Dos Cafeteras Coffee Candies: Great Product, Great Story


Dos Cafeteras

Fritz Maytag, the man who started Anchor Steam Brewery, has a line I love that goes something like: "You can probably find some great products, and you find some great stories, but finding a great product that also has a great story is hard to do." So true. Given the degree of difficulty, it's all the more impressive how many of them we've tracked down here. The real trick though, I think, is actually one step up from what Fritz said—it's finding a great product with not just a great story but also a really great design.

Now that is no small achievement, and our Dos Cafeteras candies, as you'll have already guessed, actually hit home runs, I think, on all three. The design is great (don't miss the old-style coffee pots embossed on the top of each piece), the story is sound, and most importantly the candy itself actually tastes really good!

"I advise allowing one to melt in your mouth like a lozenge, which allows for a slow unfolding of the caramelized sugar and the round flavor of coffee and milk."

In truth, these little coffee candies have been a long time coming. I've been hoping and waiting and hoping some more for us to get them for ... it's got to be at least five or six years now since I first stumbled on them. I can't honestly remember even exactly when and where I tried them for the first time. I think I just bought a box in some shop in Spain. Could have even been in a duty-free shop in the airport—I have a penchant for picking up good-looking food wherever I see it.

When you see the tin you'll know why I wanted it. If you're into late 19th/early 20th century graphic design, the Dos Cafeteras features, I think, some of the best still around. Official start date for the firm was 1886, in the Basque town of Pamplona, best known to most Americans for the Running of the Bulls and Hemingway's descriptions thereof. Credit for the candy goes to one Don Claudio Lozano who one day apparently decided to start stirring sugar and milk in a stovetop coffeepot, and then some coffee and a bit of sugar in a second pot. Obviously, I never met Don Claudio but I'm going to choose to imagine him as a late 19th century hybrid of Allen Leibowitz (Mr. Coffee) and Charlie Frank (Mr. Candy). I can only imagine the looks his family might have been giving me while he stirred day after day trying to come up with some really special confection. The simultaneous stirring in the two pots are what give the company its name.

Like most so many of the special foods we sell, on the surface, the Dos Cafeteras candies seem pretty simple—they're nothing more than milk, coffee, sugar, and sugar syrup, slowly cooked down to make these Spanish caramels. Like most great foods though ... something special seems to happen in the translation. What one might expect to be sort of mundane from looking at the ingredient list becomes, I think, pretty marvelous. Part of the secret, I'm sure, is the three-month maturing period that the candies get in "humid caves," during which the flavor matures and develops. I need to go to visit in person, but best I can tell from a few thousand miles away, it's akin to the maturing of cheese, but in this case, what's being aged are little hard candies.

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Ari Weinzweig is co-founder of Zingerman's Community of Businesses, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is also the author of Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating. More

After graduating from University of Michigan with a degree in Russian history, Ari Weinzweig went to work washing dishes in a local restaurant and soon discovered that he loved the food business. Along with his partner Paul Saginaw, Ari started Zingerman's Delicatessen in 1982 with a $20,000 bank loan, a staff of two, a small selection of great-tasting specialty foods, and a relatively short sandwich menu. Today, Zingerman's is a community of businesses that employs over 500 people and includes a bakery, creamery, sit-down restaurant, training company, coffee roaster, and mail order service. Ari is the author of the best-selling Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating and the forthcoming Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon.

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