Starting the day with a cup of coffee is pretty much ubiquitous for most people around the world. Except that the Cubans aren’t just anybody. For them, coffee is their culture in a cup; sweet, bitter and served in tiny demitasse cups is symbolic of a nation historically wracked by turmoil and conflict at odds with a people who have always tried to see the bright side of life. And when visitors come to the neighborhood of Little Havana here in Miami, they can absolutely understand why this morning ritual is such a must. The slightly thick, caramel and chocolate undertones of the deeply roasted Arabica beans are just too alluring to resist. So learning how to make Cuban coffee at home is a must. In fact, Miami tourists can become so enthralled by and might I say, addicted to Cuban coffee that preparing it when they return home is a reported welcomed new habit.
It would be a tad difficult to pack our beautiful sandy beaches into your suitcase, but it’s a snap to tuck a pack of roasted coffee beans from favorite brands such as Cafe Bustelo or Cafe Pilon into your carry on. Learning how to make Cuban coffee at home is actually easier than fussing with every newfangled iteration of the latest coffee trend. Stick with the classic Cuban coffee and you’ll find your morning routine (and dare I say, an afternoon one too because it’s so delicious) will be one you’ll look most forward to, especially on the days when you feel your get up and go, got up and went! No decaf here, it’s all high octane fuel in the Cuban world.
Although you could use any dark roast, it’s best if you can actually purchase the aforementioned Bustelo or Pilon brands or any other local brand that you might pick up in a Miami market. These are made from the superior Arabica beans and these are proven to produce an outstanding cafe cubano. If you purchase the beans whole and wish to grind them yourself, don’t grind them as fine as you would espresso.
Although you can learn how to make Cuban coffee at home with an espresso maker, you might want to buy something called a Moka pot and tote that home too. It’s so small, it will barely take up room in your valise and it will lend an air of authenticity to the process. Considering this is the pot most Cuban abuelas ( grandmothers) use to make Cuban coffee at home, you’ll have fun carrying on the tradition of these beloved family members.
What is a Moka pot?
A Moka pot is a stove top coffee maker that brews coffee by passing boiling water pressurized by steam through ground coffee. It’s a two part pot that the bottom chamber is filled with water. When heated, steam pressure pushes the water through a basket containing ground coffee up through into the top portion of the pot known as the collecting chamber.
To begin to make your Cuban coffee at home, add the ground beans to the basket, but don’t tamp down on the grounds, keep them a little loose. Add the water to the bottom of portion of the pot and screw on the top portion encasing the beans in the basket in the middle of the pot. Place the pot over medium low heat.
Meanwhile, the whole key to how to make great Cuban coffee is to make it sweet. Traditionally there might be up to 1 tablespoon of sugar per cup per person, but you’ll decide how much you prefer. Add the sugar to a deep cup. Once the coffee is brewed, add a little coffee to the sugar. But not too much. Better to err on the side of less coffee than more. You want just enough coffee to make a thick paste.
The glory of Cuban coffee is what is next to come! Take a spoon and whip the small amount of coffee and sugar together vigorously. At first the mixture will look paste-like but then as you incorporate air, the mixture will turn a light caramel color and will foam slightly. This beautiful mixture is called espuma. The idea behind this is that since the Cuban culture has always had to be resourceful, this “crema” is imitating real cream which has been historically and notoriously scarce in Cuban society. It’s considered a real art to properly prepare espuma and with enough practice anyone can master this craft.
When the rest of the coffee is ready, the Moka pot will start making gurgling noises. Take the finished coffee and pour it over the whipped coffee-sugar mixture and then very carefully pour into demitasse cups so you don’t break the espuma. You can even spoon the espuma over everyone’s cup to ensure all enjoy this rich treat.
If you desire, you may also mix the coffee grounds and sugar together as it brews. It will make a slightly weaker espuma, but it will save you time and it will help to caramelize the sugar more. It’s very important to never pack down the coffee as it can block the steam and can cause an uneven reaction. It might even cause the lid of the Moka pot to fly off!
Once you get the hang of it, it will be time to kiss any weak, flavorless brew to the curb for now you’ve entered a whole new world of coffee heaven. For the Cuban people starting the day with a shot of Cuban coffee and all will be right in the world.
But wait..... want to experience the entire formality of the Cuban coffee custom? Join us on our Miami Culinary Tour of Little Havana and you’ll be treated to the stories behind the preparation of cafe cubano and so much more. Let our team of master storytellers regale you will tales about Cuban cuisine blended with the rich history and culture of this iconic neighborhood. We’ll be waiting for you with a Cuban coffee in hand!
By Robyn Webb