Cuban coffee aka cafecito is my favorite beverage of all time!
Anyone who has tried it gets it. If you think Starbucks coffee is strong, wait till you try this delight. It truly is a delicious treat!
Cuban coffee is a huge part of our culture. Growing up, I’d watch my dad stir Cuban espresso with steamed milk to make cafe con leche. I’d watch my mom make cafecito for the family after every meal as a sweet treat.
Going out to dinner at Cuban restaurants, Cuban coffee was a dessert or a strong pick-me-up to enjoy for breakfast with pastelitos de guayaba and ham croquettes. Heck, we even buy it to share with strangers!
Before we jump into today’s recipe, let’s talk all things Cuban coffee, shall we?
What is Cuban Coffee?
Cuban coffee, also known as café cubano, is a strong, sweet espresso drink made with dark roast coffee and sugar. It is traditionally made using a moka pot, a stovetop coffee maker that creates pressure to extract the ground coffee.
The sugar is then whipped into a foam, affectionately called espumita (es-pu-mee-tah), with the first few drops of the brewed espresso. Once the rest of the brewed coffee is stirred together with the sugar foam, Cuban coffee is born.
Cuban Coffee Roast
To make traditional café cubano, you want to make sure you choose a dark roast coffee! Some people who prefer a more mild coffee will choose a medium roast.
Cuban Coffee Brands
There are definitely some good Cuban coffee brands available out there, but these two are the most popular:
- La Llave Cubano: This is a dark roast that is known for its robust and bold flavor. It is made with a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans and is roasted to a medium-dark level.
- Bustelo: This is another popular Cuban coffee brand known for its rich, full-bodied flavor. It is made with a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans and is roasted to a dark level.
Types of Cuban Coffee
The foundation of all these different types of Cuban coffee is espresso which is what we’re making today.
- A colada is a 4-ounce Cuban espresso made with espumita (sugar foam) served in a styrofoam cup with little mini plastic cups meant for sharing. It’s very common in South Florida, for example, to buy one before going to the nail salon to share with everyone. True story.
- A cortadito is a shot of unsweetened Cuban espresso with steamed milk. It’s basically a smaller version of a cafe con leche that is sweetened with sugar to taste.
- A cafe con leche is unsweetened Cuban espresso served with hot steamed whole milk. Typically, cafe con leche is served at breakfast along with buttered Cuban toast which most of us dip in our café. Yum!
What is Cuban Colada?
Una colada is essentially the Cuban version of espresso. It has a foamed sugar layer on top, created by combining a few drops of espresso with a bit of sugar. Coladas are typically made for sharing.
Small disposable cups, often referred to as “tacitas,” are used to serve multiple people. It’s common to share the Cuban Colada with friends, family, or coworkers, often in a workplace setting or even at the nail salon. It’s one of my favorite traditions we have here in Miami.
The Cuban Colada is deeply ingrained in Cuban culture and has become a symbol of socialization, community, and the love for strong coffee. It’s not only a drink but also a tradition that brings people together over a shared experience.
5 Star Review
“This recipe truly deserves 5/5 stars. I love how easy and simple it is to make the colada style cuban coffee. Perfect for those who want to try new drinks at home, like me. I’m sure this is one of the best ways of how I’m gonna go with my espresso! Appreciate your effort to make this cuban coffee a reality.”—Margaret
What is Cuban Cortadito?
A cortadito combines dark roast espresso with a small amount of steamed milk and a touch of sugar. The name “cortadito” comes from the Spanish word “cortado,” which means “cut” or “shortened.” In the context of coffee, it refers to the way the espresso is “cut” or diluted with a small amount of milk.
This versatile drink is perfect for those who enjoy the strength of espresso but prefer a smoother and slightly sweeter taste. Like many coffee traditions, un cortadito is almost like a mini cafe con leche.
What is Cuban Cafe con Leche?
Cuban Café con Leche is a classic Cuban coffee drink that translates to “coffee with milk” in English. It’s a staple in most Cuban households and it is known for its smooth combination of strong coffee and warm, steamed milk.
Café con Leche is usually served in a mug due to the addition of milk. It’s a popular choice for breakfast often enjoyed with buttered toast, Cuban pastries, or other breakfast items. It’s also common to dip the pastry into the café con leche for a delicious combination of flavors.
After you make Cuban coffee, make another one of my favorite Cuban beverages – Batido de Trigo (Cuban Milkshake)!
Cortadito vs Cafe con Leche
In the realm of Cuban coffee, the choice between a Cortadito and a Café con Leche boils down to the amount of milk you’d like. As I mentioned before, a cortadito is essentially a cafe con leche in a smaller cup.
Both of them are a beloved concoction where the strength of Cuban coffee meets steamed milk. This warm embrace of flavors is often enjoyed alongside breakfast or as a soothing afternoon treat.
Cortadito vs Colada
When it comes to the vibrant world of Cuban coffee, these two iconic beverages encapsulate the heart and soul of Cuban coffee culture. The difference between the two is simple – one is made with milk and the other one is straight up Cuban espresso. Both are sweetened to perfection.
As I mentioned previously, the cortadito is a blend of strong espresso, steamed milk, and sugar to taste. On the other hand, the colada is a strong and bold coffee concentrate brewed with a generous amount of sugar.
The colada is more of a ritual that invites connection and conversation where bonds are strengthened and moments are cherished. Whether you’re making Cuban coffee with or without milk, one thing’s for sure, they all have a special place in the heart of Cuban-American coffee culture.
Today, I’d like to show you how to make Cuban espresso with espumita.
Our Favorite Cuban Coffee Espresso Maker
This Cuban coffee espresso maker is the one that produces the flavor you enjoy the most. It’s a classic moka pot that has been around for many years. It is made of aluminum and has a 3-cup capacity.
No matter which moka pot you choose (or even if you use another espresso maker with Cuban coffee grounds), be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for best results. With a little practice, you will be able to make delicious Cuban coffee at home in no time.
Our favorite for making Cafecito Cubano! It’s incredibly easy to make and clean. Produces a rich espresso in just minutes.
- Brew the espresso. Fill your espresso maker with water and ground espresso according to the manufacturer’s directions. Place on the stove at medium-high heat and brew the espresso.
- Make the sugar foam. In a measuring cup or creamer cup, add the granulated sugar. Add the first few drops of espresso from the espresso maker into the cup of sugar. The first few drops of espresso that come out of the espresso maker are usually the most concentrated. That’s what we want! Allow the espresso maker to continue to brew as you make the sugar foam. Stir the sugar and those few drops of espresso vigorously into a pale, thick sugar foam (espumita). See photo. If you’ve never done this before, there will be a bit of trial and error. I recommend you add a few drops at a time and stir until the sugar foam is thick but drippy. Be mindful of how much you add so you know how much to add next time.
- Combine both the brewed espresso with the sugar foam. Pour the brewed espresso into the cup with the sugar foam. Stir both of them together slowly to combine. Serve in these espresso cups.
Does it matter if you use granulated sugar or brown sugar?
Great question! My mom makes it with both sugars together.
I prefer granulated sugar. Brown sugar will result in a thicker sugar foam and a bit of a sweeter flavor, in my opinion, because brown sugar has molasses.
Either way, it’s up to you. It will taste delicious either way.
Cuban Coffee (Café Cubano)
- Fill your espresso maker with water and ground espresso according to manufacturer’s directions. Place on the stove at medium-high heat and brew the espresso.
- In a measuring cup or creamer cup, add the sugar. Add the first few drops of espresso from the espresso maker into the cup of sugar. The first few drops of espresso that come out of the espresso maker are usually the most concentrated. That’s what we want!
- Allow the espresso maker to continue to brew. Meanwhile, stir the sugar and those few drops of espresso vigorously into a pale, thick sugar foam (espumita). If you've never done this before, there will be a bit of trial and error. I recommend you add a few drops at a time and stir until the sugar foam is thick but drippy.
- Once the espresso maker is done brewing, pour the brewed espresso into the cup with the sugar foam. Stir together slowly to combine. Serve immediately into espresso cups. Enjoy!