Cuban Coffee: A Brief History In A Cup
You can’t leave the house these days without going past a slew of coffee shops, corporate or independent. Coffee has infatuated our societies for centuries and Cuban coffee is on the top of my list.
I did a little research about the history of this famed cup of coffee, and I wanted to explore a few questions.
Where did Cuban coffee culture come from?
What makes Cuban coffee different? And of course, can I make Cuban Coffee at home? Spoiler Alert: You can:)
A Trade Embargo
Cuban Coffee production dates back to the 18th century when José Antonio Gelabert and french farmers were escaping the revolution in nearby Haiti.
The French introduced expert growing and cultivation techniques to Cubans and coffee culture found its way to the streets of Havana. At its peak, Cuba was growing and exporting over twenty thousand tons of coffee a year.
The rise of Castro and the nationalization of coffee production lead to a sharp decline in production, with the lack of incentives for small-time farmers.
This lack of production created a shortage of coffee and lead to an inventive solution, they began stretching coffee with roasted and ground chickpeas.
The US issued an embargo on all imports from Cuba in 1962, resulting in a devastating blow to their coffee industry. Further damage was done when the USSR fell in the 1980s and Cuba no longer had any alias to export to.
These were dark times on the island and sometimes referred to as the “Great Recession”. Many Cubans relied on the coffee industry and the national pride that it evoked.
What Makes Cuban Coffee Different?
There are a few key differences to a proper cup of Cuban coffee. While the production of both Robusta and Arabica beans were once grown on the island, today’s Cuban coffee is mostly made with Arabica.
The use of Robusta bean is typically used for instant coffee, it is a sturdier species with low acidity levels and high bitterness.
The use of the Moka pot is also significant as it pushes the coffee through the grounds with the use of steam. The espuma is created with a few teaspoons of sugar and a small amount of the first brewed coffee.
By vigorously stirring together the coffee and sugar it creates aeration and a thick rick froth to spoon over the top.
There are few ways to order your coffee when out at a cafe that includes The Cortadito, Cafe con Leche and, The Colada. The Coradito translates to “small cut” in Spanish and contains a splash of milk that cuts down the robust flavor.
Cafe Con Leche is an 80/20 blend of coffee to milk, typically very sweet with a pinch of salt to boot. Finally, The Colada is the ultimate sign of camaraderie with a large cup of coffee containing 5-6 shots that passed around amongst friends usually served in a styrofoam cup.
A Growing Coffee Market
Today things are looking brighter for the future of coffee production in Cuba. Both Arabica and Robusta beans are grown under the shady canopies of the Sierra Maestra mountains.
The mountains run westward along the coast in the southeast region of the island, rising abruptly from the ocean. They boast the highest point in Cuba with rich and fertile soil that is high in minerals. The coffee harvest peaks in October and November, mostly coming from small family farms.
In 2003 Cuba began growing and exporting Organic coffee to Europe and Japan selling at a 40% premium to other coffee coming from the region. Today the growers and processors in Cuba receive a government-regulated, fixed price for their coffee and cafe culture is alive and well.
How Strong Is Cuban Coffee?
Cuban coffee is roughly double the strength of regular American coffee. It is normally served in small cups called “tacitas,” which are smaller than demitasse cups, at the end of a meal.
Normally a thick brew with a captivating flavor and aroma made sweet by the amount of sugar and a frothy espuma. The secret to “Cafe Cubano” or”cafecito,” as it is known in Cuba, is the finely ground, dark roasted coffee beans.
Generally, a Cuban coffee has 25mg of caffeine per 2 oz of liquid gold. The addition of all the sugar will keep your brain buzzing for awhile.
Making the Famed Cuban Coffee
After a recent trip to Miami, I wondered if I could make a cup of Cuban coffee at home!? The culture of coffee is strong in the streets of Little Havana, with people of all races, creeds, and cultures, standing outside their favorite establishments. They talk politics, sporting events, or whats for dinner.
A three-cup Moka pot is also a necessity and can be purchased on Amazon in the link above. Granulated sugar and a few espresso cups to make the frothy luscious espuma that makes Cuban coffee so good. I have a full recipe at the bottom of this article that makes two cafecito cups.
How to Make Cuban Coffee at Home
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- Cuban-style finely ground coffee ( Cafè La Llave or Mayorga Organics Café Cubano)
- 3 cup Moka pot
- 3 teaspoons of sugar (white is typically used, but I enjoy it with turbinado)
- 2 expresso cups
- 1 glass measuring cup (for your espuma)
- Fill the bottom of the Moka pot with enough water to the safety runoff valve.
- Add your coffee to the Moka pot filter and skim off the excess with your finger, don’t pack it down.
- Screw together the Moka pot and place on Med/Low heat (brewing it to quickly causes the flavor to not be as bold)
- Once the brewing process begins to percolate a bit, remove from the stove. Add your sugar to the measuring cup and stir in 2-3 oz of coffee.
- With a spoon vigorously stir the mixture, it should look thick and frothy, set aside.
- Return the Moka back to the stove and complete the brewing of your Cafecito.
- Be careful as the pot gets quite hot on the stove. Add your coffee into the cups and spoon over your espuma. Now Enjoy!