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Cuban Coffee, How To Make the Perfect Cafecito

April 04, 2006 By Gus in Miscellaneous  | 48 Comments


Enjoying a Cuban coffee (un cafecito) is a daily ritual for many Latin Americans. I say enjoying because Latins and Americans drink their coffee a little differently.

Americans associate coffee with a quick dash into Stabucks on their way to work, or trying not to burn themselves as they order a cup at the Mc Donald’s drive thru. My grandfather drove a Greyhound bus. Because reststops were only 10 minutes in duration, he had this nifty trick of ordering coffee and spooning in some ice cubes to cool it down quickly.

But when Latins drink coffee, it’s more of a social thing. They take their coffee very seriously. I’ve come to learn that when a Latin offers me a coffee, I should graciously accept. Sharing a coffee for them is like offering you an extended handshake.

At any time of day, at the many Cuban cafes throughout Miami, people line up for café cubano which is served in thimble-sized plastic cups.  When ordered for a group, one calls it a “colada”. Cuban coffee is also served at the end of every meal in “tacitas”, which are small china cups.

There is definitely a ritual to making a cafecito. The ingrediants are pretty basic. All you need is: cuban coffee, sugar, an espresso maker, and a metal cup.

Here is how to make the perfect cafecito:

  1. Pour ice cold water into your espresso maker. Your espresso maker can be a fancy machine, or just a pot on the the stove.
  2. Fill the espresso maker with coffee grounds. Screw the espresso maker together and place on a hot burner.
  3. In your metal cup, add about two teaspoons of sugar for each serving.
  4. As the coffee begins to percolate, pour enough coffee into your metal cup to moisten the sugar. Mix the moistened sugar and coffee together until it becomes a paste.
  5. Once the coffee is done, pour it slowly into the metal cup while gently mixing it with the sugar paste. If done properly, the sugar paste will create a foam. Mix in the rest of the coffee, and there you go, the perfect cafecito.

Stay tuned for tips on how to make the perfect cafe con leche.

Related Categories: Miscellaneous,

Gus Moore heads up Miami Beach 411 as site administrator. You can reach him at 1-305-754-2206.

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48 Comments on

"Cuban Coffee, How To Make the Perfect Cafecito"

Cuban Coffee Guy says:

You need to make sure people know how to make cafe con leche as well, but a nice method for the cafe cubano.

Posted on 03/07/2007 at 8:06 PM

Free Shipping Furniture says:

What tequila is to liquor, café cubano is to the world of coffee. It is not sipped or savored … it is shot! Café cubano is at-least double the strength of American coffee. It is a daily morning ritual for Cubans and Cuban-Americans. At any time of day or night at the countless little Cuban restaurants that dot Miami, people line up for “jolts” of café cubano served in thimble-sized paper cups. Cuban coffee is served at the end of a meal in tacitas that are smaller than demitasse cups. The old-fashioned way to make café cubano is in a pot on the stove, though the truth is that Cubans in this country make their coffee in Italian espresso makers.

Posted on 06/12/2007 at 10:38 AM

Jon the New Guy says:

I just moved to Miami and have quickly come to love Cuban Coffee.  I’m glad I read this.  I have politely declined Cuban coffee thinking I didn’t want to impose. I hope they’ll understand it was ignorance, not rudeness.

Posted on 08/01/2007 at 7:39 AM

Gus says:

Thanks for commenting, Jon. Welcome to Miami Beach 411.

Posted on 08/01/2007 at 8:15 AM

Dale says:

I just came back from Miami, while I was there I was offered a coffee shot from a nice Cuban lady. It was the best I’ve ever had, I’m hooked! I asked what kind it was she said La llave, well someone translated, I just went out and bought a stovetop espresso maker and some la llave coffee. Thanks for teaching me how to make it the right way. I can’t wait till I get better at it.

Posted on 08/26/2007 at 8:01 PM

Billie Grace Carman says:

i just had dinner with some friends fresh back from Miami, we had cuban coffee afterward or I should say “tacitas”.  I love it, I found this web site looking for a cuban coffee maker; thank you Cuba!

Posted on 01/28/2008 at 12:41 AM

Richard says:

I would like to tell you something important the meeting I had with a retired US NAVY 2 star rank the subject was that they knew where Castro was at 24/7 I am a Jew just like we knew how they liked their coffie fixed in Eygpt our surprize atack on them Isreal 1 Gygpt 0 Tell some of your customers that America has been selling out remember when someone tampered with a over the counter Rx at a drug store the same thing is done at some Rx factories because some sick person cooked the books like at tax time loading of the program on a companies mainframe AOL is a bad to Windows Regedit PC like @aol.Someone up in Washington DC and Stock Exchange has went to bed with a coffie company in South America.Local Tv news paper should Raiders of the Lost Ark and Watergate was a something that got Nixon out of office like what got NY Gov.out of office threw the smoke and political establishment.18+ years sluffing off voted into office.41 no one to say daddy.US Medical DOD GOV.Civilian hands off.From the Ford White House.Planet of The Apes wuth ones and zeroes Redneck and KKK House of UN American Activites.The New Black September on American Soil,They burnned their bras over movie The Island.1970s ERA.

Posted on 03/23/2008 at 3:56 AM

Vic says:

Hmm, looks like there is someone among us that has had one cafecito too many and is on one serious caffine buzz.

Gus, thanks for the instructions.  Last week we were in Miami and we fell in love with the Cafe con Leche.  Mmmm.

Posted on 06/30/2008 at 12:29 AM

Coffee Lover says:

Although I have never tasted a cuban coffee, it sounds great…thanks for sharing.

Posted on 11/21/2008 at 4:47 AM

Machines says:

Interesting how coffee is different all over the world. I have tried a cuban coffee and recommend them to anyone.

Posted on 11/21/2008 at 4:48 AM

El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

I would like to add one important point:  the bit of brewed coffee used to create the “crema” or “espumita” (foam) by mixing it in with the sugar must absolutely be the first half ounce or so that brews out of the espresso maker.  It is this concentrated “first milk” as it were that allows for the proper creation of a thick crema.  If you wait for the entire serving to brew and then use that more diluted coffee to create the crema, you will not get a good result.  With a little practice all of this becomes second nature, but it does require watching the coffee maker closely to catch that first brew!  ¡Buena Suerte amigos!

Posted on 01/21/2009 at 12:30 PM

Gus says:

Your welcome, Vic.

Good tip, El Pinareño Cafecito Expert. Your name suits you well. I’ve never heard the term “first milk” before. Thank you for posting.

Posted on 01/21/2009 at 12:47 PM

El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

You’re welcome Gus.  “First milk”, technically known as “colostrum”, refers to the milk produced by the mammary glands of mammals, humans included, immediately after the offspring’s birth, or during late pregnancy.  You can instantly see the association with the first coffee that brews out of the “cafetera” when making Cuban coffee.  Cheers!

Posted on 01/21/2009 at 2:03 PM

Jon Acker says:

While that is very informative, I like to think milk is from the dairy case (although I know the whole thing about cows, mammary glands etc.)  I really miss good Cuban coffee.  I’m back in Austin now, and the stuff I make just ain’t the same.

Posted on 01/21/2009 at 2:21 PM

Ashley says:

My friend Gina just taught me how to make Colada as well. It is so good, but in heavy doses is like liquid crack. So Good!

Posted on 02/26/2009 at 1:00 PM

El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

Ashley, if you can down a whole colada by yourself then you belong in the Cafecito Drinkers’ Hall of Fame, and “liquid crack” is an understatement.  For those not in the know, a “colada” is one large serving of Cuban coffee meant to serve multiple drinkers with demitasse servings.

Posted on 02/26/2009 at 3:30 PM

Ashley says:

No intentions of offending anyone if I have misused the word “colada,” as I know that the topic of Cuban Coffee is such a sensitive area. Thanks for bringing all of us NON EXPERTS in THE KNOW… And I must be on real crack because I cant recall ever saying that I have downed a whole Colada by myself… DEMITASSE THAT! And thanks for posting!

Posted on 02/27/2009 at 11:24 AM

Jon the New Guy says:

My name is Jon and I have drunk a whole colada myself.

Posted on 02/27/2009 at 2:15 PM

Gilbert Hero says:

Gus, Check this product out nothing like it in Miami!

Posted on 04/01/2009 at 8:01 AM

El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

Gilbert, that is one cool device!  I’m going to order mine right away, as I’m tired of the mess I make with the tamper.  Although the demo video didn’t show it, my guess is this thing tamps down as well.  Thanks for posting!

Posted on 04/01/2009 at 3:46 PM

Barb says:

Coming from a Cuban-American family, we never had an espresso machine or coffee maker in our house growing up…and to this day, I still have never owned a coffee maker. We made our coffee right on the stove top..the aroma is amazing..i have fond memories of making my dad his “cafecito”..I brought the water, sugar and coffee to a boil and right before that foam hit the top of the pot, I’d turn off the stove..pour the coffee into the cloth coffee strainer and with hot buttered cuban bread - it was simply amazing!

Posted on 05/23/2009 at 5:20 AM

El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

Barb, that’s the way it was in the Old Country, where the old cloth “colador” was the standard way to make coffee.  This method is still used today by some Cuban Americans in the US and elsewhere, and I have seen it used in other parts of Latin America. Needless to say, the brew was served really hot, requiring us kids to drink from the saucer so that the coffee could cool off.  What memories!

Posted on 05/28/2009 at 11:42 PM

jerry says:

Just back from Hollywood Beach, Florida where I had delicious cafecitos on the Broadwalk at Havaco, looking out over the ocean.. Of course, now I am again trying to recreate that because I need my fix of Cafe Cubano! I would love to know the exact steps to Barb’s method, if anyone could share?

Posted on 05/29/2009 at 11:00 AM

Jasmine says:

cuban coffee is more complex at times and there are many different ways to make it. my boyfriends step dad is from cuba he came over here like 27 years ago and they make the best cuban coffee. nevcer turn it down its like an insult but any one whos truley had coffe has had cuban coffee if not your totally missing out make it and whonce u go cuban theres no more american starbucks instant coffee.

Posted on 10/02/2009 at 8:34 PM

22.El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

Jerry, the old “colador” method is quite simple.  You first have to aquire the “colador” which is nothing more than a piece of cloth hanging from a ring (kind of like a fish scooper). You put the ground coffee in it, boil water, and pour it over the coffee until all of it filters through.  It’s a bit like quick percolation.  Add sugar to the brew (to taste) and that’s all there is to it.  It’s a bit difficult to get “crema” or “espumita” out of the coffee via this method, but it’s possible if you just put the first few drops of the brewed coffee into the pre-measured sugar and make the paste, same as with the espresso method.  BTW, coladores may be picked up for a couple of bucks at most Latin markets in Miami.  Wouldn’t know about elsewhere in the US.

Posted on 10/02/2009 at 9:12 PM

Michael Walls says:

I moved to Hialeah, FL (Little Cuba) in the early 70’s and was immediately curious about the little “gatherings at the windows” at the tiendas (little maekets) early evenings. I sated my curiosity and had my first cafecito. I was instantly hooked, learned the language, played the music and consorted with the girls (they’re even better than the coffee). I became what they called a “gringo platanado” (“Bananafied” Americano).

What brought me here was searching my memory of a filtering method called “the dirty sock”. It was a cloth filter with a handle - like a little sieve but with cloth instead od wire mesh. if you look at it, the coffee stains the cloth and it does resemble a very dirty sock in coloration. It’s use was clarified by Barb.

My next feat is to find one for sale. I have a nice stainless steel, Italian stovetop espresso maker - BUT - I grind my beans so fine that some sediment gets in the cup. I could just use a Melita - but that wouldn’t be near as fun and nostalgic ;-}

The best beans I ever had, I bought at a guitar shop, but they are available online - Kaña. For nostalgic reasons I use their Hialeah Blend. Disfruta!

Posted on 03/12/2010 at 5:40 PM

David Clark says:

My comment is to El Pinareño Cafecito Expert, in order to get the “first milk” are you saying to take the pot off the stove and stop the peculating process to get the first milk. I’m afraid I’m too clumsy for that

Posted on 03/26/2010 at 1:05 PM

El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

David, yes, you have to take the espresso maker off the stove as soon as the coffee starts to percolate up, pour this into the pre-measured sugar and stir vigorously until you achieve crema.  It takes practice but it’s worth it because those first teaspoons of brewed coffee are the thickest and make for the best crema or espumita.  If you find this maneuver difficult, just know that it takes a little practice.  If you choose to, you can wait for the entire coffee to brew, but then your crema won’t be as thick because the coffee is by now diluted.  Try both methods and see the difference.  You may be able to live with the second easier method.  Good luck.

Posted on 03/26/2010 at 5:35 PM

David Clark says:

Its not as difficult as I imagined, catch it just right and yes it does make the coffee foam. I got hooked on Cuban coffee while stationed at Homestead Air force Base, so I bought a stove top espresso maker. Never drink American coffee again, Thanks

Posted on 03/26/2010 at 5:50 PM

Jerry says:

What brands of coffee are recommended?

Posted on 03/28/2010 at 10:26 AM

El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

Jerry, there are many brands of espresso coffee toasted and blended to the Cuban spec.  My personal favorite is Cafe La Llave, but the better known and higher market share brands like Bustelo and Pilon are good as well.  If you’re in Miami or happen to be visiting, just visit any local Latin market (such as Sedano’s supermarket) to get a full display of what’s available.  Also, if you like to grind your own beans, both Bustelo and Pilon offer a “gourmet” version of their coffees in whole beans, though I personally don’t think these are better than their regular stuff.  Good luck in your search.

Posted on 03/28/2010 at 1:10 PM

Jin says:

Good to see many people enjoying Colada!
Here’s Miami.
I am making it everyday at work and my amigos love it!
I am Korean and love coladita! Me encata!
Thanks for the good article.

Posted on 04/02/2010 at 11:48 AM

Too Much Caffeine says:

To those of you, like myself, who drank the whole colada let me ask you this; Would you do it again?  LOL I used to work with this Cuban guy and he would buy a colada and we would both take a couple of shots throughout the morning.  Well, I left that job and when I was at my new job I missed that morning ritual.  I worked by myself so I didn’t have someone to share it with and I drank the whole thing in about an hour.  I was so wired I seriously thought I was going to have to go to the hospital.  I love cuban coffee, just in the correct dose.

Posted on 05/17/2010 at 5:45 AM

Jerry says:

Between work and school, I think the whole colada might do it for me!

Posted on 05/17/2010 at 11:34 AM

El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

Some 15 years ago I was at the now-famous Vesailles Restaurant on Miami’s Calle Ocho and SW 35th Avenue having my usual shot of Cuban coffee, when in walk a group of Swedish tourists fresh off the tour bus making a pit stop at that mandatory Cuban location.  The tourist pointed to someone who had just ordered a colada, and about two minutes later received his from the waitress, along with the mandatory little cups for the individual shots.  The man was standing right next to me when he proceeded to down the whole thing as if he were drinking a cup of regular coffee.  Everyone who saw him just stood there with mouths agape, until one elderly gentleman, in his best accented English, said to the Swede, “no, not from the big cup, use the little cup!”  But it was too late, the whole colada had disappeared down the Nordic man’s gullet.  He was about to order another one when the waitress, herself in disbelief, brought him a glass of cold water as a chaser.  The elderly man then told the Swede to just take small sips of the cold water, but the Swede just downed the whole glass the same way as he had slurped the colada.  He went ahead and ordered his second colada “for the road”, and as he walked away he seemed fine while everyone just stood there and mumbled in Spanish how the man must have an iron stomach.  As we saw him get back into the bus, still looking o.k., the elderly guy looked at me and just said, “I hope that tour bus has a working bathroom.”

Posted on 05/18/2010 at 11:52 AM

Jerry says:

Im in the process of slowly drinking a whole colada as I get ready to go to work!

Posted on 05/18/2010 at 12:29 PM

El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

Well, make sure that you’re using the right blend and that it is ground correctly.  A good espresso blend ground up fine should work, but I have to say that in my opinion some of the expensive Italian blends, like the famous Ille, are just too bitter and not at the level of the more mundane “Cuban” brands such as Pilon, Bustelo, La Llave, etc.  But that’s just my taste, and as we know, taste is subjective. Finally, do make sure you sweeten to taste because unsweetened Cuban coffee tastes pretty harsh.

Posted on 12/15/2010 at 12:54 PM

Michael says:

RE: coladas. You guys are making me feel jaded. I knock down coladas all the time - sin tasita!

Posted on 12/16/2010 at 2:54 PM

Gloria Jean Gonzalez Provenzano says:


Christmas Eve I made some Cafe Cubano the old fashion way with my metal stand and the sock and new family members were impressed and now want a metal stand.  I’m able to find the sock with no problem in Tampa, but not the stand.  Has anyone got information to share on where to find them anywhere?    Thank you in advance.

Gloria Jean Gonzalez Provenzano

Posted on 01/09/2011 at 3:34 PM

Paulo says:

i have an expresso machine which resembles the big one’s around Miami, the secret to make that foam , creamy coffee , is to press the coffee ground really tight into the handle that attaches to the machine. you don’t need to mix sugar and coffee as a paste, it comes out creamy and foamy . press it down as tight as you can and you got a real thing.

Posted on 03/20/2011 at 9:15 AM

El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

Paulo, you can certainly get the crema with a an espresso machine, but read this thread completely and you’ll understand that if you’re using the regular stove-top coffee makers using the regular boiling method, you have no choice but to use the method which creates the sugar paste.

Posted on 03/20/2011 at 11:31 AM

jerry says:

I favor the old school method with sugar paste as well…

Posted on 03/20/2011 at 1:06 PM

Michael says:

Stove top or no, all the “tiendas” I go to now in Tampa’s Cuban sector use electric espresso makers, then do the sugar mix from the finished product. I bought a $40 stainless Itallian stove top and it never got the strength a cheap ($40) Mr Coffee expresso maker got - mas crema. With the Mr Coffee I can use the finest grind and, in the end, tastes more like what I get on Armenia Ave in Tampa. Anyway, even back in Miami in the 70’s I specified “medio dulce” (semi sweet) so I guess it’s still an individual thing.

Posted on 03/24/2011 at 8:55 AM

Crazy Coffee Man's Wife says:

My husband came back from a business trip to Puerto Rico last year crazed over their coffee and bearing four different kinds of coffee. He found a coffee “sock” online, and just heats the coffee on the stove in a saucepan and pours it through the sock to strain it. Sounds like the same method some of you describe.

Posted on 04/22/2011 at 8:19 AM

jerry says:

Heading back to Hollywood Beach next week. Can anyone recommend a few good places to enjoy cafecitos in the area? I will most likely head down to Calle Ocho as well, so any recommendations at all will be appreciated!

Posted on 06/02/2011 at 11:16 PM

El Pinareño Cafecito Expert says:

Don’t know much about Hollywood Beach as that is a foreign land to most of us south of the Miami Dade - Broward frontier, but as for Calle Ocho (also becoming a foreign land to those of us south of Pinecrest) you can’t go wrong at any of the joints along that corridor, but I would recommend the following from East to West:  Cafe Versailles and/or Restaurant La Carreta half a block away right at the West entrance to Little Havana (around SW 36th Ave), Roma Bakery at the Granada Shopping Plaza across from Coral Gables (49th St), and Bahamas Fish Market Restaurant just before the Palmetto Overpass.  You can’t go wrong with any of these, but my favorite for quality, consistency, and availability of accompanying Cuban pastries is the Versailles location - also the epicenter of Cuban American political intrigue and such.  There are many more places both east and west of these locations, so feel free to go into any joint and ask for a “cafecito”.  No need to specify as everyone will know what you want.  Good luck and be prepared to use your Spanish language skills!

Posted on 06/03/2011 at 2:36 PM

Johnathan says:

Thank you for this I moved from Miami 7 years ago and how I miss a Cuban Coffee in the middle of the day. Thanks to you I hope to take up this tradition going forward!

Posted on 06/19/2011 at 8:59 PM

NR says:

Haha, I just brought in a colada for the office and I’m so sleepy I tempted to drink the whole thing myself, and I don’t want to catch a heart attack, so I googled, should you drink a whole colada by yourself, and this article came up! Reading the comments the answer is no. Maybe I will have like 3 shots.

Posted on 08/05/2011 at 6:34 AM

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