If you’ve ever been to Havana or 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 in the world, 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’ll be taking a deep dive into all things Cuban coffee and finding out if the Cafe Bustelo, Cuba’s most noteworthy and delicious bean, is all it’s cracked up to be.
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 grew to become 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!
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 he thinks 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 drinks in Western cultures.
Cafe Cubano isn’t about fueling your work day but about who you share your coffee with.
We scoured the Cuban countryside to find you 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 beans.
- Dark Roast
- Smoky dark chocolate and caramel notes
- Best for Espresso
- Dark Roast
- Hints of dark chocolate, vanilla
- All-purpose brewing
- Dark Roast
- Creamy chocolate, woody notes
- Best for Espresso
- Medium Roast
- Milk chocolate, nutty notes
- All-purpose brewing
- Dark Roast
- Chocolate cream with hazelnut notes
- Best for Espresso
- Medium Roast
- Creamy vanilla and syrupy smokiness
- Best for French Press
Let’s take a closer look and discover why the Cafe Bustelo Supreme is our best overall Cuban coffee.
1. Cafe Bustelo Supreme – Best Overall
The flagship Cuban coffee brand, Cafe 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 smoky dark chocolate and creamy caramel, 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.
Cafe Bustelo has also received awards for the Bustelo Coffee Espresso and Supreme as a Cafe Con Leche. This means it will make a Cafe Cubano with all the bold flavor and sweetness Latin coffee drinkers love.
These 100% whole Arabica beans are roasted to perfection without other bean options’ oily, charcoal texture. Because of this flawless roast, you get a bean grind that won’t clog your coffee grinder.
- Rich Cuban flavor profile with a lively aroma
- Flawless grind that won’t clog your machine
- Vacuum-sealed packaging and whole bean processing
- Great espresso coffee blend prepared black but also makes for a delicious Cafe Cubano or Cafe Con Leche
- High static charge of the beans could make your grind a little messy
2. Chock Full O’Nuts Cuban Roast Ground Coffee – Best Value
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 is a coffee bean that 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.
Plus, the Chock Full O’Nuts brand makes their coffee in K-cup format in addition to ground and whole beans; the perfect option for single-button, pod machine lovers.
- All-purpose brewing for a versatile Cuban coffee experience
- Available in K-Cups for easy, pod tech coffee
- Premium beans for a fraction of the price
- Bitter aftertaste with an almost sour finish will take some getting used to
3. Cafe La Llave – Best Ground Coffee
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.
Grinding at home can often lead to an inconsistent taste that doesn’t match your taste preferences. With this finely ground coffee, you can take the guessing out of your morning, as well as the sour bitterness that can come from a poor grind.
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 see often in most Cuban coffee drinks unless cut with milk.
- Sweet coffee with notes of honey makes for a lighter roasted dark bean than other darker roasts
- Ground espresso coffee takes the hassle and grinding out of your morning spro
- Intense aroma in every cup of coffee
- Strong smoky aftertaste can take away from the subtler sweet spices
- Inconsistent price, which tends to go up and down with inflation
4. Cafe Bustelo Cuban Espresso Coffee – Best Premium Pick
Another from the Bustelo family, this bean is the popular choice among prosumers and coffee-drinking aficionados who look for a luxury coffee to get behind. From the gourmet coffee shop to your kitchen pantry.
This is an all-purpose brew that will give you a great-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 100% Arabica beans have the ideal strength for coffee drinkers with eclectic palates to enjoy, whether it’s black coffee, Cafe Con Leche, Cafe Cubano, or Colada Coffee. The medium leaning towards light roast from Cafe Bustelo really lets the flavor profile shine through.
With notes of milk chocolate, nuts, and an earthy aftertaste, this is a purely Cuban-tasting coffee. The only drawback is the bold taste doesn’t come with the robust smell it should, as the aroma is a little on the weaker side.
- 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
5. Pilon Cuban Coffee – Best For Espresso
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 any 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
- Only available in 16 oz. bag
6. Mayorga Cafe Cubano Whole Bean Coffee – Best Whole Bean
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 Cafe 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 works best with French press, which will make the flavor notes potent and rich
- Either a bit pricey to try for your first time or a bit of a gamble to buy in bulk
In order to prioritize these delicious Cuban beans, here are some things to consider when shopping for the best pick for you, the coffee lover.
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 Cafe La Llave, Cafe Bustelo, or 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 syrupy 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 as well. 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.
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.
The Supreme’s rich, decadent flavor profile without bitterness and an overbearing smoky taste make it an undisputed coffee experience. Its versatility in being just as good black as it is con Leche is also a big plus.
Cuban Coffee has and continues to elevate the world of java lovers, and the Bustelo Supreme will make a welcomed addition to your mornings.