Friday, September 28, 2012

How to make Puerto Rican Coffee, and The Spanish American War

Puerto Rican children are too often introduced to coffee at an early age. Coffee is very much a cultural tradition. During the Colonial period, Puerto Rico used to be a large coffee producer. Now Coffee is less produced but there are more gourmet versions of the famous Youco Coffee  that is really "mountain" grown. The mountainous climate make great conditions for coffee.
My father would tell stories of his Grandfather Nicolas, the Italian, who ended up in Puerto Rico and started the whole thing. He would tell me that my Great Grandfather Nicolas who arrived in Puerto Rico from Italy in 1890 and loved his ranch and horse so much that he wouldn't get off of his horse to drink his morning coffee. He would ride his horse into the house and his wife would hand him his coffee. Nicolas arrived in Puerto Rico just 8 years before the Spanish American War in 1898.

The result of this short war that Puerto Rico became a territory of the US along with the Philippines and Guam. Cuba had been promised and eventually gained their independence. Before the War, Cuba and Puerto Rico were known as two wings of the same bird, both seeking Independence from Spain. Puerto Rico was never to see Independance from either Spain or the US. Both of these islands have more in common that any other island or all of Latin American. The food is similar, The evolution of music, and customs and especially the coffee.

The US granted Cuba its Independence, but their influence on the island never wavered. Corruption and American greed influenced a young aspiring baseball player to create true independence for Cuba. In what some might say a double-cross; The US was expecting a new democratic republic, instead Castro gained power and instituted Cuba as a socialist country.

File Copy: Che and  Fidel
Whatever side you are on regarding the Cuban issue;  that fact is the long standing embargo and the fall of the USSR has negatively affected Cuba and elevated Puerto Rico's status as the main Caribbean destination for millions of American and International tourists each year. 

The Spanish American War made the US a world power. Spain eventually lost its empire. Who knows, perhaps if the War didn't happen, I might have been born in Italy. My genealogy research indicated that Nicolas was from Italy. My family tells me that they were from Sicily. Perhaps the 1910 Census didn't differentiate between Italians and Sicilians.

If a man would ride his horse indoors to get coffee it must have been some damn good coffee.

My Mother used to make Puerto Rican Coffee. She would use a Colador, which was a cloth coffee filter used after she boiled the coffee in water. She would wait until the boiling mixture would rise at least twice, both times removing from the fire and then returning it to the fire until the boiling mixture would rise.
In a separate pot she would boil the milk. She would filter the coffee through the coladora and then pour the concentrated coffee extract into the milk and then add sugar. She would use Bustelo or Pilon Coffee Just as in the Puerto Rican Rice pot, the cloth filter got better with time. The color of the filter would eventually turn a dark brown from the Coffee. My mother would have coffee with milk and sometimes fill the coffee cup with crackers or toasted bread and consume the coffee and bread mixture with the spoon. We often had coffee and bread this way. My Dad would have his coffee black with sugar. My dad had a peculiar way of sitting. He would sit in a kitchen chair with one foot on the seat. His elbow resting on his elevated knee where he would sip his coffee.  To this day he can drink black coffee day and night and even go to sleep afterwards. That's why I assumed that black coffee was for strong men like Clark Kent ,who wore glasses like my father.

My friend Donny's mom used to make us coffee as well. I met Donny in fifth grade. He had just come recently from Puerto Rico and had been in Mr. Fairchild's ESL (English as a Second language Class). I would hang out on his house on Percy street. His step father was a big hard working man like my father. He had a Great genuine smile and would show it every time he would enter his house. He seemed genuinely happy to be home. He was a burly man with curly greying hair. To me, he resembled Tito Puente.  Donny's mom was a sweet short women who also reminded my of my mom. She was short but fierce. There seems to be a correlation with Short Puerto Rican women and strong personalities. My Daughter would definitely be included in that club. Donny's mom when making coffee used the same Puerto Rican method my mom did, but used very little coffee and added lots of sugar. It was more like coffee flavored milk and sugar than coffee. I never complained. It was cultural taboo to complain to an adult that offered you food or drink . As a matter of fact it was considered impolite to accept the offer of food the first time and polite to say no thank you when offered food. Even if I was starving I would say no thank you. Most Puerto Rican Hosts would still serve you. This only became confusing when I would go to house of other culture. I would say no thank you and the adult would say "okay," and walk away, leaving me famished.

"Buen Provecho", is a custom that if often confusing to others . It is customary to say "Buen Provecho" upon entering an area where people are already eating, as to say Bon Apetito in Italian. I really never understood wishing someone well if they are already eating. Being from Philadelphia , people that don't know us would consider us rude. Philadelphia custom dictate that you shouldn't say anything as to disturb the person eating. This has caused me problems in the past. If you didn't say Buen Provecho" everyone's eyes would come off their food and towards you. 

My favorite coffee is Pilon.  Its a dark roast coffee with surprisingly nuttier than bitter taste. Its still espresso roasted. I get the whole bean coffee online direct.  I like to grind the coffee myself. I use a home Italian Coffee maker the water steams up the bottom reservoir and filters up through the coffee grounds. This makes  for better coffee since American Drip Coffee makers do not heat up to the right temperature due to regulations that are designed to prevent scalding and the lawsuits that can follow.  

Disclaimer if you try this method, beware, its very hot.

I have reduced my coffee consumption to one cup a day. That is enough to kick start my day. At the time of this entry since I was romanticizing Coffee , I had two cups while dreaming of visiting Cuba.


  1. Thank you for your family stories. I'm also from philly but moved to California last October. I use Pilon and Bustelo. I enjoy them both. My question is which type of milk do you use? Some say evaporated, condensed or whole milk.

  2. Great , I used evaporated milk when I am out of regular milk . Thanks for reading the blog ..

  3. Much enjoyed this. Thank you Rick!

    1. Thank you for reading my blog. Have not had any new entries since my parents passed. working on getting back