The Untold Truth Of Café Bustelo

For some diehard coffee lovers, Café Bustelo is the premier caffeine quick-fix you can make right at home. Known for its richness and intensity, it makes one seriously strong cup of Joe. Art of Barista describes it as providing the powerful kick of espresso only using a drip coffee maker. Its versatile product line also makes it quite convenient, too. While it still comes ground in that original bright canister, perfect for scooping just the right amount for pour-overs and French presses, it's also available in popular K-Cups. In fact, Art of Barista hails Café Bustelo's pods as their number one pick to buy in 2021.

If your only familiarity point for the brand is the bright yellow and red cans on the shelves at your local grocery store — or even if Café Bustelo is a staple in your house — you may not know its interesting origin story. It all starts with its founder Gregorio Menendez Bustelo.

Café Bustelo had a homegrown start in New York City

Café Bustelo has been popular for quite some time, dating all the way back to its infancy in the early 20th century. Gregorio Menendez Bustelo first founded his namesake brand in 1928, "inspired by Latin roots, born in East Harlem," according to the brand's website. Originally from Spain, the budding entrepreneur began by selling grounds to theater goers in New York before opening his first storefront on 5th Avenue, which was called Bustelo Coffee Roasters.

The popularity was — and still is — particularly strong within Latino communities, especially Cuban and Puerto Rican households. In fact, Bustelo lived for a time in Cuba before emigrating to America, and it was there that he was taken with their special espresso-style coffee and wanted to bring that experience to the States (via NBC News).

After the success of the initial storefront in Spanish Harlem, the physical product of Café Bustelo began to make its way to bodegas and stores across New York City as Bustelo personally shopped his product around in the 1930s. The bold coffee was so well-received, it eventually pushed those boundaries to other cities like Miami and, today, has found its way all across America, according to Café Bustelo.

Cafe Bustelo has remained accessible for almost 100 years

At the time of its origin, Bustelo Coffee Roasters was a welcome addition to Harlem as high-quality coffee was now conveniently close by for those in the neighborhood, particularly Cuban exiles that were keen on using espresso-style coffee makers to whip up cafecitos (Cuban espresso), according to The Cozy CoffeeAnd once word of mouth spread, the product became a household staple as demand grew.

Yet, despite its exponential rise in popularity over the past century, Café Bustelo never once became too popular to be unaffordable. Even with inflation, the rise in cost of goods, and the influx of coffee connoisseurs that could have driven prices up, Café Bustelo has remained a dependable and reasonably priced coffee brand. In 2000, the brand was purchased by Rowland Coffee Roasted, and even with the takeover, the coffee is still sold at scale, according to The Cozy Coffee. The website further states you can shop for the grounds online and at most grocery stores for less than 40 cents an ounce, adding up to just $10 for a full pound, which is pretty reasonable.

What does Café Bustelo taste like?

Despite being so easily accessible and mass-produced, the quality and taste of Café Bustelo is still as rich and robust as its early days. Some coffee and espresso grounds, especially those produced in large quantities, can have overwhelmingly bitter or burnt tastes (according to this review by Pure Wow), but Café Bustelo continues to boast a full-bodied flavor that remains unparalleled.

People who enjoy the bold and rich flavor of Café Bustelo liken its profile to having chocolatey and nutty notes. According to The Cozy Coffee, because its beans are fresh and don't have additives, the taste really shines through, which they describe as similar to that of a mocha. Art of Barista furthers that Café Bustelo is great black but also suggests adding a bit of milk and brown sugar for a traditional cafecito flavor profile.

It's good to keep in mind that Café Bustelo is stronger than most coffee. So if you want a milder taste, and are using a pre-measured method like a K-Cup, consider selecting a lower ounce brew than you might normally do to weaken it a bit. If you are using a more traditional method like drip coffee or a pour-over, just remember that less is more, says Coffee AffectionThough Café Bustelo recommends six ounces of cold water for every tablespoon of coffee, you can always up the ratio to make the coffee less bold.

Here are some of the best ways to use Café Bustelo grounds

Everyone's coffee preferences are different. While some people may prefer a small amount of a super strong brew, others may want a larger amount of java with a milder profile. However you prefer making your coffee, Café Bustelo can be the perfect product because of its versatility.

Based on these instructions from Coffee Affection, brewing Café Bustelo in a drip coffee machine is a great and simple way to enjoy it. This method is perfect for experimenting with Cafe Bustelo if you are trying it for the first time because you can modify the amount of ground coffee scoops and water to fit your taste. They recommend using a #4 filter for the best results. Though the espresso-like finished result tastes great black, you can also add sugar and/or cream.

Café Bustelo is also a great espresso base for at-home lattes, cappuccinos, and more. Traditionally, it's been used for the aforementioned cafecitos, but the grounds also work well with flavored syrups, other sweeteners, and any kind of frothed milk on top to make for a delicious hot or cold beverage.

The best ways to shop for Café Bustelo

The best part about Café Bustelo (aside from its great flavor and versatility) is how easy it is to find. Most major grocery stores carry the brand in its trademark canister, brick packaging, and K-Cup versions. It's also very popular online with retailers like CVS, Target, and Walmart.

Another good thing to know is that there are several different variations of the traditional Café Bustelo. The decaffeinated version, for example, is great for getting that rich flavor without the jolt. There's also a line of "Sweet & Creamy" coffees like Dulce De Leche instant coffee packets and Café con Leche in cans, featuring a caricature of Lady Bustelo Angelina, Gregorio Bustelo's wife, per the brand's website.

Also in contrast to the typical yellow and red packaging is one marked with a black label. This is Café Bustelo Supreme, which packs an even bigger punch as it's made from 100% Arabica beans (via Cafe Bustelo).

No matter which variation you prefer, or how you like to brew it, Café Bustelo has a lot more history and impact than you probably knew. Every now and then a fantastic product comes along and lasts for generations simply because it's the best. Café Bustelo is a prime example.