Start the day off right with a warm cup of traditional Puerto Rican café con leche, made with Puerto Rican coffee, sugar and steamed milk. This traditional Latin drink can be found at any given time in panaderías, restaurants and home kitchens across the island.
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I grew up with this recipe brewed in our kitchen daily by my mom. It's a huge part of our culture.
Café con Leche is one of those drinks that you won't really need a recipe for once you've made it once. It's the classic drink that's paired with countless Puerto Rican recipes.
In fact, you've likely already made a variation of it in your own kitchen. All it consists of is strong brewed coffee, steamed whole milk and sugar.
You can also serve with a bowl of these homemade sugar cubes, for those who like their coffee on the sweeter side.
What You'll Need to Make Puerto Rican Coffee
As mentioned above, the ingredients for this recipe are pretty simple. If you want to take the extra step to make things feel 100% authentic, you can use your favorite Puerto Rican coffee. Today I'm using the brand Yaucono, one my mom and I love.
My Tía Jeannette lives in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, and really loves using the brand Lealtad.
Here's what you'll need to make your café con leche:
- strong, full-bodied coffee (bonus points if it's Puerto Rican)
- whole milk
- white sugar
See recipe card for exact quantities.
How to Make it
Because the base of this dink is coffe, there are many different ways to make it.
The traditional Puerto Rican method my mom grew up with started with freshly ground coffee and water in a pot on the stove. Once the coffee was sufficiently brewed, it was then strained through a colador (a type of cloth strainer) to strain out all the grounds.
While this method produces really delicious coffee, I know it's not necessarily the most convenient or the most relevant these days.
For this recipe I recommend brewing your coffee in whatever method you already use at home.
Whether it's a French press, pour over, Mokapot; they will all get the job done. Just make sure to brew it strong, almost like espresso. I like to use a 1:1 ration with water and coffee.
Today I'm using my Moka pot and steaming the whole milk in a separate saucepan on the stove.
Some Puerto Ricans (like my grandma) will put instant coffee, sugar and milk in a saucepan and simmer it all together until the coffee infuses into the milk; making a super quick version of café con leche!
Once the milk is warm and simmering, it's time to pour everything into your coffee cups. Start by filling your cups halfway with coffee, then add sugar and mix, and finally add the warm milk.
Just like that, you've made a cup of coffee like a Puerto Rican!
Hint: feel free to use white or brown sugar, or omit the sugar completely based on your preference.
What Makes Café con Leche Unique?
Now that you've read how to make your café, you may be thinking to yourself "well that was easy". And you're right! It really is that simple.
Similar to many popular American coffee drinks, it's quite easy to make and requires simple ingredients. That said, there are a few things that make this recipe different from your average cup of Joe.
Let's compare Café con Leche to other popular drinks:
- Cappuccino - this drink is likely the closest to the Puerto Rican style of making coffee, however a cappuccino uses frothed milk with espresso, instead of steamed.
- Latte - lattes also use frothed milk with espresso, but the ratio of milk to coffee is less proportionate. In general, lattes have much more milk than the Puerto Rican style coffee with milk.
- Black coffee - this one speaks for itself, it's black coffee with no milk! Plenty of Puerto Ricans love their coffee black, but it's not considered café con leche 🙂
What to Eat with Your Coffee
You're officially an expert at making Puerto Rican coffee and you're on your third cup. It's probably time to eat something, so let's talk food pairings!
At any Puerto Rican panadería you're going to be offered a plethora of sweet and savory pastries to enjoy with your coffee, so you'll be set.
Here are some recipes you can make at home:
- Quesitos - as pictured above, this cream cheese filled pastry is an actual match made in heaven to a warm cup of coffee
- Maduros - these easy-to-make sweet treats are delicious and super quick to fry up. The subtle sweetness makes a great partner for a cup of coffee.
- Tripleta - this sandwich made with 3 kinds of meat is satisfying and hearty. Recipe coming very soon!
- Flan - a classic Puerto Rican dessert that will have you feeling like you're on the island when paired with classic Puerto Rican coffee.
When all else fails, try a slice of toast with jam and butter. No really, any classic breakfast food is going to be super satisfying with café con leche. You can't go wrong!
Equipment + Tools
Here are the tools I used to make my coffee:
- Moka pot for brewing the espresso
- Small pot for steaming the milk (this can also be done in a microwave)
If you want to get super traditional and go the colador route, all you'll need is that and a small pot for brewing the coffee and milk.
Whether using a pot or the microwave, make sure you steam your milk before pouring it into the coffee to keep everything warm. No one likes cold milk in warm coffee.