Coffee milk is exactly what I am saying. Unless you are from the great state of Rhode Island, you ee probably never tried it let alone heard of this drink. Flipping through TV channels not long ago, I came across a show featuring foods of Rhode Island. I sat there paying little attention as I read emails and checked-in to social media on my phone. Then, something caught my attention. I heard the words “coffee milk.” I was curious and turned my full attention to the foodie show. Diners, packed into Rhode Island restaurants, drank tall glasses of tan colored milk. One young woman exclaimed that she was a lucky girl to have known the joys of coffee milk since she was a kid. Coffee is not for kids….or is it? I had some research to do.
Southern Italian immigrants came to Rhode Island settling in Providence. Over 50,000 Italians came to the small state from the late 1890s to about 1930. Many worked in textile mills and the need for restaurants and soda fountain shops grew. In their homeland, these immigrants drank coffee that was heavily sweetened. A soda fountain owner started to sweeten leftover coffee grounds with milk and sugar. This concoction produced a molasses type syrup that when added to milk became “coffee milk.”
Commercially-produced coffee milk started in the 1930s. Eclipse from Warwick and Autocrat from Lincoln were fierce competitors. Marketing campaigns urged parents to add coffee syrup to their children’s milk. Coffee milk, like chocolate milk, made milk drinking more palatable for kids and it worked. For sixty years these two manufacturers competed until 1991 when Autocrat bought Eclipse. Rhode Islanders say they can tell the difference between the two brands. Autocrat comes in as slightly sweeter. There is a third coffee syrup called Coffee Time sold primarily outside of Rhode Island. Regardless of syrup preference, coffee milk is very popular and in 1993 became the official state drink of Rhode Island. That tells you something about its popularity!
I purchased online all three syrups to see what all the fuss was about. A 32-ounce bottle of Autocrat is under $11 on Amazon. The directions are for 2 tablespoons of syrup for 8 ounces of milk. I used skim milk, but a higher fat content milk will produce a creamier mix. I poured the syrup and milk over ice, took a sip and immediately liked it. Actually, I added another tablespoon of the syrup. Yum! It was coffee-like and yet a pleasing molasses flavor was dominant. That glass was gone in no time and my wheels were spinning about other uses. Coffee syrup on ice cream or in a milkshake – yep! I am not sure I can say which syrup I favor so my advice is to try any one of them. If you are so inclined, you can try and make your own too. The recipe below seems simple enough, but I have enough bottled product right now. I will give it a shot after I run out. I recommend coffee milk and now understand why Rhode Islanders are crazy about it. Let me know what you think.
2-3/4 cups water
1 cup ground coffee
1 cup sugar
Boil water and sugar for about 5 minutes in a pan on the stove. Remove from heat and add the ground coffee. Let it cool and then strain well (more than one time if needed). Refrigerate the syrup. Mix with milk and you have “coffee milk.”