Monday, March 27, 2006

Caliente Amargo Fuerte y Escaso

For those who don't know, I hate going to school -even if it's grad-school. And since I'd rather blog then study, I didn't do too well in my classes last year. Thus, this year I resolved to do better, and thrusted myself upon my school work like never before. From the depths of my room, past the mountain rage of rough drafts and empty soda cans, I thought I'd write to you today about a drink that is essential for my (or any Cubanaso's) survival. A drink none other than Cafe Cubano.

Since I've been drinking enormous amounts for my night classes, I've had many peers ask me how do you make it, and how is it different than espresso.

First off, any red blooded Cubanaso will say that Cafe is an acronymn for how it is made: Caliente Amargo Fuerte y Escaso (hot, bitter, strong and in small doses). This acronymn is the essence of Cafe Cubano. Everything in the world of Cuban coffee drinks stems from that acronymn.

How do you make it?

That's never an easy question to answer.

Ingredients: A rule of thumb is that it's one tbs of a coffee grounds, one demitasse cup of water, and one tsp of sugar. (Caribbean and some Central American coffee's work best, Asian and Latin American coffee tend to be too sour, and African coffee is too mild.)

Method: There are two common methods to make Cafe Cubano.

1) Cafe Criollo: Generally made in an Espresso machine or with a cloth colander (un colador de tela), Cafe Criollo comes out very dark and thick. Sugar is then whipped with the first few drops of Cafe to produce a creamy foamy top we call espumita.

2) Cafe Carretero: There are many variations of this, but the nut's and bolts of it is that you boil the water, sugar and coffee ground together. Generally you only use dark sugar. And you either strain it in a colador, or you let it sit and wait for the coffee grind to settle (some insert a burning stick into the coffee that supposedly settles the grind instantly).


Cafe Boracho (Cafe para borachos): Cafe made without sugar.

Cafe Claro: After making Cafe in a colander, you boil some water and run it through a second time. The Coffee that is produced is called Cafe Claro (clear coffee), which is generally given to little kids to drink with crackers.

Cafe con Leche: One shot of Cafe in one cup of hot milk.

Cortadito: Equal parts Cafe and hot milk -or- a shot of Cafe mixed with a cup hot evaporated milk. This is generally drunken in demitasse cups.

Un bon bon: Cafe mixed with sweeten condensed milk.

Cafe Mambi: I've never tried this one. Apparently it's made with rum and honey, and is the Cafe the Mambises used to drink. If anyone has a recipe, I would defintely like to try it.

I've seen the following things commonly added to Cafe Cubano by Cubanasos that I respect, and it is worth trying at least once.

A piece of Merengue (worth trying more than once)

A cube of white cheese

Ice Cream


Egg Yolk

A little note on espumita: the original Cafe Criollo (from Spain) also included rum and an egg yolk. The espumita was made by beating the rum, yolk, the tinto and sugar together, creating a VERY thick and creamy top. Today, all that remains in the espumita of Cuban coffee is the sugar and the tinto. Moreover, espumita is not as big as it use to be in Cuba, of course this is coming from a coffee that is made from 1/3 fresh coffee grounds, 1/3 used coffee grounds (la borra), and 1/3 ground roasted chick peas.

No matter what you add to it, with all these variations, Cafe Cubano is in essence always hot, bitter, strong, and in small doses.

How is it different than espresso?

Espresso, is indeed hot and served small doses. However, espresso is never as bitter or a strong as Cuban coffee. The test is simple: you can drink espresso without sugar and not gag. Drink Cuban coffee without sugar and the bitterness will roll your eyes behind your head, and the strength will make your nose feel like it's going to pop.

Caliente, Amargo, Fuerte y Escaso: if it's not all four then it's not CAFE Cubano.


Charlie Bravo said...

I still make cafe criollo from time to time, with a bit of egg yolk, the rum, and the sugar.
Again, cafe criollo can also be cafe with rum and honey, an old time favorite. Why on Earth are those two different things called the same? Who knows.
Cafe cubano and espresso are the same thing. The machine used to make espresso was invented in Cuba, by an Italian immigrant. Actually, the pressure of the espresso machine allows for the foam to be made without beating on the sugar, but still, it's strong and you have to add the sugar or you die of the shock. In my opinion it depends on the guy who makes the espresso. In many places -Starbucks included- the espresso is crappy because the guys who make it know nothing about espresso or coffee as a matter of fact. Like those "baristas" in fancy restaurants that add a lemon rind, and they tell you that it's the way it's made in Italy. It's not. Period! that's an invention brought along to charge you five bucks per colada.
You can always drink coffee with rum, vodka, whiskey, a liquor, a cordial, whatever you want. My grandmother used to mix condensed milk and coffee, plus a good splash of dark rum.

Charlie Bravo said...

By the way, cafe mambi, now that I remember it, is the cafe criollo with rum and honey. In the battlefields they mixed it with aguardiente, as well...
But it was made more like cafe carretero, with the cloth cone to separate the ground coffee from the liquid.
No espresso machines in la manigua!

Songuacassal said...

You're the man Charlie... I always learn something new from you!

Charlie Bravo said...

Well, I learn from you too!
(and from everybody!)

Orlando said...

And don't forget the latest variation, an invention of the revolution. Kafe Kubano...made with roated chick pea.


jsb said...

I worked with a cuban who made some sort of simple syrup of coffee. She would keep a bag of it at the office and pour a little in a cup and then pour hot water in to mix. Is this anything you all are familiar with?

Songuacassal said...

J. Scott:

Though I've never of heard a Cuban doing that, I do know that this is very common in central Colombia.

It's called Cafe Tinto.

And it is a regular cup of hot water with a shot of very strong espresso. It's very similar to the Cuban "Cafe Claro" and the European "Cafe Americano".

Come to think of it, many Cuban women prefer Cafe Claro over regular Cafe Cubano. Moreover, and not to get too stereotypical here, but many cuban women (including all the Cuban women in my family) like their coffee VERY VERY VERY sweet. Perhaps, she made a sugar loaded Cafe Cubano as portable and practical way to make a very sweet Cafe Claro.

Songuacassal said...

OH... and CB... I tried you're recipe for Cafe Mambi... COOOOOÑOOOOOOOOOO TREMENDO CAFE!!!!! Maybe I'll post it some day...

Chick Peas... I know... and the worst thing is that castro and his goons tried to get THAT VERY RECIPE with Chick Peas listed as a patromony to the humanities. Que fucking pena bro...

Charlie Bravo said...

Song, you can post it whenever you want! My pleasure!

Joke said...

Pa' que sepan, the coffee roast for espresso and for Café Cubano is slightly different (the CC is roasted one level darker, which explains the bitterness) y arriba de eso you make the coffee in the way Italians call a "ristretto."

When you compare, say, CC en grano with any of the various espresso roasts, you will see how much darker and oilier the beans are.

This is what you learn when you are Cubano y nieto de una Italiana with clients in the coffee business.


P.S. Italians put ice cream in their espressi also, it's called a caffé affogato and grappa (Cubans'd use rum) as well in a caffé correto. Oh, and I have seen people make their CC with a TEENY pinch of salt.