Kawfeemilk-Rhode Island's Best Kept Secret
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Before I started writing a food blog, I spent many nights in a commercial kitchen cutting, frying and seasoning potatoes for my now defunct Jersey Flavored potato chip company. Prior to that, I wrote a few screenplays about Cannibal Senior Citizens and a masturbatory Humpty Dumpty, convinced that I was going to be a famous screenwriter. Even earlier in my life, I dropped a few thousand dollars on a genius idea to trademark a cologne named BalSac. In retrospect smelling like balls was not an easy sell. The fact is that I've always came up with oddball ideas hoping to make an extra buck, like the time I was a high school senior and wrote a letter to Coca Cola's corporate office suggesting they start a line of milk and Coke syrup to compete against the chocolate milk monopoly. I've always assumed that my letter was lost in the mail, surely they would have loved my idea and I’d be sitting on a shit ton of congratulatory stock options if it ever reached its destination.
Meanwhile, little did I know that in Rhode Island, chocolate milk was already getting crushed by Coffee Milk, a drink so popular that it was declared the official state beverage of the country’s smallest state. Maybe THAT’S the reason Coke never got back to me. ☹
WHAT’S COFFEE MILK & WHY RHODE ISLAND?
For anyone that’s unfamiliar with coffee milk, which I imagine is 48.75 states and all but 1.5 million Americans give or take, it is a tasty beverage made by mixing cold milk and a sweetened concentrated coffee syrup. This caffeinated treat (realistically you are more likely to get a sugar rush than a coffee buzz) has been a part Rhode Island's culture for generations.
The genesis of this concoction is believed to have started with the Italian and Portuguese immigrant populations that settled into Providence and the surrounding South Coast of Massachusetts in the early 1900s. As was consistent with the times, nothing went to waste and used coffee grounds were soaked in sugar & water and later mixed with milk. This homebrew’s popularity exploded in the 1930’s and 40’s when several likeminded companies seized the opportunity to produce bottles of the sweetened coffee syrup, think a java version of Bosco or Hershey’s.
Popular brands like Silmo Packaging, Eclipse and Coffee Time competed with one another for market share but ultimately it was Autocrat that became the Gold Standard and the only one of these foodigenous that, pre-internet, could be found outside of “Little Rhody”. Popularity of the syrup continues to grow as new companies have recently introduced small batch, artisanal syrups like Dave’s Coffee, a regional coffee chain. Their all-natural recipe is also marketed as a cocktail mixer, a glaze for meats and of course coffee milkshakes (known as a coffee cabinet in RI)
WHERE CAN I FIND COFFEE MILK?
Coffee milk is made from cows that chew on coffee beans as they graze on the pasture and sip espresso. Of course I am kidding but the premixed milks that are available at Rhode Island dairy farms like Wright’s or through home delivery services like Munroe Dairy might have you believing me. Autocrat, Coffee Time and Eclipse syrups are all now owned by the same company but the original recipes are still being followed. For an adult Rhode Island experience, try Narragansett Beer’s Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout with notes of toffee, chocolate and of course coffee. Pairs nicely with a burger!!
While I encourage you to try all of the syrups and choose your own favorite, here are our thoughts after a recent tasting:
Autocrat- Really sweet and thick with a nice coffee taste.
Coffee Time- Thick and left a lingering aftertaste.
Eclipse- Winner, winner chicken dinner! Had a buttery coffee taste.
Dave’s Coffee- The most natural tasting and least sweet. Winner of the "best packaging".