Taste The Coffee

How to Make a Cafe Cubano



How to Make a Cafe Cubano

Sonny Crockett loved his. Mark Cuban supposedly never drinks one. But tens of thousands of them are served every single morning in Miami: the Cafe Cubano. And we’re going to show you how to make one.

Traditionally made with a darker roast, the cafe cubano is an ‘espresso’ based beverage that uses sugar to offset the extra bitters and roasty notes in the coffee. Traditionally, cafe cubanos are made with a stove top moka pot for the “espresso” component, but these days, most are made with commercial (and consumer) pump driven espresso machines.

In our research, we’ve found a lot of variants on making this drink. Some add sugar directly to the portafilter (don’t do that!); some just brew an entire shot into a cup with a teaspoon of sugar (kinda blah), and some use modern espresso equipment to mimic the old way of using a stovetop moka pot, but still take the time to create “espumita” (more on that below) by hand, and mixing it with the finished coffee beverage. That’s going to be our method for this how to.

The magic of a great cafe cubano is having super sweet and rich espumita (a sugary foam) mixed into the coffee beverage. It’s not so much that the espresso itself has sugar added. We’ll get a lot more into the details, history and methods later on, but let’s get right into the How To for now – the CoffeeGeek method for making a Cafe Cubano.

For this how to, we’re going to be using a Breville Barista Pro espresso machine with a built in grinder. This machine is well suited for a wide range of home espresso drinks, and it’s tall cup clearance allows for direct stirring of the sugar in your cafe cubano if you decide to go for the lazy, single cup method (which we’re not featuring here). We’re also using an excellent blend of coffee from Social Coffee Co in Ontario, called People’s Liberation blend.

Here’s the Steps

Prepare Your Machine and Equipment
Prepare Your Machine and Equipment
Get your machine ready and hot, and have your other items handy: 2 espresso cups, sugar, and a small spoon or fork for the rapid stirring you’re about to do.
Two Cups
Two Cups
You will need two vessels for this drink build: one to hold a few teaspoons of sugar and catch the first 10-15ml of your espresso brew, and the other to catch the rest of your espresso shot. We’re using two espresso cups here, but using a slightly larger cup for the sugar and first 15ml might make stirring and agitation easier later one when you create your espumita. Also make sure these cups are blazing hot before you start: you’ll need the heat as you make the foamy sugar mixture.
Add Sugar to Mixing Cup
Add Sugar to Mixing Cup
Add about 2 level teaspoons (or one super heaping teaspoon) of sugar to the cup you intend to catch the first 10-15ml of espresso in.
Prepare Your Coffee and Portafilter
Prepare Your Coffee and Portafilter
Dose out your usual coffee amount for pulling a traditional double espresso shot. Here, we’re dosing 18g of Social’s People’s Liberation Blend, and pulling at 198F on the Barista Pro. Tamp as carefully as you would for your best espresso shot.
Place Cups, Get Ready to Brew
Place Cups, Get Ready to Brew
Get your cups lined up ready to brew: the one with the sugar in it will capture the first 10-15ml of espresso.
Swap The Cups
Swap The Cups
Once you have up to 15ml of the initial brew in the sugar cup, swap it out, brewing into your second cup for the rest of the espresso shot pull.
Start Stirring as Brew Continues
Start Stirring as Brew Continues
Without wasting any time, start stirring the sugar / espresso mixture vigorously while your shot continues brewing into the second cup. Time is of the essence!
End the Shot, Continue Stirring
End the Shot, Continue Stirring
If your machine is an automatic one like this Barista Pro, the shot will end automatically when the preset volume is brewed; if you have a manual machine, end the shot as you’d normally do, and continue stirring your sugar-espresso mixture in the first cup.
Watch the Colour and Texture Change
Watch the Colour and Texture Change
If you continue stirring, basically like a madman (using a fork would help too), eventually the mixture starts to lighten and thicken, becoming what the Cubans call “espumita”.
Spoon the Espumita into Espresso
Spoon the Espumita into Espresso
Gloop as much or as little of the sugar-coffee-foam called espumita as you like into your espresso shot.
Stir the Espresso
Stir the Espresso
Finish up the drink prep by vigorously stirring the espresso drink (as if you didn’t do enough stirring). The espumita does an interesting foamy thing with the remaining crema and the drink becomes very sweet.
Enjoy!
Enjoy!
Enjoy the final beverage! There is also the option of brewing two double espressos, and using the first 10ml from each shot, to make a more ‘traditional’ sized version of this beverage.

History and Variations on Cafe Cubano

I remember seeing the cafe cubano beverage for the first time on Miami Vice (filmed in the mid 1980s), when Crockett ordered one while under cover. (I wish I could find a youtube video of that scene). They actually showed the barista adding sugar to the portafilter before pulling the shot. I thought to myself even back then “wow, that’s going to screw up that espresso machine, all that sugar backflushing…”.

The history of the drink goes back way further; at least as long as steam driven espresso has been brewed in Cuba, using stovetop moka pots.

Just as in Italy, people prided themselves on the espresso they’d serve you as a visitor to their home, in Cuba, serving a proper and robust cafecito to guests was a matter of pride, and Cubans took a lot of care and effort into making the perfect cafecito. Here’s how they did it:

Traditionally, a moka pot is used to brew this beverage: extra fine ground moka pot coffee is used and it gets all prepped up and put on the stove, much like a standard Italian moka pot is done. Then the Cubans go a bit of a different route after firing up the flame.

Once the first couple of teaspoons of coffee is brewed in the device, it is removed from the flame, and that initial brew is poured into a cup containing several teaspoons of raw cane sugar. The moka pot is then put back on the flame to continue brewing.

While that is going on, the initial cup with sugar and a few teaspoons of the espresso coffee is vigorously stirred to mix it up and melt the sugary goodness, while still keeping a close eye on the moka pot. When the moka is about 1/2 to 2/3rds brewed, it is removed from heat again (long before any steam flushes through the coffee inside).

At this point, the drinks are ready for assembly: 30-50ml of the moka espresso is poured into each serving cup. Then each cup is topped with the sweet foam mixture prepared earlier. There is a common belief that this method of building the drink results in a much more complex beverage experience, and that the sucralose in the sugar is hydrolyzed better with the addition of super-hot initial coffee liquid and the rapid agitation that the stirring provides. This hydrolyzation results in a more tangible sensory sweetness.

This is the traditional, long standing way of making a cafe cubano, and it’s what we based our pump-driven espresso machine version on.

Many places today serving the beverage don’t go to that kind of effort. At best, they just brew an entire shot into an espresso cup preloaded with a teaspoon of sugar, and give it a quick stir before serving it to the customer. At worst (for their own machine), they will preload sugar into a portafilter, either below or above the ground coffee, and brew it that way. We do not recommend this, as it will definitely shorten the life of your espresso machine and potentially damage it.

Also it’s important to note that traditional cuban style coffee is often made with darker roasts; because these coffees typically have more bitter components and a “roasty” profile, the use and addition of sugar helps balance the drink better. It’s not meant to be overly sweet; just the foam on top is the major sweet component, and it gets balanced by the bitter liquid underneath.

How do you make cafe cubano at home? Share your experiences in our discussion forum!

Machines and Coffee Used for this How To

Breville Barista Pro espresso machine with a built in grinder, brand new in North America and is meant as an upgrade over Breville’s Barista Express.
– Social Coffee Company’s People’s Liberation blend.

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Taste The Coffee 2019