Full Guide to Making the Perfect Cuban Espresso

A step-by-step guide to your favorite drink: Cuban Espresso (Cafecito)

There’s nothing like a good cup of coffee. And the best cup is the one you can make at home. It’s much cheaper and you can brew it exactly how you like it. The Cuban espresso, or the cafecito, is famous for its sweetness, cream on the top, and balance of flavor.

If you’ve ever added a packet of sugar to espresso, you might notice how the flavor feels off and acidic. The cafecito blends coffee with sugar beforehand so the flavors infuse and become one.

You can enjoy it as is or use it for a base to many drinks. For example, you can easily turn it into a Café con Leche by pouring a cafecito into a mug with whole or evaporated milk.

It’s the perfect drink for social gatherings or for giving you an extra jolt of energy after lunch. Are you ready to make a great espresso? Let’s get started.

Use a Stovetop Espresso Maker

The Italian stovetop espresso maker is simple to use and gets the job done.

You can buy one at a Latin supermarket for as little as $10 or order it on Amazon between $20–$50. Either way, if you take care of it, it should outlive you.

I recommend stainless steel instead of the geometric-shaped aluminum maker. It doesn’t get discolored and it’s better quality.

There are many sizes but the 6 people option is the most common to use.

Use Finely Ground Strong Espresso Coffee

Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

Cafecitos are strong and you want to make sure you use bold, quality coffee.

Traditionally, anything that says strong espresso and finely ground will work.

If you want to drink the same coffee as a Cuban in Little Havanna, then I suggest brands like Café Bustelo, Café Pilon, and Café La Llave.

Begin Setting Up Your Brew

With the addition of some sugar, you have the essential tools and ingredients to get started.

Unscrew your espresso maker. It should open up into three parts. The base that holds the water, the metal filter, and the small pitcher that will hold your coffee when it rises.

Get the metal filter and fill it with espresso coffee. Pack it gently and not too tight.

Fill Your Espresso Maker with Water

Use the base of your espresso maker for the water.

Make sure to use filtered water.

Your coffee can only get as good as the ingredients you use. Off-putting water will be noticeable.

Fill it until you reach the base of the round hole or whistle. If you cover it, then your espresso maker will shoot out water when the pressure builds up. Not fun.

Mmm, we’re almost there.

When you’re done, add the filter on top and screw the espresso maker back together.

Pick Your Sugar

Now to the sweet part.

Pick a sugar that has some character. Anything natural or organic. Raw cane sugar is good. While brown sugar would taste great, the texture might not work. Choose a sugar that has larger grains if possible.

I like turbinado sugar or raw cane sugar. Both have a balance of flavors and the molasses-like touch that brings you back to the island.

Use a teaspoon or tablespoon (depending on your level of sweetness). If you’re using the 6 person espresso maker, place three spoons of sugar in a mixing cup.

The REALLY Important Step for the Cuban Espresso

This is the moment that will make or break your espresso.

I’ve failed dozens of times.

You might get distracted by the TV.

A friend might call your name and you turn your head for 30 seconds.

And within three blinks, you’ve lost your chance to make a Cuban espresso.

When you place your espresso maker on the stove, put it on high. Stay close. When you begin to hear the pressure build-up (softly), watch it as your life depends on it.

That first bit of coffee; the nectar that’s greater than life; the soul and essence of every coffee bean that’s journeyed its way into your kitchen; will be the strongest, most necessary part of your espresso.

As soon as a spoon-worth of coffee comes out, take the maker off the stove and pour it into your spoon. If you miss this opportunity and the rest of the espresso rises in the coffee maker, it will be too light and watered down to work. You need the condensed flavor.

Add that one spoon of extra-strong espresso into your mixing cup. To be on the safe side, don’t add more.

It should be enough and it’s easier to add a little more liquid later than getting stuck with a watery mess. One spoon should be sufficient to make a paste.

Stir Your Heart Away

Start stirring the sugar and espresso to make a thick, creamy paste. You’ll have a good idea when it’s ready after it’s turned into the color of cappuccino!

Pour the Espresso in the Mixing Cup

Now that your special sugar is ready, pour the rest of your coffee in the mixing cup.

Make sure to mix it well so all the sugar dissolves.

In the end, you should begin to see a cream-like texture rise at the top.

That’s when you know you did a good job!

Congratulations, you’ve made a cafecito.

Now it’s time to enjoy it the way it’s meant to be. With friends around the kitchen counter or outdoors.

Isn’t life better with an espresso?

This article about Cuban espressos is an edited version of the original publication on Medium, published March 31, 2020.

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