If you’re looking to bring the flavors of Latin America into your home, an easy and affordable way to do it is with Cafe Bustelo coffee. Founded to cater to New York’s Latino community, the longstanding brand is known for robust, espresso-style coffee in the Latin tradition.
If you’re looking for a wallop of Cuban coffee flavor and don’t want to shell out for a flight to Havana, give Cafe Bustelo a try – after reading this review, of course.
Summary: The Cafe Bustelo
- Specializes in Latin-style coffee, mostly dark roasted Arabica-Robusta blends for espresso.
- Available as whole beans, pre-ground, instant, K-Cups, espresso capsules, and ready-to-drink cold cans.
- Best brewed using metal filter methods like espresso, French press, and Moka pot.
Cafe Bustelo is cheap, incredibly flavorful, and works amazingly with most brewing methods. Factor in everything, and you’ve got the best coffee for not a lot of money.
The Full Café Bustelo Review
From humble beginnings in New York’s East Harlem neighborhood nearly a hundred years ago, Café Bustelo has expanded to become one of the world’s most recognizable brands specializing in Cuban-style coffee (1).
Want to know how this rich, dark brew became so popular? Are you wondering if it might be the perfect coffee for you? Then read on. This Café Bustelo review has the details.
Coffee Quality and Flavor – 3.5/5
Café Bustelo is famous for being the first brand to bring the unique flavor of Latin coffee to the American market. The company was founded in Harlem, New York, nearly a hundred years ago.
Interestingly, even though it is associated with the coffee style of Cuba and other Caribbean nations, Cafe Bustelo was started by a Spanish immigrant. Gregorio Menendez Bustelo was born in Spain but traveled extensively in Latin America, where he became enamored of the rich and boldly flavored coffee he enjoyed there. When he settled in Harlem, he founded Cafe Bustelo, first selling hand-ground coffee to theater goers in the neighborhood. From these humble beginnings emerged a multimillion-dollar business, now owned by J.M. Smucker.
Bustelo was one of the first to cater to Latino communities, and Cafe Bustelo real coffee continues to be popular among this demographic, many of whom grew up on it. But in recent years, the general American public has also discovered the appeal of this boldly flavored brew (2).
The Cuban-style coffee sold by Cafe Bustelo is not high-quality coffee in the sense of third wave specialty coffee (3), and you won’t find it on our list of top coffee beans. These are not high-grown Arabica beans with subtle tasting notes of fruits and flowers. You won’t be able to trace your coffee beans back to the farmer who grew them nor learn much about how they were grown. Instead, the appeal of Cafe Bustelo is that it is authentic to the Latin tradition, and this has garnered it a very loyal following.
Colombian coffee writer Paola Murillo explains that in Latin America, the coffee experience extends far beyond simply the quality and flavor of the coffee beans. Coffee is about relationships (4).
They tie together the communities that brew and drink them. Their value is not just in their recipe but in what they represent.
Most Cafe Bustelo coffee is made from a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans, which is also common in Italian-style espresso beans. While we tend to think of Robusta coffee beans as lower quality, they are in fact an important component of coffee blends, especially for espresso. Robusta produces a dense coffee with a heavy body, creamy mouthfeel, earthy flavors, and a richer crema.
Cafe Bustelo offers mostly dark roast coffee, with a few options closer to a medium roast – appropriate choices of roast to pair with the inherent flavors of Robusta beans. As a result, Cafe Bustelo coffees have flavor profiles of dark chocolate, earthiness, and toasted nuts and are very low in acidity. They can trend towards bitterness, especially the darker roasts, because many common Latin preparations – for example, making Cuban Coffee aka Cafe Cubano – have added sugar and/or milk for balance.
Selection and Variety – 3.5/5
Most of Cafe Bustelo’s coffee is available pre-ground rather than whole bean, another indication that this isn’t the brand for third wave coffee geeks. While Home Grounds always prefers buying whole bean coffee and grinding it fresh, in this case, the powerful flavor of the dark roasted Robusta-Arabica blends holds up for a long time after grinding, so they make for some of the best ground coffees. This coffee is an excellent option for those who don’t have access to a good burr grinder.
They offer three coffees traceable to a specific origin, though they are still blends from many farms and regions. There’s a darker roast from Brazil, a medium roast Colombian coffee, and a dark blend from Nicaragua and other Latin American growing regions.
There is also Café Bustelo Classic Espresso style coffee, a finely ground dark roast blend, and a decaf version of the Classic Espresso. Finally, there is the Supreme, another finely ground espresso blend that is the brand’s only 100% Arabica coffee.
Whole Bean Coffee
Café Bustelo offers only one whole bean option, the 100% Arabica Supreme espresso blend.
Café Bustelo offers an extensive collection of instant coffees. They aren’t quite as tasty as brewing using the pre-ground beans, but they’re a nice step up from cheaper options like Nescafe. Like other emerging good instant coffee brands, they are great for hurried mornings and make an excellent addition to a camping or business trip.
The Classic Espresso, Decaf Espresso, Supreme, and a Decaf Supreme are all available in a freeze-dried instant format. But my vote for the best instant coffees, especially when camping, are the two from the “sweet and creamy” collection. These are the Cafe con Leche, which adds powdered milk for a creamier brew, and Cafe con Dulce de Leche, which adds milk and sweeteners to produce a caramel-flavored bold cup. Freeze-dried instant coffee can have a bitter flavor, and these sweet and creamy additions counteract that perfectly.
Single Serve Options
For fans of Keurig or other single-serve coffee machines, Cafe Bustelo offers six different K-Cup flavors. There’s the dark roast Brazil, medium roast Colombia, and dark roast Nicaragua/Latin America blend, the Classic Espresso, the Cafe con Leche and the Cafe con Dulce de Leche.
At Home Grounds, we don’t love K-Cups because both their environmental footprint and coffee quality are cause for concern. In the case of Cafe Bustelo, the K-Cups are their lowest quality offering. This style of brewed coffee is most delicious when prepared with a method that plays to its strengths – bold flavor, creamy mouthfeel, full body – and we believe a Keurig machine simply can’t do it justice. If you really want to prepare Cafe Bustelo in your Keurig machine, we advise buying a refillable K-Cup and filling it with any pre-ground options.
If you’re looking for the convenience of a single-serve option, consider their two espresso capsules. They offer both Classic Espresso and Brazilian Dark Roast in capsule form, which is compatible with Nespresso machines.
Finally, Café Bustelo has recently introduced a line of ready-to-drink canned Cuban espresso drinks of the sort you’ll find in the refrigerators of grocery stores.
Ready-to-drink coffee is one of the fastest-growing segments of the coffee market, and Cafe Bustelo coffee fares very well in this format.
There are three available flavors, all of which are “sweet and creamy.” As with the instant coffees, there is Cafe con Leche and Cafe con Dulce de Leche. But there is also the unique Cafe de Olla con Leche, which adds spicy cinnamon in the Mexican tradition.
Sustainability and the Environment – 1/5
In an era when sustainability is a topic of increasing importance in the coffee industry, Cafe Bustelo does not appear to be making any inroads in this direction (5). It is a commodity coffee, and you can’t trace your purchase to the farmer who grew it or learn anything about how much they were paid or their working conditions. Café Bustelo doesn’t have any Fair Trade or Organic certified products or publicized initiatives promoting sustainability at the coffee’s origin.
Note that Cafe Bustelo does have a charitable branch for which credit is due. The El Cafe de Futuro Scholarship offers twenty-five $5,000 scholarships to college students at institutions in the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to help further their education. Since its inception in 2014, the scholarship has provided over a half-million dollars to Latino students in the U.S.
Brewing Methods and Versatility – 4/5
Because Café Bustelo is mostly dark roasted and consists of a blend of Robusta and Arabica coffee beans, it has specific characteristics that make it better suited to some brewing methods. These include its bold flavor, full body, creamy mouthfeel, and rich crema.
At Home Grounds, our favorite brewing method for Cafe Bustelo is the Moka pot, which is how it is usually brewed in Cuban households.
Of course, an espresso machine is also a fantastic choice if you can access one. Either will yield a rich cup of coffee with a strong taste. Barring those two, a French press is another good option as its metal filter keeps the coffee oils in the cup, preserving the full body of the brew.
If you prefer a paper filter method for brewing regular coffee, some work better than others. An AeroPress or automatic drip coffee maker produces a tasty morning cup of great coffee, and you can swap out the paper filter in your coffee maker for a metal mesh option for an upgrade. On the other hand, pour-over methods like a Hario V60 or Chemex are less well-suited to these dark roast blends.
Note that if you’re buying pre-ground Café Bustelo real coffee, you must be sure to match the brewing method to the grind size. For example, if you’re brewing espresso, buy a Cafe Bustelo fine ground option like the Supreme or Classic Espresso. Likewise, if you’re buying the single-serve K-Cups or espresso capsules, be sure to use the appropriate brewer, like a Keurig or Nespresso machine.
Don’t Buy Cafe Bustelo Coffee If…
- You prefer to grind your own coffee: If you prefer to buy whole bean coffee and grind it yourself, you’ll be disappointed by Café Bustelo’s offering of just a single whole bean coffee. Instead, consider Lavazza coffee beans. Like Cafe Bustelo, Lavazza specializes in dark roast Arabica-Robusta blends for strong coffee, but they offer whole bean options for all their top coffees.
- You prefer lighter roasts: If dark roasted coffee with a bold taste isn’t your thing, Cafe Bustelo isn’t the coffee brand for you. Even their few medium roast coffees are on the dark end of medium. For a large selection of lighter roast Arabica specialty coffee that is still surprisingly affordable, check out Volcanica Coffee.
- You prefer to buy local: If you live in a place with a quality local coffee roaster, think about giving them your business instead of ordering Cafe Bustelo coffee online. You might pay a few dollars more, but you’ll be supporting your local economy, the coffee will be much fresher, and they’ll probably grind it to order.
Cafe Bustelo is a great choice for darker roast coffee fans looking for an affordable way to get a powerful punch of coffee flavor. With roots in Latin American culture, this bittersweet brew makes a delicious espresso or strong coffee, with or without the addition of milk and sugar. Conversely, if light roast third wave specialty coffee brewed in a Chemex is more your thing, you’ll probably prefer an alternative brand.
- Conde, A. (2017, October 16). In the Iconic Cafe Bustelo, A Story of New York’s Spanish Immigrant Community. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/iconic-caf-bustelo-story-new-york-s-spanish-immigrant-community-n811061
- Global Coffee Report. (2017, October 26). The Latino effect on the US coffee industry. Retrieved from https://www.gcrmag.com/the-latino-effect-on-the-us-coffee-industry/
- McIntyre, E. (2017, January 19). What (Exactly) is “Third Wave Coffee”? Retrieved from https://magazine.crema.co/third-wave-f6479681dcf9
- Murillo, P. (2018, January 5). From Tinto to Pasado: Coffee Brewing in Latin America. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/01/from-tinto-to-pasado-coffee-brewing-in-latin-america/
- Gibbens, S. (2022, January 26). What climate change means for the future of coffee and other popular foods. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/what-climate-change-means-for-future-of-coffee-cashew-avocado