Rhode Island, one of the smallest states in the union, may not be the first state that comes to mind when you think of coffee. You’re more likely to think of Washington with Seattle’s legacy or New York with its many city roasts, but Rhode Island has a unique coffee culture that has thrived in obscurity through most of the 20th Century until today.
While Rhode Island coffee is experiencing the small-batch, local roaster revival most places are experiencing thanks to local roasts like New Harvest Coffee Roasters and the Coffee Exchange, one old-timey coffee concoction remains extremely popular amongst Rhode Island coffee enthusiasts. It’s a coffee drink that many of them grew up with and one that remains so popular to this day that it was declared the official state drink of Rhode Island in 1993.
That coffee drink is coffee milk, and if you are not from Rhode Island, there is a good chance that you have never even heard of coffee milk. Coffee milk is so popular that it is available in little jugs at convenience stores and served at coffee shops and diners across Rhode Island.
What Is Rhode Island Coffee Milk?
Coffee milk is exactly what it claims to be, but it is no café au lait. This simple coffee drink is closer in relation to chocolate milk than it is to a latte. Coffee milk is made with a coffee concentrate syrup similar to the chocolate syrup used by many to make chocolate milk. This coffee syrup (not to be confused with flavored coffee syrups used to flavor coffee drinks) was introduced in the 1920s but really became popular as a cheap and enjoyable way to enjoy coffee during the Great Depression. Since then, it has grown to be a comforting milk-coffee drink enjoyed by many Rhode Islanders.
The most popular brand of coffee syrup for a coffee milk is produced by Autocrat. The dark bottle and yellow label of the Autocrat Coffee Syrup bottle is as well-known and loved in Rhode Island as the iconic Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup bottle anywhere else.
Today, Autocrat has competition as some Rhode Island coffee roasters are beginning to enter the market by producing their own coffee syrups able to fulfill Rhode Islanders’ love of coffee milk. Of particular note is Dave’s Coffee’s Cold Brewed Coffee Syrup, a coffee syrup made from hand-roasted, small batch coffee that has been extracted with cold-brewing techniques to capture the full richness of the coffee.
How To Enjoy Coffee Milk, Rhode Island’s State Beverage
Making traditional coffee milk is as easy as making chocolate milk. To enjoy this traditional Rhode Island coffee drink, simply add coffee syrup to milk and stir just as you would with chocolate syrup. Adjust the amount of syrup that you use to your tastes and enjoy the perfect coffee milk any time. If you are actually in Rhode Island, coffee milk is everywhere. You can order it with breakfast at the local diner or get it from the milk refrigeration case at most any convenience store or gas station.
If you are looking for a dessert treat with good coffee flavor, then order yourself a “coffee cabinet.” This is coffee milk and ice cream generally served as a blended milk shake. A coffee cabinet made with either vanilla or chocolate ice cream and coffee milk is an excellent treat to enjoy on a hot Rhode Island summer day. Ask anyone in Rhode Island and they’ll tell you that a coffee cabinet made with real coffee milk beats a fancy café frappe any day.
At only 70 miles wide and 110 miles long, traveling across Connecticut makes for a quick trip. In fact, driving time length wise is about an hour and a half. There’s no wrong turn or wrong cup of joe as you explore the many offerings of Connecticut coffee from top to bottom.