BY Travis Broome
The first step of my morning ritual begins with an unnecessarily high decant of the carefully measured, surprisingly tasteless, i.e. delicious, New York City tap water into the coffee pot’s ample reservoir. Being decidedly outside of the sphere of Mormon influence and operating in a city for which this and other blackened bean nectars serve as a salve for our notoriously sleep deprived existences, I’ve a penchant for throwing caution to the wind and loading the filter basket with reckless abandon. In lay terms, my gratuitous shovels of ground roast measure flush with the teaspoon’s edge for every two cups of water save the last, which overflows with wanton disregard for palettes and pacemakers alike.
Should you find your tired, trembling, timorous fingertips recalcitrantly grasping the spoon as the piquant bouquet of this fine espresso floods your olfactory senses, remember my words and know that today the Caribbean has chosen to bestow unto you one of its most delectable treasures. Within minutes your milquetoast drip brew coffee maker will have performed a feat previously thought possible only through the mysterious pseudo-science of alchemy. Turning water to wine will hardly seem miraculous in the wake of your first savory sip of Café Bustelo.
The beckoning brew now sits in wait for your first foray into the world of Cuban-style espresso roast coffee. Tempting as it is, I implore you to deny slaking your thirst for one moment as we take this simple beverage from the sensual into the sublime. In keeping with tradition, add a generous amount of both cream and sugar to taste. You now have before you the delicacy known as café con leche. If your gringo friends inquire as to the nature of your beverage, just tell them that you’re enjoying a “Latino Latté.” If cream and sugar don’t enter into your diet, then Bustelo may not be the brand for you. While you can certainly add some hot water and have yourself a “South Americano,” I’ve found that traditional preparation best suits this rich espresso roast.
Now that I’ve waxed Epicurian, let’s take a closer look at the heart-warming (and possibly apocryphal) history of this beloved brand. The story begins with a young Spaniard named Gregorio Bustelo and his immigration to Cuba in the early twentieth century. Smitten with the coffee of this conflict-ridden nation, he soon began to roast his own beans in pursuit of the perfect cup. Along the way, he would meet a young woman who shared his passion for coffee (and later, his hand in marriage).
After travelling to Puerto Rico, the couple would soon find themselves U.S. Citizens and Cuban expatriates as a result of the Jones-Shafroth Act. Like many others of the time, the young lovers set out for New York City to seek their fortune and fame. Settling in East Harlem, also known as El Barrio Latino, the couple’s inability to find work led them to return to the passion that sparked their romance. Initially roasting and selling from their home, overwhelming demand soon led them to open a storefront on 5th Avenue between 113th and 114th Streets. Thankfully, the brand prospered from that day in 1931 and grew into the product we know and love.
Café Bustelo represents a true story of the American dream. Its birth in passion for quality coffee evinces itself in the wonderfully consistent flavor found in those bright yellow, vacuum-packed bricks of ground espresso roast that call to coffee connoisseurs from the shelves of every bodega in the city. Your first experience with this fine blend lies but a few steps away, so why not give it a try?