How to Make Puerto Rican Coffee

How to Make Puerto Rican Coffee

For the past twenty years, I have had the good fortune of living in a neighborhood that is largely Puerto Rican. This guarantees me two of the staples in life – great music and incredibly good coffee. You can’t miss the former, especially in the spring and summer when windows are open and salsa and merengue music spills from nearly every home on the block. The latter, the coffee, I discovered the first time that Maria, my neighbor upstairs, brought down a cup of coffee to me because she “made too much coffee this morning”. I was hooked with the first sip – rich with flavor and not a hint of bitterness. I asked what brand of coffee she used, and immediately went out and bought some to make for myself. It was better than my usual grind, but it didn’t even approach the glorious flavor of Maria’s coffee.

Over the years, various upstairs and next door neighbors have served me Puerto Rican style coffee. Over those same years, my tastes in coffee have become more refined and varied. I’ve acquired an appreciation for espresso, for cafezinho, for ca phe – in short, I have never met a coffee that I didn’t like. None of them even approach the love affair I have had with Puerto Rican coffee. It was another Maria in another neighborhood who finally taught me how to make it for myself.

Start with Puerto Rican coffee

Coffee was first brought to Puerto Rico from Costa Rica in the 1700s. Its climate, soil conditions and elevations made it an ideal place to grow coffee, and within a few decades, coffee had become the most important cash crop of the little island. Puerto Rican grown coffee was widely recognized as the best coffee in the world. Throughout the 1800s, coffee from Puerto Rico commanded premium prices throughout Europe and the United States. In 1899, two back to back hurricanes devastated the Puerto Rican coffee crops, and it was years before the coffee farmers were able to harvest. In the meantime, the changing political climate turned against Puerto Rican coffee growers. This came on the heels of Puerto Rico’s annexation to the United States after the Spanish-American War. For Puerto Rico, the result was an increase in export tariffs to their major European coffee markets. While it might have been offset by the removal of tariffs for coffee exported to the United States, American coffee drinkers favored Brazilian coffees. By the 1920s, sugar had replaced coffee as the island’s premier cash crop and export.

The difference in flavor between Brazilian and Puerto Rican coffee is pronounced. Brazilian coffee is lighter in flavor, with fewer complex undertones. Puerto Rican coffee is, by contrast, rich and full-bodied with a fully developed coffee taste. It has more body – it even feels different in the mouth and on the tongue. You CAN make coffee in this style from any type of coffee, obviously, and it will taste wonderful, but when you start with Puerto Rican coffee, you get the full experience of one of the best coffees in the world. As an added bonus, you’ll usually pay far less for Puerto Rican coffee than you do for even supermarket coffee, since it is a domestic product and growers pay no tariffs on imports.

How to Make Puerto Rican Coffee (Cafe Con Leche)

Measure one cup of water for each cup of coffee into a saucepan. Turn on the heat and bring the water to a simmer. While the water is heating, measure out your coffee. This is one of the few types of coffee that I make with pre-ground coffee from a can or a brick pack. If you prefer to grind your own beans, use an espresso grind. Use one full, heaping tablespoon of ground coffee for every cup of coffee.

When the water is simmering but not boiling, add the coffee to the water. Stir it well for about one minute, keeping it below boiling. Turn off the heat beneath the pot, and let it brew for one minute, stirring once or twice.

After one minute, strain the coffee through a coffee sock, which you can purchase at any Latino grocery store for about three dollars. If you’re going to drink your coffee black, strain it directly into the coffee cups. If you like your coffee with milk and sugar – and I urge you to try it this way at least once even if you like your coffee black and unadorned – strain it into a large cup or pot.

Return the saucepan to the burner and turn on the flame. Add a quarter cup of milk and a teaspoon of sugar for each coffee into the saucepan. Heat the milk until it begins to foam around the edges, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Pour the coffee back into the saucepan, and bring it to just below simmering again.

Pour the coffee mixture into mugs or cups and sit back to relax with one of the best cups of coffee you’ve ever had.


Comments

  1. My boyfriend makes me.this every morning when I spend the night at his apt. The best coffee ever. Now I will start to attempt it myself so I can enjoy every day. Gotta say 2 cups perk me up quick. I just have to be careful not to drink it at night. Lol. Will keep me up all night.

  2. I visited Puerto Rico once many years ago. I still say the coffee I drank there was the best tasting of my life. Absolutely perfect.

  3. Growing up, the children in my home were not allowed to drink it very often. Once in a while on the weekends we were allowed to have a small cup to dunk our bread and butter. There is nothing like salty sweet butter spread on crusty Italian bread, dunked in the sweet and rich cup of coffee fresh from the stove. That is still the best way to begin my Saturday or Sunday.

  4. Thanks for this information. As a child I remember my grandfather making coffee using a coffee sock.There is no one that I could ask about this childhood memory but now I have the answers. I can’t wait to buy the coffee and sock and relive the past.I never go to try the coffee but it is a smell I will always remember.

  5. Where can I purchase the pot that holds the coffee sock with 2 clamps while you are pouring the hot coffee into the sock? I have seen it a few times, and now I can’t seem to find it. Thanks.

  6. That poufy, snail-shaped large roll you had with your breakfast is called a Mallorca (Mah-YOR-kah) and it is really good. If you ask for it by name, you can find it in east-coast cities. Out here on the west coast where I live, it’s all Mexican pan dulce…tasty, but not the same thing.

  7. My grandfather used to make coffee with “la media” or sock. It is great! Sometimes he added a very small amount of nuez moscada (nutmeg).

  8. Hi, there used to be a Puerto Rican coffee place I would go to in Spanish Harlem that had the most delicious coffee, but it seemed to be enhanced with spices, ginger, or something. I’d love to find a recipe for that! Do you know what that is? Thanks!

  9. Thanks! I just returned from Puerto Rico with two types of coffee. I want to make it just right to fully enjoy the flavors.

  10. Rebecca… was the bread a bright yellow or orange colored roll? Miyoka (sp?) Amazing!! My Boyfriend’s father owns Moncho’s Deli in the same building this bread is baked and it is amazing! I found this site because I am looking for the name of the coffee cone with the metal cup under it that PR coffee is strained in. Can anyone help? BTW… I am sipping on a cup right now!

  11. I spent the summer in Puerto Rico with my best friend in high school, and I loved this coffee. This with the bread fresh from the bakery was my favorite thing. I just need to get find that bread and I’ll be set…

  12. This is the way that my abuelita (grandmother) used to make coffee. When you need food for the soul, it pays to take the extra time and effort to prepare coffee this way.

  13. While I was in Puerto Rico I brought different coffees (such as El Coqui, and El Rico), and a coffee sock (97 cents). When I arrived home, I had no idea how to make it. I hadn’t seen Puerto Rican coffee made since I was a child. I found your site on the internet, made the coffee, and it turned out terrific. Muchas Gracias por todo.

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