Cuban coffee in cup with coffee beans on wooden table

Cuban Coffee

Make Cuban coffee right in your own kitchen using your AeroPress coffee maker - no plane ticket required!
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What is a Cafe Cubano?

It goes by many names. The most common are cafecito, cafe cubano, Cuban coffee, and Cuban espresso. No matter what you call it, the cafe cubano is a small, intense and sweet coffee beverage. You don’t need to go to Cuba or Miami to try a cafe cubano. Make one in the comfort of your own kitchen (or in the airport on your way to Miami). Typically it is made using a Moka pot (also known as a stovetop espresso maker).

Interior of Moka pot brewing with bubbling coffee
Following the traditional Cuban cafecito recipe, the first frothy bit of coffee that bubbles up from the moka pot is vigorously mixed with sugar. This makes a foamy mixture called espuma or espumita. The espumita is then mixed with the rest of the brewed coffee and served.

A common misconception is that Cuban espresso is made by putting sugar into the ground coffee and pulling a shot through an espresso machine. While convenient for a barista, this method ends up making a subpar espresso shot and harms the espresso machine. (Please do not ever put sugar in an espresso machine.)
Person brewing with AeroPress Original coffee maker next to Moka pot

AeroPress vs. Moka Pot

The Moka pot has three chambers. Hot water is placed in the bottom chamber, the middle chamber holds the coffee grounds, and a tube connects the lower two chambers. When placed on a hot stovetop, the water boils and is forced up the tube into the grounds. As the coffee brews, it is pushed through a metal filter and the beverage lands in the upper chamber. The beverage is dense, syrupy and strong, very similar to espresso. Hence the common name “stove top espresso maker”.

While AeroPress coffee makers weren’t designed specifically to do what a Moka pot does, their versatile nature does allow you to replicate the thick and syrupy, espresso-esque coffee. But it is much easier with an AeroPress coffee maker. Cleanup is simple, also. After you are done brewing with an AeroPress coffee maker, unscrew the filter cap, pop the grounds into the compost and rinse the AeroPress parts clean.
AeroPress Original coffee maker drying out after cleaning
If you do use a Moka pot, before you clean it, be sure to let it cool down; that metal gets hot. After you knock out the old coffee grounds, you’ll need to rinse and scrub all the pieces.

If you are making several servings, AeroPress coffee makers will be faster. This is partially because the cleanup is so simple, but also because you do not need to bring your water to a complete boil.

How to Make Cuban Coffee with AeroPress Coffee Makers

AeroPress coffee makers can replicate the Moka pot with a few small tweaks in technique, and some upgraded equipment.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Total time: 8 minutes

Supplies & Ingredients


AeroPress Original, AeroPress Go, or AeroPress Clear coffee maker

AeroPress Flow Control Filter Cap

AeroPress paper and stainless steel filters

2 sturdy coffee mugs or mason jars

Dinner fork

Brown sugar

Fresh dark roasted coffee (whole bean is preferred if you have a grinder)

Fresh, clean water

AeroPress Flow Control Filter Cap
Note on the filters: Use both an AeroPress paper filter and an AeroPress stainless steel filter for this recipe. Place the paper filter into the AeroPress Flow Control Filter Cap first so the metal filter is against the coffee grounds. This protects the paper filter during the second phase.
Six cups of coffee beans roasted at different levels
Note on coffee selection: There is not necessarily a best coffee for café cubano. Select a whole bean, dark roast coffee that has been roasted within the last three weeks. Cuban coffee needs the espumita to be foamy - otherwise it is just sweet coffee. In espresso coffee, the famous crema is mostly carbon dioxide, captured and infused back into the beverage. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the coffee roasting process that is trapped inside the roasted coffee bean. When coffee is dark roasted (French or Italian roasts), there is more free carbon dioxide trapped inside the bean. This will help give your cafecito more foam. Using beans roasted within three weeks reduces the chance that the precious gas will have evaporated out of the bean. Grinding right before brewing will further improve your espumita.

Normally we would use a medium-fine grind for the AeroPress coffee maker. To make Cuban espresso drinks, the coffee should be a little more finely ground, but not quite as fine as espresso (definitely not a powder as you would for Turkish coffee). With this setup you will be able to get the crema some coffee particles, oils, and coffee carbohydrates pass into the beverage, yielding a thicker bodied, syrupy brew.
Ground coffee next to whole coffee beans

Instructions

Add 2 tablespoons of sugar to one of your mugs.

Use the AeroPress Flow Control Filter Cap and the traditional method for cafe Cubano. You can use the AeroPress Original, the AeroPress Clear, or the AeroPress Go. Using the AeroPress Flow Control Filter Cap lets you brew with the control of the inverted method without risking a blowout.

Place the paper filter into the AeroPress Flow Control Filter Cap, then the stainless steel filter. Screw the AeroPress Flow Control Filter Cap onto the chamber and place the device on top of the sugared mug.

Add 25 grams of finely ground dark roasted coffee beans. (If you don’t have a coffee scale, use 4 or 5 generous tablespoons.)

Stir in 90 grams (3 fl oz) of hot water (185℉ / 85℃ is recommended for dark roasts).

After 20 seconds, gently swirl the AeroPress coffee maker, insert the plunger, and press with a steady, slow pressure. Press completely through the hiss until you compact the puck of grounds.

Immediately and gently pull the plunger back out of the brew chamber. Stir in another 120 grams (4 fl oz) hot water, insert plunger as before and after 30 seconds press into the second mug. Yes, this double-brewing of the grounds is an unconventional method. If you are uncomfortable doing this, feel free to grind up another batch of grounds and brew a separate serving.
White sugar and brown sugar on a tabletop

© volff, 123RF Free Images

While you wait for the second batch of the beverage to brew, start to vigorously mix the sugar and the coffee with the fork. This is the espumita. We want it to be frothy and thick with a light caramel color. If it is not thickening, feel free to add more sugar. If you do not want to add more sugar, on your next attempt reduce the amount of water or increase the amount of coffee used in the first brew. It will take you a little trial and error to perfect your own technique to create your own favorite Cuban coffee recipe.

When the second half of the brew is finished, spoon the espumita on top of the coffee and enjoy!

Classically, the cafe cubano is served in a small cup. If you have traditional espresso cups (demitasse cups), this recipe can be split between two or three cups using a measuring cup, and then shared with a friend.
Cafe Cubano in a cup with coffee beans on a wooden table

© enginakyurt, 123RF Free Images

Variations

The traditional Cuban recipe uses white sugar. I like the rich flavor of brown sugar. I feel it compliments the smokiness and low acid profile of the dark roasted coffee.

Substitute sweetened condensed milk to make more of a café con leche.

Make a cortadito out of your Cuban coffee with milk. Add an ounce of steamed milk, or milk heated and frothed on the stove top. It is essentially a small, sweet latte.

If you like iced coffee, try this with the Japanese coffee method. Press onto a couple of cubes of ice. Cut your hot water down by 30 grams (1 fl oz). All the other instructions remain the same.

Use a decaf coffee. Don’t be afraid of decaf.