I was sitting in the apartment at Zanja and Campanario, at the wooden table in the kitchen. That table had seen a lot in its many years occupying its current space, and in those spaces that it graced, even before this apartment building was built by my future father-in-law. Its white lace tablecloth had been tattered and resewn a number of times, but showed the care that my future mother-in-law had for her house. Like most Cubans in post-Special Period Cuba, she was an exceptionally creative and resourceful person. That apartment was decorated beautifully using the most obscure items that were either traded or passed down from past generations; that place was one of the coziest I had the pleasure of staying at. So I sat at that table, still in my pajamas, inhaling the strong menthol smoke of my Hollywood verde cigarette, thinking of breakfast. Breakfasts in Cuba, in my experience, were never those huge ordeals like I was accustomed to in the U.S., with five different kinds of meat products beckoning you to raise your blood pressure, three different types of baked goods screaming for syrup, or plenty of fresh cream to go around. Breakfast here was just bread, eggs, and coffee, and oh, of course, the sugar, which could constitute a whole separate category in itself. No one was up to go to the bodega yet, and I didn’t see any eggs in the house. So, I guess it was just the coffee for now and, of course, the sugar. I was still apprehensive about using the moka style coffee pot, not to mention having to light the old gas stove with a lighter, facing a possible explosion, but I was dying for the fuel to get my day going, so I grabbed the lighter from the dark wooden table and headed for the stove.
Cuban coffee is already famous in its own right here in the States, thanks in large part to the robust Cuban-American community in Miami. It is a heavy, dark, espresso roast coffee, usually served in small espresso cups, with at least a couple of teaspoons of sugar. It is pretty ubiquitous on the island, and offered to guests in both professional and social settings. I never actually had to order a colada, the sweetened espresso sans milk, since it was just offered pretty much anywhere I went, but would on occasion order café con leche when out. There is a general lack of fresh dairy on the island, so most of the time, my “leche” was condensed, which is delicious when combined with this robust roast. While this is really not a recipe, I thought I really couldn’t talk about Cuban food without talking about how to make a cup of proper Cuban coffee.
Cuban Coffee (Colada)
Notes: This is such a simple thing to do, but you really need the right coffee maker, or it’s not going to come out the same. You can order them online with a quick Google search for “Italian Coffee Maker”, and I know my local Italian bakery carries them for resale on its shelves, so yours may too. Also, I am firmly a Café Bustelo kind of person, but Pilón is also a widely used brand to make this kind of coffee. Be careful to keep your eye on the coffee pot; I have had several famous instances of burning the bottom of the pot by letting the water totally run dry, and therefore ruining the whole pot of coffee with the smoke. A lot of the sugar available in Cuba is not as fine or white as the granulated sugar in the States. Here, white granulated would be fine, as would turbinado, or “raw” sugar, just adjust quantity to taste.
-Moka pot style coffee maker
-Teaspoon for putting coffee in maker, tamping coffee down, and stirring in sugar
-Espresso roast coffee
-Sugar to taste
- Open up coffee pot; fill water to the fill line in reservoir. Fill the coffee funnel with the coffee, tamp down with spoon.
- Place the funnel back into the water reservoir and close the coffee pot. Place on the stove and turn on the burner to medium/medium high heat.
- Let coffee heat until you can hear the coffee filling the top part of the pot. Wait until you can hear that the pot has used up all of the water and remove from heat.
- Pour into small espresso cups and stir in sugar to taste.
How do you make your coffee?