Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cuban Coffee (Café Cubano)

Cubans start their day off with coffee, but what we refer to as Cuban coffee in the United States is not actually Cuban. The U.S. trade embargo with Cuba prohibits the import of Cuban coffee. The Cuban-style coffee we drink here is actually a blend of finely ground beans from Jamaica, Brazil, Colombia or other parts of Central and South America. Although it is often compared to espresso, it is actually the combined result of Cuban, Spanish, French and Italian traditions. Cuban Coffee is very strong and traditionally prepared with plenty of sugar, so the portions are small and served in cups called tacitas (about the size of a shot glass) which are generally smaller than a demi-tasse. Making this thick, rich, dark brew with a thin frothy foam top is relatively simple. You need:
  1. A cafetera. These Italian espresso makers are not that hard to come by. Of course the easiest route is to order one online, but if you keep your eyes open you may spot them in unexpected places. My daughter bought me one last Christmas at TJ Maxx.
  2. Cuban-style coffee. There are several brands out there (you can order online). Here in the Midwest I have found my favorite, Café Bustelo which is readily available at Walmart.
  3. Sugar
  4. A metal cup. (to make the foam)

  1. Unscrew the espresso maker. Remove the metal filter cup from the bottom half. Pour cold water into the bottom of the espresso maker up to the bolt located on the inside.
  2. Place the filter cup back into the bottom half; this is where you put your coffee. Pack the grounds tightly, leveling it off at the top. Screw the top of the espresso maker back on. Place on a burner at high heat. Leave the lid open to keep an eye on it.
  3. In the meantime measure one teaspoon of sugar per tacita into the metal cup. (Espresso makers come in different sizes, from 2 to 8 tacitas)
  4. When you see the first trickles of coffee percolate turn the heat down to low and pour that first teaspoonful of coffee into the metal cup with the sugar. Vigorously stir the mixture until it becomes a light paste.
  5. By now, the coffee should be slowly trickling into the top half of the coffee maker. Once the top is almost full it may start to spurt. Drop the lid and turn off the burner. Slowly pour the coffee into your metal cup and stir. You will see the foam (espumita) rise to the top.
Pour into your tacitas and enjoy. Caution: Because it's so flavorful, and Americans are accustomed a larger quantity of coffee, they tend to want a second cup. Don't do it! This coffee packs a powerful punch, and for those not accustomed to it that second cup could make them jittery! Variations: To make café con leche (the Cuban version of café au lait), add one shot (tacita) of Cuban coffee to an American size cup of hot (usually steamed) milk. To make a cortadito add a tablespoon or two of hot milk to your tacita of Cuban coffee.