My First Cup of Cafe

I know it sounds completely insane, but I don’t recall ever NOT drinking coffee! From the moment I learned how to drink from a cup rather than a bottle my mother, like many other Cuban mothers, started off my day with a nice, warm cup of cafe con leche – espresso coffee or instant coffee mixed with milk and a spoonful or two of sugar. Yes, at the age of two!

I remember the delicious aroma that filled our second floor apartment in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood and how I loved getting out of bed to that tantalizing smell. Half asleep, I’d saunter to the kitchen table where breakfast awaited me. The main event – a mug filled with cafe con leche. Magically, by the time I was done with it I was feeling awake, peppy and ready to start my day. I wonder why!  

By the time I was in kindergarten I had developed my own preferences for coffee. I liked to drink it hot, unlike my younger brother, Ralph, who liked it as cold as possible, meaning room temperature.

Since she had four kids to tend to, my mom made cafe con leche for my brothers and me in this order. While warming up the milk in a saucepan, she scooped a couple of teaspoons of Nescafe instant coffee into our mugs, followed by a teaspoon of sugar.  When the milk was hot, she poured it into each cup. Some of the coffee granules floated to the top and I pretended they were chocolate chips. I’ve recreated my childhood cafe con leche and this is what it looks like. Notice the “chips!”

Cafe con Leche made with Nescafe Taster’s Choice Instant Coffee

Cafe con Leche made with Nescafe Taster’s Choice Instant Coffee

What I didn’t know then is that we weren’t getting the real deal yet. The cafe con leche my mom made with instant Nescafe, sugar and milk was milder than coffee she was making for herself and my dad in her Cuban-style cafetera. Come to think of it, the aroma that filled our apartment and woke me up to every morning was probably their cafe, not mine!

It wasn’t long before I was drinking the real stuff too. It made me feel so grown up. I loved the crema, the froth, or as we called it, the espumita on the top. Think about it, a first-grader pumped with sugar and a shot of espresso before school every day. That was me. No wonder I always left the house in a good mood and with a skip in my step!

There’s no real science to making the Nescafe instant coffee of my early childhood. But this is how you make a real cup of Cuban coffee.


Cafe Cubano


November 10, 2015

To make Cuban coffee, or cafe, or cafecito, get yourself an inexpensive stovetop device that produces the coffee by passing boiling water, pressurized by steam, through the grounds. You might know it as a Moka Espresso maker, but any Cuban will tell you it’s a Cuban cafetera. It goes for around $29 and in Miami you can pick up an off-brand one at any grocery or drugstore for about $10. They come in three sizes - 3, 6 and 9 cup. I like using the smallest size because it makes 3 shots of coffee and who needs more than that in one serving? Unscrew the top and you’ll see three compartments.

- The base for the water
- The strainer for the espresso grounds
- The top, which collects the brewed espresso

You’ll also need a metal or glass container in which to create the sugary foam. I like using a Pyrex measuring cup, but any small cup will do.

The trickiest part of this recipe is creating the foam, which is the trademark of Cuban coffee. But don’t worry. If you mess up you’ll still have a great flavor, although maybe not as much froth.

  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 5 mins
  • 5 mins

    5 mins

    10 mins

  • Yields: Serves 3


High-grade espresso ground coffee

Plain white sugar


1Pour water into the bottom compartment of the coffeemaker until just underneath the pressure valve.


2Fill the strainer with the grounds, level it with a spoon, place it inside the bottom compartment and wipe the rim.

3Screw on the top compartment. Place it over the flame. For now, leave the lid open so you can see when the coffee has started to brew.

4For the 3-cup size, scoop 3 spoonfuls of sugar into the glass container.

5When the coffee first emerges, remove from the flame and pour a few drops into the sugar, no more than about a teaspoon. (It’s important to use this first bit of coffee, known as the ink, to create the foam because it’s thicker than the rest.) Place the espresso maker back on the flame and close the lid.

6Now it’s time to make the froth. In the glass container, whisk the sugar and coffee mixture with a spoon until it forms a light-colored paste. Mix vigorously as this is one step you can never overdo.

7As soon as the coffee begins erupting again, (you will hear it coming up) turn off the heat and let it finish doing its job.

8When complete, pour the rest of the coffee into the glass container and stir until both the coffee and the sugary paste are completely blended. You will notice a thick foam has formed over the top. Pour it into individual espresso size cups, using a spoon to equally divide the foam. Now you’ve got your Cuban coffee!


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