A Tribute...How to Make Cuban Coffee / Cafe-con-leche




How the art of making Cuban coffee is done. A dear friend of mine showed me this way years ago. We lost him in the late 90's to a car accident that was his fault. I love and miss him dearly. Jose and I worked side by side in a auto repair shop in Miami. We had a hot plate between our stalls on his work bench. We would make it together... he would start it and i would finish or I would start and he would finish. Every time I make Cuban coffee I think of him. Salute! Jose... may you rest in peace.

Step 1: How to Make Cafe-con-leche (Cuban Coffee and Steamed Milk)

The basics for Cuban coffee. Cafe Bustelo or Cafe Pilon coffee. Sugar. A stove top espresso maker. A Pyrex or similar 2 cup measuring cup. This type of espresso is world renown espresso coffee. It use to be roasted in Cuba many years ago but now is roasted in Miami. http://www.javacabana.com/ check out the "about us" link for some History about Cuban Coffee Roasting. ;-)

Step 2: The Heart of Cuban Coffee....Sugar

I use 1/3 of a cup of sugar. You can change this to taste. Some restaurants hand you sugar in packets after the coffee is done. That insults someone like me. The sugar is key to making Cuban coffee properly. The sugar must be cooked or "Caramelized" into the coffee. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caramelization

Step 3: Gotta Have Water to Make Coffee.

Fill the tank of the coffee maker to just under the pressure relief valve. Its about 8 ounces or so.

Step 4: Love the Smell of Cuban Coffee.

Load the coffee basket with coffee. Be careful, this coffee is very fine and will get everywhere if you are not careful.

Step 5: Pack Lightly.

Do not pack down the coffee too tight. The water passing through it will do that on its own.

Step 6: Coffee Is Cooking.

Screw the top on and start on the burner. It takes appox 2 mins to start to cook the coffee. Don't leave the lid open unless you are right there to catch it. Don't leave the kitchen or step away too far. It will spray coffee everywhere.

Step 7: Streaming the Milk (Leche).

I like cafe-con-leche. So I typically use a coffee mug and fill it halfway with milk. You can steam the milk if you have a maker that has the tube on the side to steam the milk. They are great but the cheaper ones get clogged easily and require constant cleaning. Threw mine away years ago. SO unless you have $10-30,000 for a real espresso machine they have in the cafe's and restaurants... cheat like I do and use the microwave. I nuke mine about 1:30. The minute and a half is just about the time to start watching the coffee cook.

Step 8: Cheating With the Microwave.

This is me cheating in the microwave to steam the milk. I love this mug. My oldest daughter got it for me on her many trips up from college. I typically set it for 1:30. A friend reminded me to mention that some of you may want to adjust time for altitude. :-)

Step 9: The Coffee Begins to Brew.

If you are right on top of things you can watch the coffee start to cook and this is when you want to take it off the burner for just a few seconds to pour the first little bit into the sugar. (about 1-2 tablespoons)

Step 10: A Little Dab Will Do Ya.

Now you have a little dab (1-2 tablespoons) of coffee in the sugar. Now we will make the paste. Place the coffee back on the burner to finish cooking.

Step 11: Coffee Frosting!

This is the paste. It should be about the consistency of spreadable frosting. (like the kind that comes in a plastic container ready made). THIS is the key component that most people forget or dont know about REAL Cuban coffee. No paste No Espuma. Spuma is Italian or Latin for "foam" or "froth." With out this you have no foam.
By the time you have made the paste the coffee should be done and removed from the burner.

Step 12: ESPUMA!

Now we pour the cooked coffee into the paste and BAM !!! we have ESPUMA !!!

Step 13: Foaming at the Mouth. J/k

I have seen grown men cry over someone throwing away a cup that still had espuma in it. I have seen old Cuban men dig the cup from the trash to lick the espuma from the cup. Out on the west coast in Seattle and other places they use this foam to make decorative coffees by making designs with it.

Step 14: The Head of Foam the Sugar Makes When You Do It Right.

Here is the coffee and the paste (SUGAR) cooking together and bonding or "caramelizing" the result is the foam "espuma". As you see about eight ounces of coffee is made... a "coloda"

Step 15: Coffee and Milk Are Ready to Be Served.

Now the coffee and the milk are ready.

Step 16: Yummy ! Cafe-con-leche.

Now I pour the coffee into the milk and top with a few spoons full of the espuma. This is what its all about. It is a true art form. If your timing is off or the paste is too soupy, etc then its ok but it is awesome when you nail it and it all comes together. ENJOY!

While these basic rules seem to defy normal coffee logic, in the Volturno the unexplainable work. Enter the romance factor. While producing good coffee is based on scientific principals, fully automatic press a button espresso machines can never compute nor replicate the romance (human) factor.

Those old Italian bubbas know best. Please leave button pushing to accountants and Barristas. Stay original… it’s only human.

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    13 Discussions


    6 months ago

    What TYPE of milk is authentic?? Whole or a sweeter one. I see some recipes say use sweet milk, but I think that's an old fashioned word for whole milk. I grew up in Tampa and love my Cuban and Spanish items. Never heard of the "espuma" method, but will try. I used to use the wonderful, aluminum coffee maker on stove but just bought an expresso machine that's supposed to be pretty good. In Tampa you could fine the aluminum pot in Latin stores and it was cheap - thought it was funny when I'd see it in up scale shops elsewhere for a LOT of money!! Thanks for your recipe and "salute and happy days" !!


    Reply 3 years ago

    I have done it in a pan on the stove a few times. I cheat with the microwave most times. If you have a machine that will do it (little tube on the side) they work best. I use to have a Mr Coffee one but it always got clogged.


    3 years ago

    As soon as I pour the espresso into the "sugar paste" it rapidly dissolves and does not create any espuma? Any suggestions?

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    You're probably putting too much coffee into the sugar before whipping. When whipping the sugar paste (it takes a bit of effort - your arm should get sore!), it goes from dark-and-grainy to white-and-creamy. If you put too much coffee to begin with, it stays dark and soupy, and you never get the espuma.


    Reply 3 years ago

    The coffee needs to be fresh off the burner hot. You have to stir the paste with fresh hot coffee right away. It should foam after you have stirred enough to get the paste dissolved. Only other things to consider... is the paste the correct consistency? and are you in a high altitude ? Timing is everything... off the burner into the paste then stir until dissolved.


    3 years ago

    All right so I followed your recipe, but I didn't get the espuma! What am I doing wrong? Do you only get the espuma if your paste is really thick? I made the paste, but it was really dark and a little soupy (too much coffee). Could that be it?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    You're probably putting too much coffee into the sugar before whipping. When whipping the sugar paste (it takes a bit of effort - your arm should get sore!), it goes from dark-and-grainy to white-and-creamy. If you put too much coffee to begin with, it stays dark and soupy, and you never get the espuma.


    5 years ago on Step 16

    Represent! I've lived in Miami all my life. Good Instructable! I follow those same basic rules (I even have the same percolator), but instead of nuking the milk, I use a pot to heat it up and froth it with THIS. I was also a Barista at Starbucks. Let's grab a coffee sometime :)

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago

    Why is it that I follow the steps and it don't taste the same like the Miami café con leche :(

    Bustelo coffee, and 10 tsp of sugar (1/3) cup. Just have to time it right to get the foam just right. Adjust for altitude if you live near mountains. Do not wash your percolator with soap just use water. The aluminum is porous and will leave the taste of the soap. Whole or 2% milk works for me. Can not think of anything else that would effect taste.

    Cafe Pilon, Sabroso hasta el ultimo buchito! Ok, I can't find my little expresso maker. I'm cuban and I love my coffee but I need to buy a new one. Just wanted to say thanks for reminding me of the great taste of cuban coffee. I hope others will enjoy your tribute to cuban coffee. :)