Un Cafecito – The History of Cuban Coffee

Cuba is a country steeped in history and tradition, and drinking coffee is one of those traditions.

The Cuban “Cafecito”

Cuban coffee is colloquially called “cafecito” because the cups in which it is served are quite small.

On the other hand, Cuban coffee has a stronger and more bitter taste because the coffee beans are ground with roasted chickpeas. This is done to stretch the low supply.

For this reason, coffee is usually drunk with a sweetener, usually sugar.

It also uses foam, which is sugar whipped with a small amount of coffee to form a thick, frothy layer intended to imitate the crema of espresso coffee.

The small cups used to serve coffee are also used for coffee rationing.

This is due to the island’s lack of coffee and the limited rations that Cubans have had to make do with since the government nationalized the country’s food supply in 1962.

Since then, each islander has been allotted just 4 ounces (113 g) of coffee per month.

Coffee cultivation began in the 18th century.

Coffee was first introduced to Cuba in the mid-18th century.

Later, French settlers who arrived in Cuba after the Haitian Revolution brought with them more sophisticated coffee-making techniques that can still be found in the island’s cafes today.

The 19th and 20th Century of Coffee in Cuba

For almost 150 years, Cuba was one of America’s largest coffee exporters, and at the peak of its production, the Cuban coffee industry exported more coffee to Spain than to any other country.

The Arabica and Robusta beans grown in the country’s coffee fields were an important part of the Cuban economy and a symbol of national pride.

As in other countries, the coffee houses gradually became the cultural center of the country.

The tradition of drinking coffee in cafés is deeply rooted among Cubans, although home-brewed coffee is also very popular.

The importance of cafes in Cuba

The coffee shops, also called “Ventanitas” in Cuba, reflect the history after the Cuban revolution.

Before the 1959 revolution, Havana’s coffee culture was at its peak.

Back then, more than a hundred cafes thrived on the streets of the country’s capital.

However, it is said that the decline of the coffee houses began immediately after the outbreak of the revolution.

The trade embargo imposed by the United States in 1962 also contributed to the already difficult situation in the Cuban coffee industry.

The 1990s and the collapse of the Soviet Union

Although the coffee industry was not doing well, thanks to support from the Soviet Union, Cubans could count on a more or less stable supply of coffee.

However, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was another major setback, as Cuba became dependent on its exports to other communist countries, leaving few outlets for its produce.

The years following the collapse of the USSR were marked by great economic and social hardship for Cubans.

The Great Recession

From the early 1990s to the mid-2010s, coffee was still available, but only in very small quantities. So scarcity was the norm.

In fact, at its low point in 2007, Cuba was producing just 7,000 bags of coffee, a far cry from the 440,000 bags it once exported.

The Cuban coffee industry today

With the support of the local government, Cuban coffee production has increased to about 120,000 bags today.

And although growth has been slow, production has improved so much that coffeeshops have started to flourish again.

Preparation of Cuban coffee

When preparing Cuban coffee, there are some peculiarities that are due to the way it is processed.

Although this coffee is essentially an espresso, it is not made with the typical espresso machine, but with a different alternative.

Therefore, below we will see what this alternative is, what are the variants of Cuban coffee and finally how to prepare an authentic cafecito.

The moka pot is the main tool for preparing a good “cafecito”

Cuban coffee is traditionally prepared in a moka pot or Italian coffee maker.

This machine is a simple and efficient device that brews the coffee by forcing the water up through the ground coffee using steam pressure.

Cuban coffee is usually ground, which is why it has a strong flavor.

Various presentations of Cuban coffee

Basically, Cuban coffee is a sweet espresso, so the variants of this coffee are always espresso-based.

Cuban “Colada” coffee

A “colada” is an espresso served in a 4-ounce cup that has a lot of foam (coffee shaken with sugar).

While the espresso has a strong flavor, the amount of foam that accompanies it softens the bitterness.

Cuban Cortadito

The “Cortadito” is a Cuban espresso without sugar, but with foamed milk.

The “cortadito” is therefore a smaller version of a milk coffee without sugar.

Cafe con leche

The Cuban-style café con leche is very similar to “cortadito” but with the addition of hot whole milk instead of steamed milk.

This recipe is also sugar-free.

How to make a good café cubano

Ingredients needed

First you need to prepare an espresso. However, if you don’t have an Italian coffee maker, an espresso machine or manual preparation will also work.

Preparation of the cream or sugar foam
  1. Take 1 cup of white sugar and add the first few drops of espresso from the machine or about 1 to 2 teaspoons of the freshly brewed coffee.
  2. Then let the espresso machine continue to brew while you make the sugar foam.
  3. Now stir the sugar and coffee vigorously until the mixture forms a thick, light-colored sugar foam.
  4. If you’ve never done this before, you’ll have to experiment with the right amount of coffee because the most important thing is that the sugar foam is thick but runny.
  5. Finally, mix the prepared espresso with the sugar foam and stir slowly until it has combined.

That’s it! Now only serve in small cups (like espresso cups) and enjoy the coffee the Cuban way.

What kind of sugar should you use?

Traditionally, Cubans use both white and brown sugar.

However, you will find that brown sugar containing molasses can have an overly sweet and slightly burnt taste.

Also, the brown sugar foam is thicker. Otherwise you can use what you like best.