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In Brazil, cafezinho is more than what the word implies. Literally translated as “little coffee”, cafezinho is synonymous with hospitality. An offer of a cafezinho is an invitation to put down your business for a few minutes and enjoy the thick, sweet coffee and conversation to go with it. “Hora de cafezinho” is literally “the coffee hour”, but every hour is an hora de cafezinho in Brazil. Long before the US had its coffee culture, Brazil had botequim where the strong, sweet coffee was served in tiny cups throughout the day. Cafezinho is served at office meetings, at desk side, after dinner in a restaurant and in homes. It is a rare Brazilian hostess who will not immediately begin to prepare a cafezinho when you step through her front door.
For those used to American coffee, cafezinho is an acquired taste. Both the amount of coffee used and the method of preparation guarantee a far stronger concentration of flavor than standard drip coffee, and even espresso. Cafezinho is also traditionally served with plenty of sugar. In fact, most recipes for cafezinho start with dissolving sugar in the water. Making cafezinho can be a soothing ritual – but that’s not surprising where anything coffee is concerned.
It’s possible to make cafezinho using a paper filter and filter cone. You can even serve cafezinho in regular coffee cups – but in both cases, you miss part of the real charm of making and drinking it. Many major cities now have Brazilian neighborhoods where you can find both cafezinho cups and the cloth flannel filter you need to make cafezinho. You can substitute espresso cups for the cafezinho cups in a pinch, but the cloth filter is a must. If there are no Brazilian markets near to you, you can usually find them in any Hispanic grocery. They consist of a wooden handle with a metal ring onto which has been sewn an undyed long flannel ‘sock’. It may cost two or three dollars at most. The final piece of equipment is a small saucepan, preferably not aluminum.
Measure three quarters of a cup of cold water for each cafezinho into a saucepan. Add sugar to taste – usually about one teaspoon per cafezinho. Heat the water to just below boiling, stirring to dissolve the sugar. This is very important – boiling water will overcook the coffee and make it bitter. Add a heaping tablespoon of finely ground (espresso ground coffee will work perfectly) coffee to the water and remove from the heat. Stir well, mixing the coffee grounds and sugared water.
Now comes the fun part. Hold the coffee flannel over the cafezinho and slowly pour the coffee mixture through it. It’s a slow process, but don’t give in to the temptation to squeeze the coffee through the filter. You’ll not only risk burning your hands, you’ll force the water through the grounds too quickly and make the coffee bitter.
In Brazil, cafezinho is generally served black, but many people prefer it with a little milk or cream. Remember to rinse your coffee filter well under cold water and hang it to dry so that it doesn’t mildew. Never use soap to clean it, and replace it every couple of months.