Café Cubano (Everything About Cuban Coffee)

Last Updated on September 21, 2023 by Barry Gray

One thing I love about coffee is the way different parts of the world can have their own preferred method of brewing. So, I made it my job to go out and taste different variations just to get a better handle on how tastes can vary.

Cuban coffee is one of those experiments. More famous for cigars, it turns out that Cuba has a great idea of how it enjoys its coffee. So, what does Cuban coffee even mean?

Cafe Cubana is basically a shot of espresso, which is then sweetened by adding some demerara sugar. They prefer this type of sugar to normal white as it does change the taste of the coffee. The traditional method involves using a Moka pot to brew the shot of coffee, with the finished drink being sipped while chatting with friends.

The one thing I did discover when checking out this type of coffee was that point about drinking it with friends. It turns out that the coffee culture in Cuba is all about being sociable with one another, and I love that idea.

But let’s not get too distracted with the idea of getting a group of friends over and enjoying a sweet coffee. Instead, I need to tell you more about how it’s all made to allow you to experiment and try it for yourself.

using a moka pot to make cuban coffee

Why Use Demerara Sugar?

As I said earlier, the thing that stood out for me was using demerara sugar to make this coffee. I know I’m typically either a brown or white sugar guy, but this is way more specific. It’s almost as if the sugar plays such a key role in Cuban coffee that traditionalists would get pretty upset if you used something different.

But there’s a specific reason why demerara sugar can work exceptionally well when it comes to coffee: the taste it brings to the table.

The sugar grains are larger, and the sugar itself is less processed compared to white sugar, and that makes a massive difference to the coffee. I find demerara sugar to give more of a caramel or toffee taste to the coffee, and there’s no doubt it does change the flavor profile of the beans when brewed.

But this also fits in perfectly with the coffee typically used to make Cuban coffee. That’s because this calls for a dark roast bean with all the stunning flavors and aromas that follow.

The Beans

beans for cuban coffee

I should mention that Cuba does grow its own coffee beans, even though a lot of people are not aware of this. Both arabica and robusta beans are grown in the country, and they tend to use a combination of both to make Cafe Cubana.

Honestly, I can understand why. I find you get an interesting blend of flavors when you use both arabica and robusta beans together. 

The Roast

Even though I’ve already told you that Cafe Cubana includes dark-roast coffee beans, I think I’m underplaying it a bit.

I’ve checked out the exact type of roast that’s traditionally used to make this coffee, and it’s more in line with either an Italian roast or a Spanish roast. In other words, it’s pretty dark and heavy.

Yet that’s a fantastic thing, and it also sheds more light on why demerara sugar is used to make the drink. 

The roast is so dark that some would argue it’s almost burnt beans. That means the beans are incredibly bitter, and that’s where the use of demerara sugar becomes a game-changer.

When I tried Cuban coffee for the first time, I really paid attention to the aromas and flavors bursting through the drink. I got hints of smoke and chocolate bursting out of the coffee and wrestling with my nose.

And then there was the taste. That was an experience all on its own.

The Taste

So, how would I describe Cuban coffee? Well, apart from using words such as delicious, tasty, and overwhelming, I need to be a bit more descriptive. 

Personally, I think this coffee is one of the richest I’ve ever experienced. There’s a real depth to the flavor that comes from how the coffee is prepared, and also the dark-roasted beans, while the oil released from the beans coats your tastebuds like it’s placing a velvet glove over them.

With the mix of demerara sugar alongside the beans, you do get that toffee taste with the coffee. Don’t worry, though, as it’s not overpowering and merely comes across as another flavorful note you will experience as you work through the coffee.

But be aware that this coffee can come across as very bitter if you don’t add enough sugar. I know some people love bitter coffee, but I tried the dark-roasted beans without adding anything to the drink, and it almost blew me off my feet.

The Espuma

I get that so far this all sounds like a regular coffee with dark-roasted beans and making espresso, but bear with me as there’s one thing that will change everything: the espuma.

I don’t think you could ever claim to have tasted Cafe Cubana without the espuma. I know some people might initially think this is just another term for the crema (I’m looking at myself when I say that), but this is not the case.

Instead, the espuma is an integral part of Cafe Cubana, and it’s basically whipped sugar mixed with espresso to create a sweet foam on the coffee.

But here’s a cool thing I managed to learn about this sweet foam when checking out Cuban coffee: it was created to really replicate the expected texture of a far more expensive crema. Really, it’s an attempt to create a shortcut, and I just love the idea of people sitting down and working out a way to copy something else, and this is what they came up with.

How to Make Cafe Cubana

how to make cuban coffee

But do you know something? It’s all great me sitting here telling you about the taste and the beans used or why demerara sugar is better than white for this coffee. But how do you make it?

I know most people won’t be in a location where Cafe Cubana is even a thing. Still, you don’t have to go to some specialty coffee shop that knows its Armenian coffee or Turkish coffee along with Cuban coffee.

Instead, you can do it yourself, and it’s easier than you think.

The Moka Pot

I know people will argue with me that I talk about an espresso shot and then mention you should use a Moka pot. I am fully aware you cannot produce an authentic espresso from a Moka pot. It just doesn’t have the pressure.

But I use this term to give you an idea of the volume of coffee you need in order to make this particular coffee. It’s a simple shot, and a Moka pot can extract enough taste and flavor to produce a fantastic drink.

But hey, if you do have an espresso machine at home, then go ahead and fire it up to deliver your shot. It will still work out the same in the end.

Making Your Espresso

You need to make your shot, and that means getting those dark-roasted beans and going for quite a fine grind. Picking up an Italian roast will be great, but please don’t opt for even a medium-dark roast. It won’t have the same impact, and you will miss out on the key part of Cuban coffee.

Making the Espuma

You need to make the espuma, and I’ve got to be honest here and say I did fail the first couple of times. I think I just didn’t have the faith I could do it, so my lack of self-belief then resulted in some very well-stirred coffee and no foam.

Anyway, here are my tips on making the perfect espuma (with space for a failed attempt thrown in for good measure).

The key is to get your espresso cup and add one or two teaspoons of sugar. Once you have made your espresso, throw in a couple of drops of espresso to the sugar. I do mean a couple of drops.

You then need to stir like crazy or even whisk it, and it does take some effort on your part. Keep going until you see you have a foamy substance that’s also pretty thick. That’s the espuma, and it will elevate your Cuban coffee to a whole new level.

Add the Coffee

Once you have that mix, add the rest of the coffee and keep stirring. Sit back, sip it, and enjoy.

Cuban Coffee Drinks

You typically find three different options when it comes to Cuban coffee, with each version being slightly different in what it offers. Here’s a quick summary of what you should expect from the different Cuban coffee drinks.

  • Colada – This is your typical Cuban coffee drink, and it’s the most popular. The version I’ve described above is your normal Colada, and it’s the one I’d try first. 
  • Cortatido – This version comes with a distinct difference, and that’s the fact it does come with some steamed milk. Typically, you are looking at a 50/50 ratio of coffee to steamed milk.
  • Cafe con Leche – This is one version I need to try as it involves coffee with steamed milk followed by some Cuban toast that you dip in the coffee. That just sounds seriously cool.

But out of the three, it’s the Colada I’d opt for. It’s the most straightforward, and I feel it allows you to really enjoy the espuma with the coffee. Too much steamed milk does do something to the espuma, and that’s a huge waste. 

My Conclusion

Cafe Cubana is about a whole lot more than just the coffee. It’s a social thing where people get together, enjoy catching up with one another, and sample some delicious dark-roasted coffee that packs a punch. 

I would highly recommend trying Cuban coffee, and if you can get some friends over to share in the experience, then it’s even better.