I have an uneasy relationship with coffee. I drink it pretty much every morning, in some form or another. But as someone who sleeps badly most of the time, I’m aware that the shot of caffeine straight to my nervous system probably isn’t doing me any favors after 3 p.m., and so, unless I’m really in for a long night, I try to cut myself off at noon. I’ll see my colleagues lingering over their 4 p.m. cappucinos and get a little jealous. And it’s particularly hard to turn down a perfect cup of coffee after a big, wine-enhanced meal. Then, thanks to Ricardo Barreras, owner of Pilar Cuban Eatery in Brooklyn, I hit upon a solution: Why not have a snack-sized coffee, just enough to wake you up without totally disrupting your bedtime? What about a Café Cubano?

Cuban espresso, like Italian espresso, is strong coffee meted out in small portions. But unlike Italian espresso, a Café Cubano has a layer of sweet crema floating on top. Barreras explained that the way to get the trademark crema is to mix the first few drops of espresso (like Cafe Bustelo) in a small pitcher or glass with about four tablespoons of sugar, until it forms a thick paste. Then pour in the rest of the espresso from your Moka pot, and a nice crema should form on top.

Easy never tasted so awesome.

It’s sweet, rich, and bitter all at once, and it’s also an ideal afternoon pick-me-up. In Miami, Barreras explained, it’s common to bring a colada—a styrofoam cup of the stuff—back to the office with thimble-sized disposable cups, to mete out several portions of coffee for your coworkers. It’s like the original coffee shot: just enough to keep you going, but not enough (hopefully) to overload your system with sugar and caffeine and leave you feeling jittery. 

Get the recipe for Café Cubano. 

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