Poor attempt at a café cubano

Attempting to make a Café Cubano

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Here at Cuban Life we enjoy tasting the flavours of Cuba. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of experiencing Cuban culture, even outside of Cuba, will quickly realise that coffee is pretty essential to most Cubans. A lot of people argue that the best Café Cubano outside of Havana can be found in Key West. Having been there and tried some at Sandy’s Café, I can agree that it fully deserves its nickname of “Cuban Speed”. This is a thick, strong liquid which certainly peps you up with its full-bodied taste. However, we wanted to try to see if we could recreate the taste of Cuba here in the UK.

Cubita coffee Sandy's cafe

Waiting for Cubita coffee at Sandy’s, Key West

Getting hold of Cubita, a Cuban brand using 100% Arabica coffee beans that are grown in the Sierra Maestra and Sierra del Escambray mountains in Cuba, is not that easy in the UK. After a lot of searching we managed to find a website called Cuban Cuisine. We contacted the owner, Carla, who was more than willing to help us out with guidance and recommendations. After a few email exchanges our bag of Cubita Dark Roast Coffee was ordered. Unfortunately Paypal blocked my payment because it supposedly related to Cuba, showing how far the ramifications of the embargo go (even on two UK based people selling coffee to each other). Luckily I was able to pay Carla through Sagepay.

It turns out that Cubita has been doing all the eco-friendly stuff everyone’s into now, since the beginning. No pesticides or fertilisers are used and the beans are picked by hand before drying under the hot Cuban sun. One benefit of the embargo is that Cuba does not have access to large amounts of pesticides, so farming has never developed into the high tech industry that it is in the rest of the world. Unfortunately Cubans themselves are rationed to only two ounces of coffee per person per fortnight as Cuba exports up to 80% of its coffee to Canada, France and Japan.

The coffee is finely ground and has quite a different smell to the ground coffee you usually buy in the UK. Cuban coffee is traditionally served as an espresso in small cups with lots of sugar. We’re not big coffee aficionados so unfortunately we are yet to own a proper coffee machine. However, we do know good coffee having been lucky enough to try some Blue Mountain coffee in Jamaica.

After leaving it to brew in our cafetiere, we poured ourselves a small cup each – although in hindsight the cup was still too big to really follow Cuban traditions. I think we’ll need to try again but with a proper espresso machine. Ignoring our slightly flawed abilities at making coffee, the Cubita was delicious -smooth and pure tasting. On a sunny day with our eyes blurry from waking up, we could just about imagine ourselves in Havana.

Cuban Style Coffee

To ensure you don’t look out of place when ordering a Café Cubano here’s quick guide to ordering:

  • Cafecito or Café Cubano – the traditional espresso coffee. Very strong and usually served very sweet.
  • Café con leche – hot steamed milk with a shot of espresso. Ask for it ‘sin azucar’ so that you can add sugar to taste.
  • Cortadito – like a café con leche but with less milk. A good way to get used to the Café Cubano if espresso is not your usual thing but you want a short coffee.

If you’re making one at home then you’ll ideally need a stove top espresso maker. Make the coffee as per your usual instructions but once the coffee is ready, pour a small amount over a cup 1/4 filled with white sugar. Stir the sugar vigorously to create a thin layer of sugar foam which will then float to the top of your cup once you fill it. This layer of sugar foam is what defines Cuban espressos versus those found in other countries. We’ll definitely be attempting this once we’ve bought our espresso maker!

What are the main Cuban Espresso Brands?

There are a lot of brands to choose from. Some of the main ones are Cafe Bustelo, Cafe Pilon, Cubita, Cafe La Llave, Cafe Serrano and Cafe Caracolillo.

Cafe Bustelo has an interesting history, with a Spanish creator who fell in love with Cuban coffee but lived in Puerto Rico before gaining US citizenship.

Cafe Serrano is a true Cuban coffee which is strong and illusive – if you can get a big bag of this it will blow your socks off for months. It’s part of the same brand as Cubita and Turquino Montanes. 

Cafe Pilon was created in the 1800s and is continued by the Suoto family today under the Java Cabana brand, which also makes Bustelo.

 Cafe La Llave was founded by two brothers in the mountains of South Cuba, who left for Los Angeles when the revolution started.

Cafe Caracolillo makes a Cuban coffee blend but its Spanish founder is based in Tampa, Florida.

Where can I buy Cuban Coffee?

Let us know if you have been to any great places to try Cuban coffee. We’d be really interested to know about any places in the UK, and anywhere in the world where you might have had an exceptional (or a disgusting) Cuban coffee. Even if it was just average, we’d love to hear about it.

Thanks again to Carla at www.cubancuisine.co.uk. We’ll be reviewing some more of her Cuban products over the next few weeks. Further research has also showed that you can pick up Serrano roasted coffee and Turquino Montanes from Cuba Directo.

Update: Sure enough we have become coffee lovers. We don’t drink it all day but really fantasize about that first cup first thing in the morning. So we bought an espresso maker and have been having Cuban espresso coffee done the right way every morning. We picked up a huge bag of Cubita coffee from departures at Havana airport the last time we were there. Sadly it has now lasted its course – though it does give us a good excuse for another coffee run back to Cuba.



  1. yes I remember the coffee in Havanna, and I remember how it was served in very small ‘precious’
    amounts, small cups; and taken almost like a shot of tequila? That quick fast blast ! Very different to the star bucks culture of a thick milky drink that becomes like a blanket you bed yourself in.
    The amount of sugar is a little worrisome tho’ ……..

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