Coffee lovers are always searching for new beans to try, and for those who have sampled coffees from the more established producing countries, coffee from Cuba is an intriguing prospect.
For US consumers, in particular, Cuban coffee is seen as something of a “forbidden fruit” – but unfortunately, beans from the US’s smaller Caribbean neighbor are not easy to obtain.
Here’s our guide to the best Cuban coffee brands.
Check out this video that briefly explains the history of the embargo.
A short history of coffee in Cuba
Before we look at the best Cuban brands, let’s have a look at the history of coffee production in Cuba to see how a formerly significant industry found itself in its pitiful current state.
Coffee is thought to have first arrived in Cuba in 1748 when it was introduced by one José Antonio Gelabert, who brought seeds from Santo Domingo, the present-day Dominican Republic (1).
Following the revolution in Haiti, Cuba saw an influx of French farmers who were fleeing the turmoil on that island.
As well as the extra labor, they also brought with them more advanced coffee-growing techniques, giving Cuban production a further boost.
Production continued to increase over the next couple of centuries until it reached a peak in the 1950s when annual output topped 20,000 tons.
However, following the Cuban Revolution, the industry went into significant decline; this was also compounded by the introduction of the 1962 US embargo.
By the 2007-2008 harvest, only 7,000 60lb bags were produced, down from a maximum of 440,000 bags less than two decades before.
Cuban coffee industry hangs on
Despite the highly unfavorable economic conditions for coffee production in Cuba, the industry continues to survive.
In particular, since 2003, certain areas have been converted to growing organic coffee that can sell for up to 40% more than regular coffee.
Most of this goes to Japan and France, while the UK, Germany and New Zealand also feature on the list of customers.
While the economic conditions are still not ideal, the growing conditions are the same as ever, and it is to be hoped that in the future, coffee production on Cuba will once again become an important industry for the island.
Check out this video about rural coffee farming in Cuba.
Coffee culture in Cuba
There can be few places in the world where coffee plays a more integral role in local culture. Even overseas, Cuban communities have come to be defined by their consumption of coffee, particularly in the US.
Back in Cuba, where pure coffee beans have not always been readily available, drinking coffee has remained important in family and social life.
People there have always managed to make the most of what they have – in 2015, the coffee ration was as low as 2oz per person per week.
In times when coffee distribution on the island has been particularly restricted, people have added roasted peas to the mix to make their precious beans go further.
However, it would be very hard to imagine Cubans going without coffee altogether.
Coffee culture in Cuba has never been about fancy beans or pretentious brewing techniques; in Cuba, coffee has tended to be a rustic drink that allows people to share a moment together.
If you are ever invited into a Cuban’s home, it goes without saying that this is the drink you will be served.
How do Cubans drink their coffee?
Cuban coffee is generally served as espresso, and the café Cubano is the island’s own take on this drink.
The café Cubano is a rich, dark espresso that is traditionally sweetened by the addition of demerara sugar during the brewing process.
Other coffee preparations include the addition of alcohol, especially rum, the island’s other famous drink, to impart a certain extra kick.
How to make the perfect café Cubano using a Moka pot
The easiest way to make Cuban-style coffee at home is by using a Moka pot – and of course, real Cuban-grown coffee.
Take the Moka pot and fill up to the valve with water. Fill the filter with coffee and compact it lightly. Screw on the top and place the Moka pot on the heat.
While you are waiting for the coffee to brew, take a jug and put about two teaspoons of sugar into it for each cup you are making.
Keep an eye on the Moka pot. When coffee first starts to bubble up, take it off the heat and pour a few drops into the sugar.
You need to do this as the coffee first starts to rise since this is the richest, darkest part of the coffee. Place the Moka pot back on the heat and let the rest continue to rise.
While you are waiting for the rest of the coffee to brew, mix the sugar and the few drops of coffee into a thick, syrupy paste.
When the rest of the coffee is ready, pour it into the sugar mixture and stir well so that all the sugar dissolves. Serve in espresso cups and enjoy your café Cubano!
The best Cuban coffee beans on the Market 2020
Since Cuba now produces so little coffee and, for obvious political reasons, even less makes its way to the US, the best way to enjoy Cuban coffee is to drink Cuban-style coffee grown elsewhere.
Here is our list of the best options:
1. Pilon Whole Bean Restaurant Blend Espresso Coffee
If you’re looking for the authentic Cuban espresso taste, these Café Pilon Cuban-style espresso beans could be a great option.
Although they are not actually from Cuba, they are 100% arabica and taste just like the real thing. Ideal for making café Cubano.
The flavor profile is described as being bold, smooth, strong and dark.
This is exactly the kind of beans that stand up well to the Cuban-style preparation of a strong, sweet coffee.
2. Mayorga Organics Cafe Cubano (Our Top Recommended)
The founder of this company fled Cuba for Miami as a child. His company now produces this Cuban-style coffee with beans sourced from various other Latin American countries.
These direct trade beans are certified organic, non-GMO and kosher.
The flavor profile is described as bold, smooth and sweet with a full body, hints of vanilla and a sweet, syrupy smokiness.
They give a smooth, bold finish. Another perfect dark coffee highly suited to making Cuban-style coffee – or any other styles of coffee if you enjoy a darker roast.
3. Supreme by Bustelo Whole Bean Espresso Coffee
These whole beans from Bustelo are freshly roasted to ensure they reach the consumer in optimum condition.
They are ideal for making café Cubano as well as Cuban café con leche or any other types of coffee. These beans are a blend of coffees from around the world.
The flavor is rich and dark with a delicious aroma.
If you want to replicate your favorite Cuban-style coffee drinks, these beans are an excellent substitute for beans grown on the island.
4. Keurig Cafe Bustelo Coffee Espresso K-Cups
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of brewing up and preparing café Cubano yourself, you can let your Keurig machine do the job for you.
These pods will give you traditional-style Cuban coffee but without the time and effort required to make it from scratch.
The flavor profile is similar to the Bustelo beans above.
The coffee has a rich, dark, strong and powerful taste and is kept fresh by being stored in the K-Cup pod until you want to brew it.
A great “lazy” option for Cuban-style coffee.
5. Chock Full O Nuts Coffee, Cuban Roast Ground
Don’t be fooled by the name, this coffee doesn’t contain nuts, just 100% premium coffee.
The company used to sell nuts but now only sells coffee – they just liked their old name, so they decided to keep it.
This is their Cuban-style dark roast coffee. It is described as being dark, bold, rich and delicious.
This is another robust coffee that will stand up well to the café Cubano method. It tastes great when mixed with sugar – but can also be used to make coffee using any other method.
Genuine Cuban coffee hard to obtain – for now
While for the moment, the Cuban coffee industry is still struggling, it is also managing to cling on. While the current political landscape remains uncertain, it is difficult to predict what will happen next.
We can only hope that in the future, the island will once again begin producing coffee in more significant quantities and we can all once again enjoy Cuban coffee from Cuba.
In the meantime, the best option is to find Cuban-style substitutes. If you want to try making café Cubano at home, our list of the best Cuban coffee brands should help you choose the right ones to use.
Do you make café Cubano or café con leche at home? Have you ever tasted genuine Cuban-grown beans? What did the coffee they produced to taste like?
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