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.
- 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)