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What Is a Coffee Cabinet?

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No, it’s not a piece of furniture

Esra Uğur/Flickr

Stuffies, wine biscuits, clam cakes, Del's lemonade, Narragansett beer: Rhode Island's mark on the food world can be felt across the country. But outside of America's smallest state, few know about a local beverage called the coffee cabinet.

What is a coffee cabinet?

For some, a coffee cabinet is a thing: a place to store beans, machines, and other coffee accoutrement. But for Rhode Islanders, a coffee cabinet is a beverage similar to a milkshake. It's made from three simple ingredients: ice cream, milk, and coffee syrup. One of Rhode Island’s most famous coffee syrup producers is Autocrat, a local company founded in 1895.

What are the origins of this beverage?

Rhode Island has a large population of Italian immigrants who introduced coffee syrup, a concentrated mixture of coffee water and sugar, to the area decades ago. It's generally thought that the coffee cabinet evolved from coffee milk, the state's official drink, which is a combination of milk and coffee syrup. The coffee cabinet pushes the beverage just a touch further with the addition of ice cream.

Why is it called a cabinet?

While the rest of New England refers to what most Americans calls a milkshake as a "frappe" (that's pronounced "frap," not "frappay"), Rhode Island calls its version a "cabinet." Rumor has it the beverage is thusly named because blenders used to make the drink were often stored in cabinets. Rhode Island's Newport Creamery is known for making the classic coffee beverage and serving it under the name "Awful Awful." The Awful Awful is available in coffee as well as chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and a handful of other flavors.

This one's for you @pete_wells. #coffeecabinet #awfulawful #rhodeisland #newport

A photo posted by Allison Robicelli (@robicellis) on

Can you get them outside of Rhode Island?

Yes, but they’ll probably be called "coffee shakes," and will be ever-so-slightly less charming.

Can I make one at home?

Yes. You can buy Autocrat's coffee syrup online. If you want to make your own coffee syrup, here's a recipe. Finally, to make the beverage, here are the proportions Autocrat recommends:

Coffee Cabinet
Serves 1

2 tablespoons of coffee syrup
1 scoop of ice cream
6 ounces of milk

Combine all ingredients in a blender or beat by hand for one minute until the ice cream is dissolved. Serve immediately.

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