If you ever woke up hungover at a Cuban resort in need of some serious knock-out coffee, you know that Cuba makes some of the best in the world.
Known for some of the darkest coffee, the Cuban coffee bean is bold in flavor, with an aroma to awaken the senses and a body as full as the Tropicana Club on a Friday night.
But what if you want that benchmark coffee experience at home? Well, that’s what we’re here for! We took a deep dive into all things Cuban coffee to find out if the Café Bustelo, Cuba’s most noteworthy and delicious bean, is all it’s cracked up to be.
Top Picks At A Glance
We scoured the Cuban countryside to find the best Cuban-style coffee beans that will give you the authentic taste, rich body, and Cuban kick of flavor. Here are the best of the best Cuban coffee brands.
Cuban Coffee Traditions
The coffee plant was first introduced to Cuba in 1748, while the Cuban coffee industry didn’t take shape until the 1790s. Coffee thrived in Cuba’s Sierra Maestra, a mountainous region with temperate weather and rich soil.
By the mid-1800s, coffee became just as important an export as sugar. In the 1940s, Cuba became the world’s leading coffee exporter; by 1960, it produced a record 60,000 tonnes. That’s a whole lotta coffee!
The Demise of an Industry
However, the Cuban Revolution, which resulted in a nationalized economy and subsequent embargo by the West, decimated Cuba’s coffee industry. The result? The collapse of larger farms as the government disincentivized coffee production. Cuba began rationing coffee and chicharo for its citizens as many countries refused to trade.
Today, a writer from the New York Times describes Cuban coffee as unreflective of Cuban tradition.
“There is nothing Cuban about Cuban coffee. The beans are grown in Brazil or Colombia, the coffee machine is made in Italy, and the person who serves it to you from a sidewalk cafeteria is most likely going to be from Nicaragua, Argentina, or anywhere else but Cuba.”
To this day, Cuban coffee is grown in other parts of Central America while being processed, washed, and roasted in Cuba. In 2011, Cuban coffee giants Cafe Bustelo and Pilon were purchased by the American conglomerate J.M. Smucker which sources their beans from Brazil.
Despite the diminished economy and declining home-grown coffee industry, Cafe Cubano-style coffee remains a favorite among islanders and an integral part of the Cuban culture.
Cuba’s most distinctive contribution to the coffee world is its traditional, Cafe Cubano-style coffee.
A well-made Cafe Cubano features a thick, creamy layer of authentic crema floated over an espresso shot or signature dark roast coffee. This is a strong roast with an intense aroma and features all the indicative Cuban coffee flavors: smoky hints of vanilla, dark chocolate, and caramel.
Al Pacino famously said that all the Cafe Cubano Tony Montana drank made him a killer. The reality is that Cafe Cubano is a drink meant to be shared among friends and in the company of good conversation.
Cubans view coffee as being accompanied by socializing or as a perfect way to enjoy a mid-afternoon siesta. It’s a more leisurely way to drink java than the more functional way coffee is consumed in Western cultures.
Cafe Cubano isn’t about fueling your work day but about who you share your coffee with.
A Closer Look At Our Favorites
Let’s take a closer look and discover why the Cafe Bustelo Supreme is our best overall Cuban coffee.
The flagship Cuban coffee brand, Café Bustelo was founded by Gregorio Bustelo in 1928.
Bustelo was a Spaniard who traveled throughout Cuba before settling in East Harlem, New York. Living among a diverse group of Latin Americans, Bustelo crafted his own unique Cuban coffee blend that is still celebrated to this day.
And boy, is the Cafe Bustelo Supreme worth celebrating.
It’s In The Name
Cafe Bustelo Supreme Coffee is our number one Cuban coffee bean and is exactly what’d you’d expect from a Cuban coffee. This bean will take you out of the local hipster coffee shop and into the hills of the Sierra Maestra.
The Supreme features a robust flavor profile, a strong kick of earthy dark chocolate, cinnamon, and an enticing aroma of subtle sweet notes like raisin and blackberry.
This is also a coffee for people who are new to Cuban tradition. The Supreme is a well-rounded roast that is enough to say “hi there” to your palate without giving you the punch of bitter aftertaste or too much of a dark-strength smokey flavor.
Café Bustelo has also received awards for the Bustelo Coffee Espresso and Supreme as a Café Con Leche. This means it will make a Café Cubano with all the bold flavor and sweetness Latin coffee drinkers love.
- Best-known brand for Café Cubano
- Rich Cuban flavor profile with a lively aroma
- Flawless grind that won’t clog your machine
- Makes great espresso or café con leche
- Available whole, ground, as instant coffee and K-Cups
- High static charge of the beans could make your grind a little messy
- No information on coffee’s origin
Another addition to Cuba’s distinctive coffee culture is the Chock Full O’Nuts Cuban Roast Ground Coffee. With the Chock Full O’Nuts, you get a brand with 100 years of real Cuban-style coffee at an economical price.
With a rich flavor profile of vanilla, dark chocolate, and nutty earthiness, this coffee bean can compete with expensive coffee while satisfying Cuban coffee lovers.
The Chock Full O’Nuts is an all-purpose brew that can offer you a variety of brewing methods compared to other Cuban coffee brands. Drip coffee maker, Moka pot, espresso brewing, it doesn’t matter; you can still have that authentic Cuban taste.
- Brand with a long tradition
- Notes of vanilla, dark chocolate and earthiness
- All-purpose brewing for a versatile Cuban coffee experience
- 100% Arabica beans sourced in Colombia
- Slightly Bitter aftertaste with an almost sour finish
- Only available ground
Another from the Bustelo family, this bean is the popular choice for those who prefer ground beans.
This is an all-purpose brew that will give you a decent-tasting cup of coffee, whether it’s filter coffee, drip, or Moka coffee pot. The beans are ground fine but coarse enough to make both espresso and Cuban coffee.
These beans have the ideal strength for coffee drinkers with eclectic palates to enjoy, whether it’s black coffee, Café Con Leche, Café Cubano, or Colada Coffee. The dark leaning towards medium roast from Cafe Bustelo really lets the flavor profile shine through.
This is a purely Cuban-tasting coffee with notes of milk chocolate, nuts, and an earthy aftertaste. The only drawback is that the bold taste doesn’t come with the robust smell it should, as the aroma is a little weaker.
- All-purpose brew for espresso and coffee
- Medium grind is ideal for Cuban drink flavor and inspired brewing
- Fairtrade ensures the sustainability of Cuban coffee production
- Weak aroma
- Goes stale with time
Cafe La Llave’s tagline is “by Latin coffee drinkers, for Latin coffee drinkers.” This pre-ground Cuban coffee is a staple for espresso lovers who want a genuine Cuban coffee brand that takes the work out of brewing your cup of coffee.
With this finely ground coffee, you can take the guessing out of your morning, as well as the bitterness that can come from a poor grind. It’s a solid choice for those who prefer convenience over excellent taste.
Still, you’ll get a reliable brew every time with Cafe La Llave, featuring bold notes of creamy chocolate, wood, sweet spices, and a robust aroma. This is a sweet blend with a creamy consistency, something you don’t often see in most Cuban coffee drinks unless cut with milk.
- Sweet coffee with notes of honey
- Authentic Cuban taste
- Ground espresso coffee for convenience
- Intense aroma in every cup of coffee
- Strong smoky aftertaste
- Inconsistent price
- Only available ground
This Cuban kick of espresso gave me such an energy boost I finally understood what Maverick meant by the need for speed.
Used in restaurants across the world and most notably in southern Florida, you can get a hint of that trademark taste Pacino was referencing for Scarface.
The rich flavor of chocolate cream with hazelnut gives this bean a complex, robust flavor that doesn’t get lost in its espresso brewing. Though this blend is said to have a bite to it, the Pilon is more like a golden retriever than a great white.
For black coffee drinkers, this one is for you. For coffee lovers who like a clean taste without bitterness, the Pilon is best cut with milk into a Cafe Cubano. The flavor profile works with steamed milk instead of being hidden behind it like other beans.
- A Cuban espresso with bold, in-your-face flavor
- All-around taste works with black coffee drinkers and harmoniously with milk
- Creamy consistency for savory drinking
- Whole beans
- Only available in 32 oz. bag
- Beans are on the oily side
Mayorga Organics has a simple mission: create market opportunities for farmers. Mayorga as a coffee brand works tirelessly with small, organic coffee farms in Nicaragua, Peru, and Honduras, where they later process and roast their beans in Cuba.
The Café Cubano Whole Bean is an example of Mayorga’s principles and features a personal taste of the Cuban tradition, with a full-bodied flavor of creamy vanilla goodness and syrupy smoke texture.
These beans are grown in the shade to allow the coffee cherry to mature over time. This process gives you a refined flavor profile as it grows slowly: just like a fine wine.
Later, they’re slow-roasted to ensure they don’t burn and you have the best taste possible. Because this coffee is so smooth, it makes a delicious cup from French Press brewing, which allows you to slowly draw out all those tasty, crisp vanilla notes.
- Fairtrade, sustainably sourced beans
- Slow-roasted beans that are grown in the shade for consistent, perfect coffee flavor
- Smooth texture
- Smallest quantity of 2lbs.
Things To Consider When Shopping For Cuban Coffee Brands
To prioritize these delicious Cuban coffees, here are some things to consider when shopping for the best pick for you.
Medium roasts have a thicker body with a more balanced taste, aroma, and flavor notes. If roasts were a Scorsese movie, the medium would be Goodfellas: complex, colorful, and full of personality.
Dark Roasts, on the other hand, roast for longer and have an archetypal black color, with a drawn-out oil glossing the surface. If dark roasts were a Scorsese movie, they’d be Raging Bull: packing a punch of dark, earthy flavor full of rugged charm.
You’re pressed to find a light roast in Cuban coffee beans, normally ranging from medium to dark. Yet, some beans verge on the lighter side of things with a brighter variety of flavor notes.
The delicious flavor of Cuban blend coffee has a little something for everyone; the only question is which flavor profiles tick the boxes for you.
Fruity, Bright, and Rounded — If you like your coffee with a Cuban tostada and with the bright, easy-drinking taste of a smooth and rounded-body finish, consider a Medium Roast like the Mayorga coffee beans.
Cuban medium roasts tend to have a creamy texture with notes of milk chocolate, honey and/or sweet spice, vanilla, and fruits like blackberry and cherry.
Rich, Smoky, and Full — Consider a dark roast if you like your coffee with a rare steak con mojo and with a powerfully rich, smoky taste and full-body finish. Our best overall Cafe Bustelo Supreme, Pilon, or Chock Full O’Nuts coffee beans are great choices. Coffee drinkers are wary of dark roasts, as lesser coffee roasters tend to burn away the flavor notes, leaving only a charcoaled, smoky taste. In Cuba, the roasting is superior and leaves a trademarked, robust body with dark chocolate crema, nut, and wood notes.
Considering whether you’re a coffee drinker on a budget or a prosumer, the coffee beans you have the means and access to may vary.
Budget Coffee Drinkers — To get the most bang for your buck, consider not just the price but the size of your coffee bean packaging. Like any frequent flier of Costco knows, sometimes it pays to buy in bulk and pay upfront, then continually buy a more inexpensive, smaller product.
While Cafe Bustelo retails on the higher end, it contains over 6,000 grams of coffee, translating to almost 500 cups of delicious Cuban Cubano. The same goes for our best overall, the Bustelo Supreme, which has a bag size of 450 grams and gives you over 40 cups of coffee.
Keep in mind how much coffee you plan on drinking, and that coffee goes stale with time. Are you a casual coffee drinker? How do you store your coffee? Do you want Cuban coffee beans to replace your at-home coffee routine? These are questions important to consider when buying in bulk and on a budget.
Prosumer Coffee Drinkers — For the prosumer, consider the flavor, of course, but also which brewing method speaks to you and how convenient you want your at-home coffee custom to be.
Are you prepared to grind and prepare your Cuban espresso beans every morning? How fast is fast enough before you get that first sip? Is cleaning your French Press daily a turn-off for you? It’s important to consider whether you’re willing to trade convenience for an unforgettable taste.
Why is Cuban Coffee so strong?
We perceive Cuban Coffee as strong for two main reasons:
1. Dark espresso roasts are usually used to make Cuban coffee. These typically have bolder, richer flavors.
2. The coffee is brewed with a higher level of extraction, often leading to a smoky bitterness.
Does Cuba produce Coffee?
Yes, but relatively little. After the Cuban revolution, coffee production decreased massively on the Caribbean island, and Cuba started to import beans from other countries in Latin America. Today, Cuban coffee is grown in countries such as Brazil and Colombia, whereas processing, washing, and roasting are done in Cuba.
How do you drink Cuban Coffee?
Cuban coffee is typically consumed as a shot of espresso or with milk as Café con Leche. Depending on your liking, you can sweeten it with sugar to mask its bitterness.
With so many countries producing quality coffee that delights and entices us, Cuba stands out as an industry leader in medium and dark roast blends, with the Cafe Bustelo Supreme as the decorated leader of the pack.
Cuban Coffee has and continues to elevate the world of java lovers, and the Bustelo Supreme will make a welcomed addition to your mornings.