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