One of the basics of Miami life is daily stops at the walk-up window of your local Cuban restaurant for a “cafecito,” a tiny, incredibly sweet and strong cup of Cuban coffee. It’s not much more than a swallow, but it packs a punch. Order it, pay for it, and drink it down. In three minutes you’re on your way and wide awake.
Cuban coffee needs fine ground, dark roast coffee. The most popular brands in Miami are Bustelo and Pilon, but if your grocery doesn’t sell Cuban-style coffee, a good brand of espresso will work just fine.
Some people prefer electric espresso makers, but you can also use an Italian-style stovetop espresso pot, which is inexpensive and simple to use.
If you prefer to use an electric espresso maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make the basic espresso.
The stovetop espresso pot is in three parts – a base, a metal filter basket, and a top with spout that screws on to the base. The base is filled with cold water to the fill line. The perforated metal filter basket should be filled with coffee grounds and packed down with a spoon until it is solidly full to the brim. Place the filter basket into the base, then screw the top on firmly and place the pot on the stove over high heat. As the water in the base heats, the coffee will percolate up to the top section through the filter basket.
When the espresso pot has percolated most of the water, take it off the heat and let it finish. It will burn if you leave it on the stove too long, and the odor of burnt coffee is as bad as the aroma of fresh coffee is good.
Up to this point, you’re just making espresso. Here is where it turns into Cuban coffee. In a small pitcher, place four teaspoons of sugar. Yes, that’s a lot of sugar, but if it isn’t sweet, it isn’t Cuban coffee. Pour just enough coffee into the pitcher to wet the sugar. Mix it thoroughly until it’s thick and creamy. Add more coffee if necessary.
Carefully add the rest of the coffee into the sugar mixture while stirring. The goal is to produce a froth, called “espumita,” that will rise to the top in each cup. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved into the coffee.
Now it’s ready to pour and serve. A serving is about two ounces, and you can serve it in demitasse cups if you don’t have actual Cuban coffee cups.
If you prefer milk with your coffee, you can make “café con leche” by pouring a “cafecito” into a cup of steamed milk.
There you have it – Cuban coffee to perk you up anytime you need it. Now all you need to do is find some “pastelitos” to go with it.