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How Do People Drink Coffee In New England? Hint: Coffee Milk

In New England, where dairy farms are plentiful, there’s a favorite coffee-flavored beverage — coffee milk. Coffee milk isn’t coffee with milk. It’s milk with a sweet coffee syrup. Here’s a little bit on this beverage, along with how to make your own coffee milk.

Coffee Milk was Likely Made by Italian Immigrants

As with many foods and drinks, the origins of coffee milk are obscure. It was first created in the 1920s or 1930s in Rhode Island, but who initially made it and where they inspiration from aren’t definitively known.

The roots of coffee milk may lie in Southern Italy. Nancy Vede Barr, a writer on the American Heritage of Southern Italian Cooking, notes, “In Italy, they often made a bitter coffee with grain. The brew was then heavily sweetened. The children drank what the parents did. The tradition of sweetening continued here [in Rhode Island].” It’s likely that Italian immigrants in Southeastern New England introduced it to the region.

The first commercially available coffee milk was likely made at a diner or drugstore. There were plenty throughout the region at the time. The first person to sell it, who is lost to history, probably sweetened old coffee grounds and made a syrup from them. This syrup was then added to milk to create coffee milk.

Coffee Milk is the Official Beverage of Rhode Island

On July 29, 1993, coffee milk was deemed “The Official State Drink of Rhode Island” by the state legislature. After a hotly contested debate, the drink won over Del’s frozen lemonade.

Today, coffee milk is known throughout New England, but it remains most popular where it originated. It’s the official drink of Rhode Island and is most commonly enjoyed in the nearby Boston area.

Make Authentic Coffee Milk

To make authentic coffee milk, you’ll need a coffee syrup. There are two brands, both of which are readily available online. Many New Englanders swear by Autocrat, but Eclipse is also authentic. There was a fierce rivalry between the two brands until 1991, when Autocrat bought Eclipse. Now, both syrups are still made and marketed as different brands but owned by the same company.

Once you have a coffee syrup, it’s easy to make coffee milk. The process is just like making chocolate milk:

  1. In a glass, add your desired amount of syrup.
  2. Add your desired amount of milk (cold or warm).
  3. Stir until mixed.

Make Imitation Coffee Milk

If you don’t have real coffee syrup, you can make an imitation coffee milk. Here’s how:

  1. Brew coffee via your preferred method (not espresso), and sweeten it while hot. Make it extra sweet, as the coffee will be diluted with lots of milk.
  2. To an 8-ounce glass, add 4 ounces of brewed coffee. The coffee can be cold and old, as this is a great way to use up leftover coffee from the morning.
  3. Add 4 ounces of milk. Because the watery coffee will make the milk thin, we recommend using whole milk (from New England, of course).
  4. Mix and enjoy.

Learn About Other Ways to Drink Coffee

At Driftaway Coffee, we’re fascinated by how coffee is enjoyed throughout the world. We regularly write about different ways of making coffee. To get our next post on unique ways to make coffee, like us on Facebook.

Author Scott

Scott is a professional writer for Driftaway Coffee. He worked as a barista for eight years, but today prefers to enjoy his beverages from the other side of the counter. When not drinking Driftaway Coffee, Scott usually has a mug of his own roasted coffee nearby.

More posts by Scott
  • Mark Stein

    Oh come on! It’s just really cold in Rhode Island and in New England in general! We consume warm drinks in wintertime!

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