What is a Cafecito?

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The vibrant culture of Cuba is celebrated not just through its music and art but also through its unique culinary traditions. Among these, the Cafecito stands out—a potent symbol of community and friendship, wrapped up in a small, intensely flavorful cup of coffee.

The sweet drink with its sugary foam, known as la crema (or sweet crema), is a testament to the enduring spirit of Cuban traditions. Often simply called cafe cubano, this espresso brew tells a story of heritage and the simple joys of life, one sip at a time.

Key Takeaways

  • Strong Flavor: Known for its rich, robust taste and potent caffeine kick.
  • Unique Brew: Made with caramelized sugar, creating a sweet foam.
  • Variety: Includes styles like Colada and Café con Leche.
  • Cultural Tradition: Cafecito has been a symbol of Cuban community and friendship since the 18th century.
Two White Coffee Cups On Saucers, One Labeled 'Cuban Coffee Queen' And The Other 'I Love Cafe Bustelo,' Filled With Cafecito, Set On A Wooden Table.
Enjoying Cafecito in iconic Cuban coffee cups

What is Cafecito?

Cafecito, meaning “little coffee” in Spanish, is more than just a beverage; it’s a daily ritual in many Cuban households and communities around the world. This traditional Cuban espresso is known for its strong flavor and sweet, frothy layer of espuma (foam) that tops the dark, aromatic liquid.

According to Carlos Frías, former Food Editor of the Miami Herald, “It’s not just an Italian espresso that we’ve renamed. It’s whipped together with sugar. That’s what makes the Cuban coffee.”

How to Brew a Cafecito


  • Coffee: A finely ground dark roast, preferably Cuban-style espresso beans. It’s essential to use dark roast coffee because it releases more oil during brewing, which is crucial for making la crema.
  • Sugar: White sugar to taste, crucial for creating the espuma. Options like brown sugar and demerara sugar can be used for a bit of a sweeter flavor.
  • Water: Just enough to brew the espresso.


  • Stovetop Moka Pot: The traditional stovetop espresso maker used for brewing Cafecito. In Miami, it’s often simply referred to as a “cafetera.”
  • Pocillo or Demitasse Cups: Small cups used to serve Cafecito.
  • Small Metal Container: Used for whipping the sugar and first-brewed coffee together.
A Traditional Stovetop Moka Pot, Disassembled, Used For Brewing Authentic Cuban Cafecito.
A traditional stovetop Moka pot, essential for brewing Cafecito. $35 on Amazon.

Brewing Process:

  1. Prepare the Coffee: Pack 1-2 tablespoons of coffee grounds into the filter basket of the Moka pot.
  2. Add Sugar: Place 1-2 teaspoons of sugar directly over the coffee grounds. This step is key for caramelizing the sugar during brewing, which forms the signature sweet foam. Collect the first drops of coffee from the Moka pot to whip the sugar and create la crema.
  3. Make La Crema: In a small metal container, mix the first few drops of brewed coffee with the sugar. Whip vigorously until the mixture reaches the color and consistency of almond butter or peanut butter.
  4. Assemble and Brew: Screw on the top of the Moka pot, fill the bottom chamber with water, and place the pot on medium-high heat. Watch closely as the coffee brews and the thick crema starts to rise.
  5. Serve Immediately: Once the brewing is complete, pour the Cafecito into a pocillo, ensuring to include all the delicious foam. Drizzle the brewed coffee over the back of a spoon to preserve the foam. Optionally, add more sugar to taste.


While the classic cafecito remains a favorite, several variations exist:

  • Colada: A larger serving of Cafecito, intended for sharing and typically served in a bigger cup with smaller serving glasses.
  • Café con Leche: Cafecito served with steamed milk, similar to a latte, offering a milder flavor and creamier texture. It’s a beloved variation in many Latin American countries and is also referred to as cafe con leche.
  • Cuban Pull: A technique used to pour the espresso in a way that enhances its creamy foam.
A Close-Up Of A Cup Of Cafecito Served In A White Cup With A Saucer, Set On A Table Decorated With Cuban-Themed Paper Placemats.
A perfectly brewed Cafecito.

Cultural Significance

Cafecito is much more than a caffeine fix; it is a cultural staple that embodies the Cuban spirit of community and sharing. It’s common for friends and family to gather for cafecito breaks, engaging in lively conversation and connection.

These moments are integral to daily life, reinforcing bonds and traditions through the simple act of sharing a cup of coffee. Traditionally, the cafecito is served in small, ceramic cups, and it’s meant to be shared with friends, with each person getting a tiny, but potent, sip. This social activity is a key aspect of Cuban culture.

Historical Context and Modern Impact

The tradition of Cafecito dates back to the 18th century and has evolved through significant historical events like the Haitian revolution and the Cuban revolution. Today, Cuban immigrants continue to spread this beloved tradition across the world, bringing a taste of home to new communities.

Coffee Production and Quality

Authentic Cuban coffee is often sourced from the Sierra Maestra region, known for its rich flavor and high-pressure brewing methods. The best Cuban coffee brands, such as Café Bustelo and Cafe La Llave, ensure a high-quality, strong espresso coffee experience.

Boxes Of Café Bustelo Coffee Stacked On A Shelf At Aldi.
Café Bustelo coffee for sale at my local Aldi.


How does Cafecito differ from regular espresso?

Cafecito is brewed similarly to traditional espresso but with the addition of sugar during the brewing process, creating a unique sweetness and foaminess that sets it apart. The sweet and creamy espuma, or “la crema,” is a distinctive feature, made by whipping sugar with a small amount of coffee.

Is Cafecito always served sweetened?

Yes, part of the traditional method involves caramelizing sugar with the coffee grounds, which is integral to creating the characteristic espuma. The 4 to 1 ratio of sugar to coffee is typical, ensuring the drink is sweet enough to balance the strong, dark roast coffee.

Can I make Cafecito without a Moka pot?

While a Moka pot is traditional, any espresso machine capable of brewing a strong shot may be used. The key is the addition of sugar before brewing to achieve the desired sweetness and foam. However, using a stovetop moka pot is more authentic and preferred by many Cuban coffee enthusiasts.

Wrapping Up

Cafecito transcends a cup of coffee. It’s a daily ritual that brews connection, a warm embrace of Cuban culture in every sip. From the classic café cubano to modern espresso twists, each cup is a chance to slow down, savor the moment, and perhaps spark a new connection. So next time, raise your cafecito and say, “Nos tomamos un cafecito?” a toast to heritage, community, and the simple pleasure of a shared experience

Avatar Of Kelsey Todd
With over two decades in the coffee industry, Kelsey is a seasoned professional barista with roots in Seattle and Santa Barbara. Accredited by The Coffee Association of America and a member of The Baristas Guild, he combines practical expertise with a profound understanding of coffee's history and cultural significance. Kelsey tries his best to balance family time with blogging time and fails miserably.