I’ve tried coffee from around the world but never experienced anything like Cuban coffee. The taste, experience, and coffee culture are so different that it takes a while to understand.

For Cubans, coffee isn't just a breakfast drink - it's a way of life. Drinking coffee is a social event, and you can order Cuban coffee at any time of day. So, what does Cuban coffee taste like?

In this guide, I’ll talk you through that and more, explaining how the best Cuban coffee tastes and giving you an insight into the coffee culture in Havana.

What Exactly Does Cuban Coffee Taste Like? (Why So Strong)

Cuban coffee tastes very strong and very sweet. It has chocolate and nutty flavors with tobacco overtones. Some blends also have herbal and fruity notes in the aftertaste.

Cuban coffee also has a big caffeine kick.

Depending on the brew, it typically contains over 200mg of caffeine (compared to 40-60mg for a regular coffee) to give you a powerful start to the day.

Where does the sweetness come from? Coffee served in Cuba is notoriously sweet because Cubans add more sugar to their coffee during brewing than most other countries.

Cubans use high volumes of raw brown sugar (demera sugar) to soften the harsh coffee flavors. The sugar is beaten into the black espresso-style coffee until fully dissolved.

This creates a frothy layer on top (called a Cuban crema) and thickens the texture of the coffee - leaving you with a strong, syrupy drink.

The strong coffee mixed with sugar creates a surprisingly well-balanced drink. It's a unique coffee experience that I love, though I would not recommend it to casual coffee drinkers.

How Cubans Drink Their Coffee

Coffee is available all over Cuba, and you can order coffee in a cafe, restaurant, or through ubiquitous walk-up windows (la Ventanita).

Every street has somewhere for ordering coffee and Cuban bread, so you'll never go without it.

Cubans have even spread their coffee culture to downtown Miami and Miami Beach (around Little Havana).

Social coffee drinking with friends is now a part of Miami culture, and you can see a walk-up window selling coffee in most parts of Little Havana and South Beach.

All Cuban coffee drinks are strong and sweet. You don't typically add milk or sugar after brewing, but there are four different Cuban coffee drinks with slightly different profiles:

  • Cafecito (a cafe cubano)
    1-1.5 ounces of Cuban espresso served in a small cup. This traditional Cuban shot is typically served sweetened but never with milk.
  • Colada
    4-5 ounces of dark Cuban-style coffee made for sharing. It's served in a large styrofoam cup, and Cubans pour it out into thimble-sized plastic cups to share with friends. It's delicious, but don't buy it alone, or you'll get a strange look!
  • Cortadito
    1-2 ounces of freshly brewed Cuban coffee topped with a small amount of hot milk (or evaporated milk). This is the Cuban version of a single serving Cortado or flat white and a popular cup of coffee with tourists.
  • Café con Leche
    1-2 ounces of Café Cubana with 5-6 ounces of steamed milk. A Café con Leche is similar to a latte, though you can ask your barista to change how much coffee is used, and many locals like it with half Cuban coffee shot and half milk.

Whatever you order in Cuba, expect the coffee to be incredibly strong. Remember that a little goes a long way, and sharing is usually the best option.


What Makes Cuban Coffee Special?

Cuban coffee has a distinctive taste that sets it apart from any other coffee I've tasted. This is why it stands out so much:

Preparation Method

There are two aspects to the Cuban coffee preparation method that make the coffee taste so distinctive:

  1. 1
    Cuban coffee is made using a Moka pot.
    Many people have used a Moka pot before, but it’s a reasonably outdated brewing method. However, most Cubans still make coffee with a Moka pot. A Moka pot makes harsher coffee with a bitter taste and gives Cuban coffee a more robust flavor than other coffees.
  2. 2
    Cuban coffee is made with a lot of sugar.
    Cuban coffee is typically made with brown sugar (demerara sugar). The sugar is stirred into the coffee during the brewing process, creating a thick, syrupy texture and a sugar froth on top.The rough coffee and sugar make a café Cubano shot uniquely bold and sweet.

It’s So Strong!

Cuban coffee (café Cubano) has an infamously strong taste, and even those with experienced palates may find it too rough.

Even the Café con Leche is bold and smokey, and I recommend only drinking Cuban coffee in small doses.

Why is Cuban coffee so strong? It comes down to 3 factors:

  1. 1
    The Coffee Beans
    Cuban coffee beans are grown in rich, fertile red limestone soil.[1] This helps them to grow, allowing them to develop heavier and darker flavors than other South American coffee beans. Cuban coffee beans have less complexity and more raw power. 
  2. 2
    The Roast Level
    Cuban coffee is usually very dark-roasted. This gives the coffee a bitter flavor that's very different from the mellow Colombian or Brazilian coffee beans. This dark roast flavor is perfect for espresso-style drinks but does give Colombian coffee a harsh taste.[2]
  3. 3
    The Brewing Method
    Cuban coffee is typically prepared in a Moka pot or stovetop espresso maker/espresso machine. These brewing methods produce bold coffee that enhances the robust edges of the dark-roasted coffee.

Unique Appearance

Everything about Cuban coffee is dark and deep, and the brew is darker in color than almost all brewed coffees.

This is because it’s made with dark roasted coffee with a high level of extraction (which is why it's so caffeinated).

You don't typically drink Cuban coffee with milk either, so you really notice the deep, oily colors.


The Origins Of Cuban Coffee Explained!

Coffee plants were first planted in Cuba in 1748 by the Spanish, but it wasn't until the French came to Cuba in 1790 (fleeing Haiti) that coffee production took off.

The fertile mountainous regions (particularly in the East) were perfect for growing coffee. An export market was quickly established, and most Cuban coffee was sent to Europe.

However, the Cuban coffee market has struggled a lot more than other countries in the region.

The coffee industry suffered during the Cuban revolution because nationalized production made it difficult to make Cuban coffee.

The trade embargo with the US also made it difficult to export ground coffee and make any money.

Coffee farmers struggled, and many folded, but the industry survived through exports to the USSR. However, when the Soviet Union fell, this export market was destroyed too.

It wasn’t until relations between the US and China started to thaw that Cuban coffee growing became a viable enterprise again.[3].

Cuban culture flooded back into places like Miami, and Cafe Cuban became popular once more.

Cuba is now the 36th highest coffee exporting country, delivering 13.2 million pounds worth of coffee around the world each year.

Almost all Cuban coffee is grown on small farms, and there are far fewer large commercial operations than in South America.


Explore The Coffee Growing Regions In Cuba

Cuba has a reasonably diverse environment that's well suited to growing coffee.

Most exported Colombian coffee comes from the Sierra Maestra mountains, but there are officially three growing regions:

Sierra Maestra Mountains

The Sierra Maestra is a renowned coffee-growing region, and 92% of Cuban coffee is grown on coffee farms here.

It produces high-quality coffee because of the medium-high heat, elevation, and fertile reddish-brown soil.[4]

The conditions are perfect for growing organic coffee that doesn't need any chemical fertilizers. The coffee farmers pick and process the coffee by hand to retain the natural flavors.

Pinar del Rio

This region has lower elevations and is used for coffee and tobacco growing. Farms here grow a mix of Robusta and Arabica beans, and the coffee tends to have more chocolate notes.

Escambray

Escambray is a mountainous region to the West of Cuba.

The mountainous regions produce full-bodied coffee slightly less intense than the Sierra Maestra region. These coffees are still dark but balanced and easier to drink.


Related Cuban Coffee Questions

What are the 4 types of Cuban coffee?

The 4 types of Cuban coffee (or café Cubano) are:

  • Cafecito: a sweet Cuban espresso.
  • Colada: a 4oz sharing cup of very strong coffee.
  • Cortadito: a mix of dark espresso and steamed milk.
  • Cafe con leche: a café Cubano served with steamed milk, similar to a regular milky coffee.
What grind is Cuban coffee?

It's best to use a fine grind size when drinking Cuban coffee. It should be slightly coarser than espresso grinds to maximize the flavor, but still very fine.

How do you drink Cuban coffee?

A regular café cubano is served as a short black coffee. It’s best with sugar, but you typically don’t add milk to coffee in Cuba. If you want a milk-based coffee, ask for a café con leche or Cortadito. For an authentic Cuban coffee experience, order a colada and share it in smaller cups with your friends.


Summary: Start Drinking Cuban Coffee!

Cuba has a strong community culture, and coffee is as much a social activity as a drink. There are different types of cafe Cubano to choose from, but every cup is hot, strong, and sweet.

If you love strong coffee, traditional flavors, and a robust brew, you’ll love Cuban coffee.

It’s not for casual coffee drinkers, but I recommend it for experienced coffee drinkers who want something more intense.

References:

  1. https://www.britannica.com/place/Cuba/Soils
  2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/dark-roast-coffee-caffeine-and-benefits
  3. https://www.state.gov/cuba-sanctions/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29433216/

Kim Fernandez

Author

Kim Fernandez
Kim offers a unique perspective on coffee culture and trends. Kim's writing is personal and experiential, providing readers with firsthand advice on the latest in coffee. Beyond her writing, Kim is an avid explorer of new coffee trends and spots, always seeking to share the most genuine advice and latest trends. True to her love for coffee, you'll often find her in a café, immersed in a book with a freshly brewed cup of joe.

My favorite drink? I'd go with... A freshly brewed cup of joe

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