Your Guide to The Best Cuban Coffee Beans in 2021

If there were just one perfect bean for everybody, Cuban coffee would be it for me. There's nothing quite like the thick, strong, and sweet shot of pure pleasure to get the blood flowing and the mind racing at a hundred miles an hour. For all the misconceptions and bad rap Cuban coffee has accumulated over the last sixty years, it's still a treat that should be on every java lover's bucket list. And trust me when I tell you that settling for one cuppa is not in the cards with Cuban.

First, let me introduce the seven varieties I've chosen among the dozen or so brands that offer both Cuba-grown and Cuba-style beans.

The 7 Best Cuban Coffee Beans Reviews. My Faves

Pilon Gourmet Whole Bean Espresso Coffee

Pilon Gourmet Whole Bean Espresso Coffee

  • Brand: PILON
  • Item Form: Whole Beans
  • Flavor: Espresso
  • Weight: 32 Ounces
  • Unit Count: 32.0 Ounce

I was shocked this product didn't have that many reviews on Amazon, even though it's among the best-sellers in Florida, a hit among the local Cuban-American crowd. It's so good, many of the upscale restaurants serve Pilon as their primary coffee blend.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find much info on this variety aside from the use of the dark roast and 100% Arabica. The company has been around since 1856 and relies on century-old traditions of processing, roasting, and grinding the beans to produce an authentic Cuban flavor palette and aromatics.

After taste-testing this blend using a French press and an espresso machine, I concede Pilon has the Latin flavor down pat. Sure, it's dark and intense, with a hint of toastiness and plenty of character. But it's also free of acidity and surprisingly smooth, both black and mellowed down with a splash of milk and some sugar.

Besides, the price is unbeatable for such a gourmet-level experience. You get two pounds of high-quality whole Cuban coffee beans for around $27. One-pound bags are also available, along with ground beans in 6 and 10-ounce bricks. Still, I don't advise settling for pre-ground beans, as they are usually less intense and aromatic than the whole-bean alternative freshly ground before brewing.

Sol de Cuba

Sol de Cuba

  • Brand: Caracolillo
  • Item Form: Ground
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeinated
  • Weight: 8 Ounces
  • Unit Count: 8.0 Ounce

The dark horse of my shortlist, this blend isn't nearly as popular as Pilon, nor does it come in as many options. But it comes the closest to delivering that intense, punchy cuppa you expect from cafe Cubano. Every sip will take you to the busy streets of Havana and its white beaches, letting you forget about the everyday troubles you're facing.

Caracolillo Coffee Mill is behind this unique blend. The Florida roasters specialize in the Caribbean and Latin American beans, so you can stock up on green, roasted, and flavored coffee on their website. The family-owned business produces authentic flavors and aromas while keeping the price tags manageable. In fact, an 8-ounce pack of Sol de Cuba is well under $4.

The one downside to this blend is the lack of variety. You can only get your hands on 8-ounce packs, and those hold pre-ground coffee. While it's still delicious, I wish Caracolillo would offer the same blend in large bags of whole beans. I feel like it would taste even better if I could better control the grind setting and prepare the grounds before pulling a shot. Despite this drawback, I'm still keeping a pack in the pantry to savor on slow Sunday mornings or as a surprise for dinner guests.

Oriente Cuban Coffee Dark Roast

Oriente Cuban Coffee Dark Roast

  • Brand: Oriente
  • Item Form: Pods
  • Roast Level: Dark roast
  • Unit Count: 24.00 Count
  • Package Weight: 0.4 Kilograms

Oriente comes as close as possible to an authentic Cuban coffee experience outside the island. The hand-picked cherries are carefully processed to preserve and intensify the flavor palette of the beans. Originating from Sierra Maestra plantations, well-known for their gourmet blends, these roasters know their way around a dark roast designed to eliminate acidity and boost the bean flavor intensity.

This punchy blend is not for the faint of heart. The aroma is full of caramel, vanilla, and cocoa notes fit to make your head spin, and the flavor is powerfully strong with hints of smokiness and a long-lasting finish. As with any Cuban coffee, it's best served with a healthy dose of brown sugar. So if the flavor is too overwhelming for you, stir in hot milk and a couple of teaspoons of sugar to counteract the intense undertones.

I wish I could find this blend in the whole-bean form to pull traditional Cuban-style shots. But for now, I have to settle for pods. The 24-count pack is around $15, on par with other Keurig cups. Considering these are compatible with 2.0 machines, the price is quite reasonable. And you don't need to feel guilty about disposable pods because Oriente ones are fully recyclable. It's a win-win for your tastebuds and the planet!

Cafe La Llave Espresso Capsules

Cafe La Llave Espresso Capsules

  • Brand: Café La Llave
  • Item Form: Espresso Capsule
  • Roast Level: Dark roast
  • Flavor: Café La Llave/80-Count
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeine

Don't you love family-owned businesses that survive adversity and pass down their trade secrets through generations? Their 150-year-long history and dedication to producing a true Latin coffee for Latin drinkers make Café La Llave special. According to the packaging, the dark roast is super-aromatic and bold, with an intensity dialed up to eleven. And it's one of the few times when marketing is spot-on. I love the powerful, punchy flavor free of excessive acidity. If it tastes too bitter for you, try making your Nespresso shot into a cafe con leche.

While this variety is available in whole-bean and ground versions, I'm partial to Nespresso pods. For one, they produce instantaneous coffee when I can't get my eyes peeled in the morning. For another, I don't feel guilty about using disposable capsules, as they are 100% recyclable via the TerraCycle program. Finally, I can't make myself switch to a Nespresso Vertuo machine, and Café La Llave pods work seamlessly with any Original model.

Another point in favor of trying out these pods is their reasonable rate. The 80-count pack is just under 30 bucks, making them more affordable than original Nespresso capsules. Coupled with other benefits, I see no downsides to this variety, and I recommend you give it a try at least once. Who knows, you might get as hooked on it as I've become.

Mayorga Organics Cafe Cubano Roast

Mayorga Organics Cafe Cubano Roast

  • Brand: Mayorga
  • Item Form: Whole Beans
  • Roast Level: Dark roast
  • Flavor: Hints of vanilla and a sweet, syrupy smokiness
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeinated

Locating Cuba-grown beans in the US is a challenge, but companies like Mayorga deliver an experience that comes close by using coffee from across the world. This Cafe Cubano is an Arabica blend harvested in Peru, Honduras, and Nicaragua, a combination producing an intense flavor and rich aroma further emphasized by slow roasting to the second crack. The drawn-out roasting process makes the beans beautifully oily, and the brew–syrupy, just like a true Cuban coffee.

If you're still in doubt about this blend, check out the certifications. Not only is it USDA Organic and GMO-free, but it's also Direct Trade, meaning the company works directly with growers, choosing the most high-quality beans for their blends. Besides, the beans are kosher.

For all the benefits, you'd think Mayorga rates would be astronomical, but they are anything but. For about $18, you can get your hands on a two-pound bag of Cuban-roast coffee beans. Grind them on a fine setting for pulling espresso shots or using a Moka pot. This blend is also delicious in a French press, though it won't be as thick and syrupy. And the flavor is smooth and sweet enough you can enjoy it without sugar, though adding some will make it a true Cafe Cubano.

Immortal Coffee Cuban Style Espresso Roast

Immortal Coffee Cuban Style Espresso Roast

  • Brand: Immortal Coffee
  • Item Form: Whole Beans
  • Roast Level: Dark roast
  • Flavor: Italian Espresso
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeinated

Like Mayorga, Immortal Coffee doesn't rely on Cuban beans, instead using a much more widespread Colombian Arabica to produce this Cuban-style espresso. The Colombian beans lend their rich flavor and powerful aroma to this variety, along with the extra-intense caffeine punch that will get you going in the morning and keep you energized throughout the day.

Small-batch roasting to the second crack reduces acidity and brings out the dark, toasty notes. Once you brew a cuppa, it tastes just right, on the bright side of being burnt. It's not a one-bean-fits-all coffee, as it may seem too bitter if you prefer a milder and smoother brew. I recommend brewing it in an espresso machine and mixing in some brown sugar. Adding hot milk helps mellow it out too, and unlike many other blends, Immortal Coffee doesn't get washed out or taste watered down.

While I like this blend just fine, I don't get why it's so expensive compared to other options on my list. Using Colombian beans should have brought the costs down. Instead, you have to pay $25 for a one-pound bag, whether you choose a whole bean or ground option. It's not an affordable everyday blend for me.

Chock Full O'Nuts Coffee Cuban Roast Ground

Chock Full O'Nuts Coffee Cuban Roast Ground

  • Brand: Chock Full o'Nuts
  • Item Form: Ground
  • Roast Level: Dark roast
  • Flavor: Cuban Roast
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeinated

Yet another example of the beans used in Cuban coffee that have nothing to do with island-grown java. Instead, the brand relies on an Arabica blend of unspecified origin and a dark roast that brings out the strength and sweetness with just a hint of toastiness and no acidity worth mentioning. If the flavor seems too bitter for you, add sugar and milk to mellow it out, though you shouldn't go looking for Cuban coffee if you don't take your java as strong and dark as it gets.

I wouldn't call it the best of the Cuban-style blends I tried, but it's strong enough to kick me into high gear in the morning and keep me awake after lunch. This variety won't dazzle you with a complex combination of flavor nuances, but it will serve as a decent daily cuppa. I recommend you look to Pilon or Cafe La Llave if you're in the mood for something special.

I'm not so sure about the sole grind option the brand offers as an all-in-one solution for any coffee maker. It seems too fine for a French press and too coarse for an espresso machine, so you're stuck with pour-over and drip coffee makers if you want to enjoy the flavor at its best. At least the packaging is cute with its taxicab yellow and black combination and a stainless steel can that will make every DIY enthusiast swoon.

What's Different about Cuban Coffee?

If you haven't heard of the different types of Cuban coffee beans, you're not alone. I was just as ignorant until a few months ago when a new friend from Florida told me about missing his favorite little cafe during the lockdown. That's when I realized I had a huge gap in my java knowledge that had to be corrected soon. Here's what I learned.

Cuban Coffee History

Like most Latin American countries, Cuba started growing coffee trees in the middle of the 18th century, though the industry was slow to flourish. It took over two centuries for Cuban java export to exceed 20,000 metric tons. Unfortunately, the revolution hit soon after the coffee industry peaked. As most farms and plantations were nationalized and the US import embargo hit Cuba, coffee-growing saw a significant decline.

At some point, coffee farmers were so disinterested in building their business, Cuban java turned into a mix of coffee beans and roasted peas. You can still hear plenty of jokes about Cuban coffee tasting of peas, though the industry is now on the road to recovery. It will probably take years, if not decades, for Cuban coffee to regain its stalwart reputation and rightful place among the best beans in the world.

In the US, Cuban-grown beans are a rarity, though Florida is among the biggest cafe Cubano consumers. EU states and Japan are picking up the slack by importing organic Cuban beans used in gourmet single-origin varieties and blends.

Cuban Coffee Growing Regions

Cuba is by no means a small island, but its area isn't as large as Colombia or Brazil, so there are only two major coffee-growing regions. The largest is located on the slopes of Sierra Maestra mountains in the eastern part of Cuba. The humus-rich soil and perfect elevation, along with moderate temperature and plenty of rainfall, ensure the exceptional flavor palette.

The Escambray Mountain range located in the heart of Cuba holds plenty of smaller coffee plantations. Moreover, some local farms specialize in organic beans exclusively, meaning they use no chemicals, including synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides.

Cuban Coffee Processing

While the lack of infrastructure makes Cubans' lives difficult, it lends a unique flavor to Cuban coffee beans. For one, most farmers rely on manual labor and hand picking of the ripe cherries. For another, the coffee is dried under the scorching sun rays that make every flavor nuance more pronounced.

Once the green beans are ready for further processing and shipping, they are loaded onto the mules to be delivered to their destination. This keeps the Cuban coffee industry from expanding and increasing exports and reduces the price tags, as local manual labor is relatively cheap.

Most brands on my list do not have coffee processing facilities on the island. Instead, companies import the beans to be roasted and ground on the US soil. Some avoid Cuba-grown java altogether, focusing on perfecting the dark roast reminiscent of cafe Cubano. We'll get to that in a moment.

Cuban Coffee Taste Profile

Strong and sweet. Bold and rich. That's what a true Cuban coffee should be.

I'm always struggling with ways to put coffee drinking experience into words, and this time is no different. I think Cuban beans are a perfect match for espresso machines, as they produce that syrupy texture we all know and love. That's not to say they don't make a decent brew in a French press or a drip machine, but espresso is the best way to enjoy the Cuban java in all its shining glory. And you can mix it with milk too!

Instead of reading my subjective take on the best coffee beans for espresso Cuban coffee, you'd better learn how to make it authentic using unique brewing techniques.

The Cuban Way of Drinking Coffee

Cafe Cubano or cafecito is a special way of pulling espresso shots. It starts with adding raw sugar cane sugar into a cup and letting a few of the first drops of the espresso mix with it. The rest of the shot is added into a second cup while sugar is mixed with a bit of coffee to form a thick, light foam (espumita) added on top of the shot. This brewing method produces a flavorful, strong, and sweet cuppa.

Add a couple of tablespoons of steamed milk into the cafecito, and you get a cortadito. Some families prefer using evaporated milk instead of regular milk to make the drink even sweeter and thicker.

If you want to take the intensity of Cuban coffee down a notch, cafe con leche should be right up your alley. It's cafe Cubano served with steamed milk on top or on the side. In most restaurants, you'll get a glassful of hot milk with your cafecito. You're supposed to pour an espresso shot into the milk to create cafe con leche.

Collada is no different from cafecito, though it is designed to be shared. If you order a collada in a cafe, you'll get a large glass of six or eight shots and a few demitasses for serving coffee.

Cuban-style Roast

As you've guessed from my shortlist and a glimpse into the history of the Cuban coffee industry, island-grown beans are a rarity, but Cuban-style coffee is much less so. Brands like Immortal Coffee and Mayorga capitalize on their knowledge of the Cuban java coffee palette to recreate the experience without importing the island beans. They achieve a remarkable likeness to cafe Cubano thanks to the right combination of the best beans for Cuban coffee sourced from Latin America and the dark roast. The latter delivers that intense, memorable flavor with the right balance between bitterness, sweetness, and acidity.

So whenever you're on the market for Cuban coffee, make sure you read the labels and know what you're buying. Cuba-grown coffee and Cuban-style roast are not the same, though they may taste very similar.

Conclusion

I should have guessed the first Cuban coffee I tried would be my favorite, so the gold goes to Pilon. Its rich and aromatic blend is out of this world and a must-have for any coffee-loving household. Brew it cafecito-style, and you will never get enough. Oriente is a nice capsule alternative if you're looking for a lightning-fast pick-me-up in the morning. The Mayorga blend is the best-tasting among non-Cuban beans that manage to duplicate the flavor palette and texture of Cuban java.

Renat Mamatazin

Renat Mamatkazin

2021/04/05

Founder and owner of Lion Coffee and 3ChampsRoastery, 1st place winner of Ukrainian Barista Championship 2017. Interested in travelling, football and Formula-1 (besides coffee, of course).

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