually my husband grinds them before making my cafecito:-) Since I too am far from home I buy it from JavaCabana.com in sets of 8-1 lb bags. This way my luggage from Miami can carry things like piquillo peppers, txistorra, chorizos, pastelitos, the sticky buns from the “Amish” farm, etc.

    Oh, and while we are on the subject, the following is the absolute YUMMIEST sugar to use to make cafecito: La Perruche Pure Cane Rough Cut Brown Sugar Cubes, Net Wt 2.2 lb., Boxes (Pack of 2)La Perruche Pure Cane Rough Cut Brown Sugar Cubes, I buy them from Amazon in sets of two. You can probably find them in a store in San Fran. Do not bother with imitators! Only La Perruche brown cube break down easily with a tap=tap of our spoon and a little coffee over them.

    Make the above two changes to your cafecito ingredients, and you will never forget me!

    Comment by Smiling.. — February 15, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

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