March 29, 2018 5 min read


What is Cuban Coffee?

The History of Cuban Coffee?

In the mid-1700s the coffee growing was introduced to Cuba and by 1790 significant amounts of Cuban coffee beans were being exported to Spain. Cuba’s coffee bean industry expanded when French coffee farmers began farming coffee in Cuba. Coffee bean sales exceeded sugar sales in the 1820s and by the early 1950s coffee bean exports reached 20,000 tons.

The Cuban Revolution of 1956 nationalized coffee farms and this started the decline of the Cuban coffee bean industry. Coffee production continued to languish during the 1960s and 1970s and then surged in the late 1970s and into the 1980s.

The principal benefactor of Cuba was the Soviet Union and with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990 Cuba’s coffee growing industry once again began to wane.

Cuba Coffee Growing Regions

One important coffee growing region is located in the eastern part of Cuba in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. The climate is favorable and the fertile, reddish-brown soils rich with humus allow for coffee cultivation without the need for chemical fertilizers, providing Cuba with a bona fide reputation for growing some of the best coffee. Towns in the Sierra Maestra have a history of coffee cultivation done by hand-picking the coffee cherries from the tree. Many of the coffee trees grow on steep hillsides, and the coffee cherries are carried out of the area in sacks on the shoulders of coffee farmers and then carried by mule to coffee drying areas.

The traditional preparation method among the mountain people is to roast the coffee beans and then pulverize the roasted coffee beans in a wooden “Pilone” (mortar). The coffee is then steeped in hot water and the coffee grounds strained out using a cloth handbag. 

The other main coffee growing region is the Escambray Mountains in the center of Cuba. In the West coffee is farmed in the Guaniguanico and in the East coffee is farmed in the Nipe and Sagua-Baracoa Mountains.

Cuban Coffee Market Difficulties

Difficulties in coffee farming include excessive rainfall followed by drought and poor roads. The use of mules for transport and traditional methods are still commonplace. The poor roads also hinder access for needed labor on plantations.

Cafecito Cafe Cubano a Traditional Cuban Coffee

What are Cuban Coffee drinks? They are called Cafecito, Cafe Cubano or Cuban, and are a type of espresso coffee drink that were first developed in Cuba after Italians arrived in the country.

The Cafecito (Cafe Cubano; Cuban Coffee) beverage is made by sweetening a shot with demerara sugar, during the coffee brewing process. There are variations on the method including a variety of recipes.  The demerara sugar is traditionally added into the vessel into which the espresso will drip so the sugar and espresso mix during brewing which is said to create a and smooth quality.

Please watch the video below for details on how to make cuban coffee with a cuban coffee maker, an espresso coffee maker.


The Special Flavor of Cuban Coffee

The unique flavor of a Cafecito is created due to the heat of the first drips of espresso coffee with hydrolyzing sucrose (sugared water) causing a taste that differs from the taste created by adding the sugar at the end. Many prefer to first just add a small amount of the espresso coffee and the stir it thoroughly creating a light brown paste. Then the rest of the espresso is added resulting in an “espumita” or light brown foamy layer sitting atop the beverage.

Here is a Breakdown of the Different Types of Cuban Coffee:

What is a Cafecito or Café Cubano? The traditional and one of the favorite coffees. Cafecito is brewed with ordinary coffee beans and sweetened with sugar. Cafecito is twice as strong as American coffee and served in a small Cuban coffee cup.

What makes Cafecito so much different than other coffees is the sweet milk foam, espumita,that it is served with the coffee.

Here is How to Make a Cafecito Coffee at Home:

      • 1. Fill a creamer cup, or small cup, with your desired amount of granulated sugar.
      • 2. Pack your espresso in the machine like normal, and get ready to pull your shot.
      • 3. As your start your shot, the first couple drops of the shot should go directly overtop the cup of sugar. Once you have a few drops in there, remove the sugar and place your regular espresso cup underneath to catch the rest of the espresso shot. (Sidenote – this process is QUICK! Make sure not to burn your hands in the process.)
      • 4. Quickly stir the droplets and the sugar together until you form a pale, thick foam (espumita).
      • 5. Pour the espumita over your finished espresso shot, and stir together slowly to fully combine the two, and enjoy!
  • What is a Colada coffee? 
    • A colada is the bigger, shareable version of a Cafecito. If you want to share your CafĂ© Cubano with friends, order a Colada and enjoy the productivity and happiness the cup brings.
  • What is a CafĂ© Con Leche coffee? 
    • A CafĂ© Con Leche translates directly to “coffee with milk”. The unsweetened coffee is served with hot, steamed milk either on top or on the side. Although traditionally served at breakfast, this beverage can be enjoyed all day long.
    • In Western culture, we know this same beverage as a “cafĂ© au lait” popularized by the French, or a “cafĂ© misto”. 
  • What is a Cortadito coffee?
    • Cortadito translates to “small cut” and is an extremely sweet coffee beverage. Like cafĂ© con leche, a cortadito is a full-sized beverage versus a Cafecito, which is only served as a 4oz beverage.
    • To make a cortadito, follow the instructions above for a Cafecito while also want warming a can of evaporated milk on the stove. Once your Cafecito is done and the milk is warmed, add the milk until you get your desired sweetness of coffee.

The Social Aspects of Cuban Coffee

In Cuba, as well as among the Cuban exile community globally, the consumption of Cafe Cubano (Cafecito) is a prominent daily cultural and social activity.

Four to six shots of coffee served in a large glass along with numerous small demitasse cups is known as a Colada and intended for sharing.

In some social circles the tip of a Cuban cigar may be dipped in the bottom of the demitasse and then lit.

If you should have the opportunity to visit Cuba, you must savor the experience and enjoy a Café Cubano.  You won’t be disappointed!