Search This Blog

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Cafe Cubano/Cuban Coffee

Cafe Cubano/Cuban Coffee

 photo CubanCoffee_zps955ebfad.jpg

Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano is a staple throughout south Florida. Key West, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, you name it!

My friend from Louisiana, a Cajun, Gus Gravot, who moved to Virginia in the last year (I bet he gets a lot of comments on that Cajun accent there! HA HA! Go Gus!) sent me this piece in the New York Times from February 6, 2015 entitled “In Key West, a Taste of Cuban Coffee Culture”, written by  Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan.

This set the stage and was the incentive for me to write this piece. I'd thought about it before, but put it aside. However, when I saw this in print, with the New York Times no less, I knew it was time to set the record straight as to what is Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano, and what is coffee from Cuba. While it is a fantastic subject and I thank Ms. Tan for writing it, Ms.Tan no doubt got her information from people in Key West who are not that well educated in Cafe Cubano. Here I'll try to make things clear regarding the coffees from Cuba that we throughout south Florida imbibe.

First, to set the stage from where I'm basing what I'm saying, I lived in Miami, the largest Cuban enclave outside of Cuba, for over twenty five years. While there, I was also married to my first wife, a wonderful Cuban girl named Mercy (formal - Mercedes), who brought me into her wonderful family long before we were married. I've been living in Key West seven years this May.So, thirty two years total.

In Miami, as well as being part of the Eguizabal family, I was immersed into Cuban culture. When I moved to Key West, almost seven years ago, I found the Cuban culture to be interesting. Some things were different here than in Miami culturally.

One thing that's different is that Key West has a constant flow of people moving in and out of town, from all over the globe, the majority from the U.S., however many from eastern Europe as well.  Miami has a constant flow of people moving in from Latin America, and also the English and Creole speaking Caribbean. In Key West, population flows like the tides. People come and go. In Miami it's a lake that continues filling up. People come and they stay. Key West is much more of a transient town.

With the scenario set, lets move on to Cuban coffee, or Cafe Cubano.

What is Cafe Cubano, or Cuban Coffee? For starters, Cafe Cubano and Cuban Coffee are correct terms for the brew, just in different languages. Either can be used.

Professional establishments that serve all types of coffees from Cuba, use Italian espresso makers virtually exclusively.  After all, Cafe Cubano, of course, is a style, or type of espresso.

 photo CubanEspresso_zps7ff07ad0.jpg

In the home, often you will often find these little "Cafetera" brewers, as they are called in Spanish, also from Italy. For less than $10, they do surprisingly well, though they are not set up for scalding milk, obviously. Cuban homes with these usually scald their milk, when needed, via stove top.

 photo caecaca9-6a6a-4126-894f-b36e75e59832_zpsf0a2bec8.png

Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano


Cuban Coffee is one thing and one thing only. Cuban Coffee is espresso made with a good sized helping of sugar. Done the proper way, three or four tbs of sugar are placed in the brewing carafe prior to brewing, in a proper espresso machine. As the espresso brews and flows into the carafe, the brewer  stops the brew and stirs the mix into a paste, then returns and finishes the brewing process into the carafe, creating a medium-brown head on the coffee called "espumita".

This is Cuban coffee.

Here in Key West when someone orders Cuban coffee, often the person taking the order will ask "With or without sugar?". The only reason they do this is because a lot of visitors don't want it with sugar. The key word here, of course, is "visitors". The question would never arise in a place such as Little Havana, Miami.

The reality of it is, those people ordering "Cuban Coffee" without sugar, are not ordering Cuban Coffee at all. They are ordering espresso. Cafe Cubano is full of body. Espresso is much thinner.

The aforementioned formula of making Cafe Cubano/Cuban Coffee with the sugar, is what makes it Cuban Coffee!

When one takes into consideration that sugar is the number one crop in Cuba, it's easy to see how Cafe Cubano came into existence!

                                      Types of Cuban Coffee
Cuban Coffee is all the exact same thing, the differences is the quantity in how it's dispensed.

A) Colada - The colada is the largest serving. It's purpose is to be shared with others. It's served in a small Styrofoam cup and it contains several ounces of coffee, around 4 or so. It is also served with several thimble cups for sharing.

 photo cuban_colada_zps6cff2f00.jpg

B) Cafecito/Buchi - This is an individual serving the size of one of the thimble cups that the colada is served with, a slight bit larger when served in a restaurant in a demitasse cup. Depending on where you are, determines the name. In Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/Tampa/St. Petersburg it's called a Cafecito. Translated it means "little coffee". In Key West it's called a Buchi, which is short for Buchito, or "a small sip".

* = For reasons unknown, many people spell buchi in what they think is Italian, bucci. You'll see this in the article that Gus sent me in one of the pictures. Fact is, there is no Italian word bucci. The Ch sound, as in the English word "Crunch", in Spanish is spelled "ch". There is no such spelling in Spanish that has "cc". The word is spelled "Buchi"

 photo 8cae30f8-27b8-44c0-8b53-481c34eb8a16_zpsad69e108.jpg
Cafecito, or a buchi


Now that we have established what a Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano is, lets look at two other coffees that originate from Cuba.

A) Cafe Con Leche - Cafe Con Leche is the Cuban variation of what in Italy is a "Latte" and in France, "Cafe Au Lait" or, "Creme". The coffee and scalded milk parts are exactly the same. With the Cafe Con Leche, often called "Con Leche", Cafe Cubano is mixed on around a 2 to 1 mix with scalded milk holding the 2 side of things.

Cafe Con Leche is not Cuban Coffee!

Many who come to Key West from parts where Cuban culture doesn't exist, just toss cafe con leche into the whole Cuban Coffee mix. They developed this idea that there is Cuban Coffee with milk and without. This is incorrect. Cafe Con Leche is from Cuba, however it is not Cuban Coffee, though it uses Cuban Coffee in the process of making it. Cafe Con Leche, is Cafe Con Leche. Period.

 photo CubanCafeConLeche_zpscedd62f5.jpg

B) Cortadito - The Cortadito is quite similar to the Cafe Con Leche, with the exception that the Cortadito is 1/2 coffee and one half scalded milk. It's often referred  to as a "Half and Half" or a "media y media"

 photo CubanCortadito_zps7121674d.jpg

So there's a brief explanation of the coffees of Cuba that contributes to the whole Florida coffee culture.

Big thanks to Mercy Irene Eguizabal and Gloria Nunez Turkel for helping with some of the translations!!!! Gracias damas!!!

Here's a video:


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great piece Chris. It made me want to get un cafecito. I was started on cafe con leche while still on the bottle at age 2. Both of those things are questionable. For that reason, it's in my veins. I prepare my espresso maker the night before work and as I'm doing that, I'm anticipating my first buchito in the morning. I love it. Mercy did a great job enculturating you. Can't wait for my morning cafe con leche. Abrazos fuerte

  3. That's interesting. Thanks Chris.