The Secrets of Cuban Coffee

Coffee is one of those constants in my life. In our container to Havana, we shipped dozens of vacuum-packed containers of Trader Joe's and Peet's coffee. Not long after we arrived, we also bought this super fancy Jura machine at a garage sale in Havana, from expatriate friends who were leaving Cuba. It has been one of our very few indulgent kitchen purchases, and I can't say that I regret it. I love that I can get a great cup of espresso with just the press of a button, especially when my kids wake me up early in the morning.

My favorite kitchen appliance, the Jura espresso/coffee maker. 

My favorite kitchen appliance, the Jura espresso/coffee maker. 

I used to take coffee for granted, before I moved to Cuba. On the island, I am learning about another way to drink and make coffee -- it's a slower process, as Cubans use Italian-style espresso makers on the stove, but one that is just as rewarding as I discovered at my friend M's home recently. Her family, like every household in Cuba, gets a small ration of coffee every month almost free from the government, but it’s just enough to make a couple of carafes of coffee. The government coffee is labeled “50-50” and the prevailing wisdom is that this means 50 percent coffee, 50 percent “chicharros” — or green lentils, to make it cheaper for the government to distribute. After this runs out, they usually have to look for it in the stores and it's not easy to find. It's also expensive by average Cuban standards, at about $5 per pound. Hence, it's a small, treasured luxury in households, and one that is enjoyed with plenty of sugar. 

An Authentic Cuban Coffee (without the green lentils!)

Several tablespoons ground espresso coffee
Sugar (to taste)
Special Equipment: Italian Espresso Maker

Fill the lower chamber 3/4 of the way with cold water.

Fill the espresso attachment with ground espresso coffee. Pat the coffee flat. (Optional: To speed up the brewing process, you may insert and remove a spoon to create a small crevice in the coffee.) Place the attachment in the chamber. 


Screw on the top chamber and close tightly. 

Place the maker on the stove over low-medium heat. Lift the top after five minutes and after that, every minute. Turn off heat when the maker fills with coffee. Pour into individual espresso cups, add sugar to taste, and enjoy! (The Cuban way is with at least two teaspoons of sugar!)