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POLL: Cuban coffee debate -- Café Bustelo, Pilon or La Llave?

Argument bubbles over which coffee makes best Cuban espresso

It’s a steaming hot debate with coffee connoisseurs trying to convince you which could make the superior espresso. For years, there have been three top contenders: Bustelo, Pilon or La Llave.

The three each boast being the best coffee to add with milk for that perfect café con leche -- and each is popularly consumed by Hispanics and Latinos.

Before we ask you to duke it out on your next coffee break, let’s learn a little more about each brand to really get a taste of this debate.

Make sure to answer the poll at the end of this story.

Café Bustelo: Latino-inspired coffee

A coffee born in the barrio, or the hood, Spaniard Gregorio Menendez Bustelo founded the company in the Bronx, New York after moving to the United States.

In the beginning, Menendez Bustelo sold his hand-ground coffee to local East Harlem theater patrons, with the hopes of running his own roaster someday. Using the money he had saved while working at the restaurant in Hotel Pennsylvania, he opened a storefront in 1928 on 5th Avenue called Bustelo Coffee Roasters. According to the brand, it was one of the first coffee roasters to cater to all Latino communities.

Bustelo quickly became famous among Cuban exiles in Miami who preferred to prepare it in their cafeteras, or Moka coffee pots. Bustelo is often referred to as a Cuban coffee brand.

Pilon: Authentically Cuban

Pilon’s roots stem from the island of Cuba with its origins traced back to the 19th century.

It had brewed with pride for more than 100 years during a time when coffee built personal relationships and word-of-mouth was the only hope of selling a product. As time went on and brand names became important, the Bascuas family’s Pilon brand quickly became the most popular in Cuba.

By the 1930s, Café Souto, owned by Pepe Souto and his family, was gaining recognition in certain regions of the island, but Café Pilon was still renowned as the best brew on the island. Although the two brands were direct competitors, the families were close friends, both leaving Cuba in the early 1960s in search of new opportunities in Miami.

Manuel Bascuas, then owner of Pilon, was in Miami and wanted to retire. He offered Souto the opportunity to roast his formula in his own roasting plant. Souto declined, only to buy the company and brand after Bascuas sold it to amateurs in the coffee industry. Understanding the legacy the Pilon name had built for generations, he kept building upon the success of Pilon in the U.S.

Pilon says its coffee is best served with others. (Credit: cafepilon.com)
Pilon says its coffee is best served with others. (Credit: cafepilon.com) (Copyright 2020 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

La Llave: Unlock flavor

La Llave, which translates to “the key,” says it has a history as rich as its coffee. The story of the famous coffee beans sprouts with brothers Jose Maria and Ramon Gaviña moving to Cuba and learning how to grow coffee beans. The siblings then started roasting coffee in their estate with Ramon’s son Francisco taking a special interest in the craft.

During the revolution that would mark the beginning of the Fidel Castro regime, Francisco and his family left to the U.S., settling in Los Angeles, California. He returned to the coffee business in 1967, bringing an authentic taste of home to Latinos on the West Coast.

Boasting more than a century of Latin coffee tradition and a business rooted in family, La Llave believes it’s the key to a perfect cup.

What’s in your cup?

People, like the Twitter user below, constantly bring up the debate between the brands, saying not all Cuban coffee tastes the same. Others argue each type should be used in different ways, discussing some need sugar to lure out the flavor or the aroma, which makes it that much more delicious.

Now that you know more about the brands surrounding the debate, we want you to put them to a taste test. Chime in on your Cuban coffee preference in our poll below, or let us know in the comments.


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