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What is Coffee Milk?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 17, 2024
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Coffee milk is a popular beverage in Rhode Island and the immediate surrounding area. It is made by combining coffee syrup with milk. Some restaurants serve coffee milk on tap, and coffee syrup can be bought at some stores in order to make the drink at home. The beverage is relatively unique to Rhode Island and cannot usually be found in stores or restaurants that are not in or near the state.

The syrup used to make coffee milk was invented in the 1930s in Rhode Island. Its inventor is unknown, but there have since been many manufacturers of the product, including Autocrat&reg, Silmo&reg, and Eclipse. Originally, the syrup for the drink was made at the places it was served using leftover coffee grounds. The syrup can still be made at home, but most people choose to use a store-bought syrup. Autocrat&reg is the most common current producer of coffee syrup besides small competitors, as it bought out the only remaining major competition in 1991.

Instructions for making coffee syrup are extremely variable. Some directions advise running the same liquid through coffee grounds, brewing it multiple times with the same water, and then adding sugar and boiling it down. Others claim that there needs to be coffee grounds left in boiling water with the sugar and then strained out. The formula used by Autocrat&reg is unknown, but it does include high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar.

In addition to actual coffee milk, there are other beverages and foods that are advertised as coffee milk flavored. These are usually milk-based and use coffee syrup as flavoring. Milkshakes, also called "cabinets," come in a popular coffee flavor. Similarly flavored ice cream is also available in areas where the beverage is popular. The syrup itself has a number of additional uses in recipes and deserts, though these may not taste like coffee milk if milk is not a major ingredient.

This beverage is considered a valuable part of Rhode Island's rich cultural traditions. It was named the state's official drink in 1993. The drink is served on tap at Brown University in Providence, and many school lunch programs in the state offer coffee milk on occasion as part of its lunch menus. Many Rhode Islanders grew up with this drink and believe strongly that it is part of their unique state heritage, demonstrating significant pride when speaking of it to people from out of town. Coffee milk can be considered a representative symbol of Rhode Island culture.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Jun 21, 2014

I was visiting friends in Rhode Island and was introduced to coffee milk, and better, the cabinet coffee milkshake. That was awesome! I've been a coffee drinker nearly all my life. I remember ordering coffee-flavored ice cream when I was like, four. So getting this kind of milkshake was exactly the thing for me! I was a happy camper, believe me.

By Pippinwhite — On Jun 20, 2014

Hmm. There are also coffee-flavored syrups that coffee houses use, and many of these come in a sugar-free version. So, it wouldn't a huge deal to get some coffee syrup and try coffee milk. It sounds pretty tasty to me, but then again, I'm a coffee fiend, so this kind of beverage is right down my alley.

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