31 March 2010

Café Bustelo

About a year ago, the New York Times did a piece on the newfound popularity of Café Bustelo. Apparently it's trendy with hipsters at the moment, in that hilarious way that something that's been been a staple of Latino kitchens for 150 years is suddenly "discovered" by bored young people wearing stupid hats. I've always associated it with Cuban restaurants, where that little shot of dark sweet coffee at the end of the meal is so perfect. Got a ton of rice, black beans, plantains, and pork on your stomach? Chase it with a little café cubano to aid digestion. It's the more socially acceptable and time efficient alternative to a cigar, while packing a similar flavor.

Aside from the dark roasted espresso-style flavor, the main attraction of Bustelo is the fact that it's cheap. As in, really cheap. The 10 oz. can in the photo ran me about $3. In fact, it's a good thing to just grab and keep in the pantry for emergencies, or when you've got a recipe that calls for a few ounces of espresso and you don't have a steam pressure machine.

How is it? On its own, the coffee is strong, bitter, black, almost burnt. I crave and adore bitter flavors, so obviously I'm a fan, but I wouldn't recommend drinking several large cups of it first thing in the morning. It's really meant to be enjoyed in small dozes, or as café con leche in a one-to-one ratio with milk, plus sugar to taste. The sweetness of the sugar and the creamy/savory milk balance out the powerful flavors, but do not completely mask them as would happen with plain coffee. This concept is why Starbucks has historically been so successful: not selling coffee, but selling burnt concentrated coffee flavor diluted with a dozen other ingredients.

One bit of advice: the fine grind of Bustelo can be a little muddy if you're using a French press. If this bothers you, just give it a quick strain through a filter, or avoid pouring the last dregs from the carafe. Otherwise, cowboy up and drink the stray grounds like a real man.


Samantha Dugan said...

Shows how NOT hipster I am, never even seen the stuff but I like that tip about keeping it on hand for when you need a bit of espresso, gonna have to get me some.

Benito said...


I'm going to need a ruling on whether my gray Members Only jacket is cool, out of style, or retro hip. ;)

A can of this will cost you less than practically anything at Starbucks, and it shouldn't be that hard to find in the ciudad de los angeles. It's not going to be a "Jamaica Blue Mountain" kind of transcendent experience, but add in milk and sugar and put a little Tito Puente music on the stereo.


Big Mike said...

Ben, love this stuff never knew I was trendy!! Also have you ever seen the Toddy coffee making system. Only way I have drank coffee for over a year really good check it out.


Big Mike

Benito said...


It reminds me of the old Jerry Clower routine where he talks about yuppies buying expensive yogurt. "Clabber by any other name is still clabber!" And he talks about the calf getting loose and sucking the milk cow dry, so all they had in the fridge was old soured milk. Clabber!

The toddy looks neat--and appears to be much easier to clean than a French press.