The first coffee plant was introduced to Cuba by Jose Antonio Gelabert in 1748. Years later in 1791, French colonists fleeing the abolition of slavery during the Haitian Revolution introduced better coffee production methods to Cuba.
Soon, Cuba became a main exporter of coffee to Spain, with coffee production on the island contributing more to Cuba's economy than its sugar production. At its height in the years right before 1959, Cuba was exporting 20,000 metric tons of coffee valued at $21.5 million.
With coffee becoming one of the major national exports, it also became essential to Cuban life and a cultural icon. For most Cubans, on the island and in exile, drinking coffee two more times a day is normal.
With the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the coffee industry was nationalized and slowly began to decline. Today, Cubans on the island are allotted 2 ounces of coffee every 15 days, and the coffee given to them is poor because it is mixed with other ingredients to make greater quantities.
The U.S. embargo on Cuban coffee makes it impossible for Cuban exiles to get Cuban coffee, but some companies, such as Café Pilon, sell their own version of Cuban coffee made with other countries' beans.
Several versions of Cuban coffee are sold apart from the small shots. These include:
Cortadito: in Spanish, this means small cut. This version of Cuban coffee is the same size as a regular shot, but is covered with steamed milk.
Café con leche: in Spanish, this means coffee with milk. Usually served hot, this drink is mostly for breakfast and given to kids. Café con leche is about 80 percent milk and 20 percent coffee, all mixed in with a pinch of salt and several spoons of sugar. It's also commonly served alongside Cuban bread slabbed with butter.
Colada: in this version of espresso, four to six shots of espresso are put in one cup, and it is commonly shared.