Cuba's Version Of Café Con Leche Turns Up The Sweetness

While there are several coffee and milk combinations, the classic café con leche is more nuanced than its name suggests. Originally from Spain, this drink is strong yet smooth. Along with the cortado, café con leche is a hallmark of specialty coffee popularized in Spanish-speaking communities worldwide. One in particular, on the small island nation of Cuba, has its own sweet rendition. 

The Cuban café con leche adds a healthy dose of sugar to the proceedings. Sugarcane was the crop that made Cuba a jewel in Spain's once mighty empire. Subsequently, coffee was introduced to the island during that time, becoming a commercial crop and thoroughly loved across Cuba. This love continues today, even though, according to the Havana Times, the coffee beans that are often available are rationed and adulterated with roasted chickpeas. 

Cuban coffee culture, however, is perhaps most popular in the U.S. state of Florida, home to thousands of Cuban immigrants and those with Cuban ancestry. The sweetened café con leche is a breakfast staple, particularly in Miami, renowned for its many vibrant Cuban neighborhoods. While this drink calls for a robust, condensed coffee, and plenty of steamed milk, it does not require any special tools and is, therefore, very simple to make at home. 

Making Cuban style café con leche

A Cuban café con leche begins with a shot of espresso or very strong black coffee. The most technically-minded coffee purists will tell you that true espresso can only come from a machine that can achieve high enough pressure to draw that indicative strong coffee from the beans. However, you don't need an expensive machine to make café con leche; coffee brewed in a French press or Moka pot will do just fine.

Next, you steam the milk. The ratio of one to the other makes café con leche different from other milk and coffee drinks. Here, it is equal parts milk to coffee, a ratio of 1:1. For comparison, a cappuccino is a 1:2 ratio, while a latte is 1:3. Café con leche calls for steamed milk, which can be achieved by heating the milk over low heat on the stove until it starts to bubble and steam mildly, but not boil.

Combining the milk and coffee now would get you a standard café con leche. To make it Cuban, add two teaspoons of sugar to the milk as it steams. You'll then add the espresso to the pot and stir everything together until the sugar is fully incorporated. The resulting cafe con leche should be a sweet, frothy concoction that doesn't mask the strength of the coffee but makes it a tad milder. It's a great drink for breakfast or an afternoon pick-me-up.