What Is Raf Coffee And Where Is It Served?

Legend has it that, even though the first latte known to mankind was brewed in Italy, the milky drink was actually just meant for American tourists visiting the country, as the latte was a less-bitter, less-strong, and an easier to consume caffeinated drink than the harsher espresso preferred by Italians (via Green Farm Coffee Co.). And by the 1980s, the term latte was firmly rooted in Seattle as the coffeehouse explosion started to take place. Even today, Waka Coffee reports from a study done in coordination by Specialty Coffee Association and Square, that more than 67 million lattes were served in the U.S. between 2017 and 2018, making it the most popular coffee drink in the States.

While most Americans may drink their caffeinated beverages in the form of a latte, it's not necessarily how the rest of the world enjoys their shot of caffeine. The Irish like a bit of whiskey in their Irish coffees, the Vietnamese prefer Cà phê đá with condensed milk and ice, and those in Mexico usually mix in cinnamon and cane sugar in their Café de Olla. And the Russians on the other side of the world enjoy their cup of Joe in the form of Raf coffee (via Insider).

Originally popular in the coffee shops of Moscow, the sweet and milky Raf coffee (made with espresso, cream, and vanilla sugar all frothed together) is now such a popular drink option in Russia that it's often referred to as Russian coffee in many other countries (via World Coffee Beans).

How did Raf coffee come to be?

Although no one really knows for sure how Russia's popular Raf coffee first came to be, a popular theory suggests that the drink was originally brewed in a popular coffee shop in Moscow by the name of Coffee Bean (via Sprudge). A regular customer of the café, Rafael Timerbaev, once walked in during the mid-1990s with a vague coffee order for the barista. A "good cup of coffee with milk" he ordered, and so the barista went about adding a shot of espresso to a coffee cup alongside some cream and vanilla sugar, and then frothing it all together to make the first-ever Raf coffee.

As the source further explains, the new concoction was so loved by Rafael Timerbaev that the man and all his friends frequented Coffee Bean just to get the special off-the-menu drink. Eventually, the coffee was requested so often that the shop decided to officially add the drink to its menu, naming it after the man that it was first made for — hence, how it got the name Raf coffee.

Although Coffee Bean closed its doors for good a few years later, Raf coffee has taken over coffee culture in Russia and has earned a permanent spot on the menus of various cafés in the country.

How is Raf coffee made?

In an interview with Sprudge, a former Coffee Bean barista based in Russia revealed that the first-ever Raf coffee was made by adding about two tablespoons of sugar and a touch of cream to one shot of espresso. The concoction was then steamed in a coffee cup and served to the original customer Rafael Timerbaev and his friends.

Along the way, baristas experimented by adding another tablespoon of vanilla sugar — which Bob's Red Mill reports is granulated sugar infused with vanilla extract over a long period of time — to the mix. The end result was an overly sweet beverage that tasted more like dessert than coffee.

Eventually, the baristas found the sweet spot in their perfected drink, and the Raf coffee recipe that is followed to this day came to be. That being, one shot of espresso, a little bit of cream, one tablespoon of normal sugar, and one tablespoon of vanilla sugar all mixed together, frothed as one, and then served in a coffee cup. As of today, Sprudge reports, Russian coffee shops add all sorts of syrups, toppings, and flavors to Raf coffee, much like everyone else does to a latte, to make it truly customizable.

What does Raf coffee taste like?

Unlike most other coffee drinks, Raf coffee is brewed with both plain sugar as well as vanilla sugar. Needless to say, it's ideal for coffee drinkers with a sweet tooth. Paulig Barista Institute goes so far as to compare the taste of Raf coffee to that of drinking hot vanilla ice cream, only with a mild flavor of coffee in the background and a very creamy mouthfeel.

Due to its sweetness, Raf coffee is often criticized by caffeine connoisseurs in Russia for masking the true flavors of the coffee beans used to make the espresso, instead blanketing it with a vanilla-like sugary flavor, according to Itmo News. The drink is perhaps more for anybody that enjoys sweet and flavored frothy coffees than bold and bitter espressos. As with a latte, a variety of flavored syrups and spices can be added to Raf coffee. The lavender-flavored Raf, Sprudge notes, is particularly popular amongst Russians.

Per Costa Coffee, the texture of a perfectly prepared Raf coffee is incredibly smooth, creamy, and so silky that the coffee chain claims that Raf coffee is "the silkiest ever!"

You can make Raf coffee at home

While Raf coffee is yet to make a wide appearance on the menus at American coffee shops, you don't have to buy a ticket to Moscow to drink this sweet drink just yet. Instead, you can make it at home! All you really need to make Raf coffee is a shot of espresso pulled from any coffee brewing equipment that you use at home, about 100 ml of cream, five grams of regular sugar, and five grams of vanilla sugar (via Russia Beyond). Pour all of it in a container, steam it using the steam wand of a cappuccino maker or a milk frother, and there you have it — Raf coffee ready just for you.

While you could also infuse it with your own vanilla sugar using Alton Brown's recipe, as seen on Food Network, if that's too much of an effort, you could always swap the vanilla sugar with vanilla syrup (via Learn Russian Language). From there on, you can add all sorts of flavors to your Raf coffee: Like basil leaves for a basil-flavored Raf or swap the vanilla sugar with lavender to brew the famous Lavender Raf at home. The possibilities are endless!