Coffee milk is a drink made by mixing coffee syrup or coffee extract and milk together in a manner similar to chocolate milk. It is the official state drink in Rhode Island. Coffee syrup is a sweetened coffee concentrate and key ingredient in coffee milk. The syrup is prepared by straining water and sugar through coffee grounds.
While the precise origin of coffee milk is unclear, several sources trace it back to the 19th century of the Italian immigrant population in Providence, Rhode Island. Around the late 1800s to early 1900s, approximately 55,000 Italian immigrants traveled to Providence. The large influx of immigrants, of which Italians were the largest group, led to an introduction of their traditions and customs to the state. One of their culinary traditions was drinking very sweetened coffee with milk. Eventually, it is believed that this led to the creation of coffee milk in these immigrant households. The development of diners and soda fountains brought coffee milk to the public. The first coffee syrup is thought to have been produced by a soda fountain operator who sweetened leftover coffee grounds with milk and sugar. This syrup was mixed into glasses of milk to create coffee milk.
Manufacturing of coffee syrup
Coffee syrup is produced by straining hot water and sugar through coffee grounds, and is also prepared by preparing a large amount of hot coffee and then adding sugar to it afterward. A cold-process method for coffee syrup involves soaking pulverized coffee beans for some time and then adding sugar. It was originally produced in the 1930s in corner drug stores, and was targeted towards children, while their parents drank hot coffee.
Due to the popularity of the product, coffee syrup was bottled and sold by merchants. The first mass-produced coffee syrup was introduced by the Silmo Packing Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1932. In 1938, Warwick, Rhode Island-based Eclipse Food Products began heavily promoting its own coffee syrup product, with Lincoln, Rhode Island's Autocrat Coffee coming to market in the 1940s. Autocrat purchased long-time competitor Eclipse in 1991 and today produces both brands of syrup. Autocrat is claimed to be the most popular brand of coffee syrup in the state of Rhode Island. More recently, brands such as Dave's Coffee and Morning Glory have begun to offer coffee syrups with desired qualities including no high-fructose corn syrup and no artificial colors. Some people brew their own in a saucepan using coffee and sugar.
Rise in popularity
The public loved the idea of coffee milk and, especially due to the large population of immigrants, the popularity of coffee milk began to rise. In 1993, politicians took notice. After having a competition between coffee milk and Del's Lemonade, Rhode Island Legislature voted to change the state drink. On July 29, 1993, Rhode Island named coffee milk their official state drink. As coffee milk took off in Rhode Island, neighboring states also took notice of it. Additionally, local businesses in Rhode Island took advantage of this growth of popularity. In December 2013, the Narragansett Brewing Company partnered with Autocrat Coffee to market a limited edition "coffee milk stout". In the summer of 2015, Warwick Ice Cream worked with Autocrat to begin producing coffee milk ice cream.
Use in other beverages
Coffee milk and coffee syrup have been used as ingredients in other beverages.
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- State of Rhode Island General Laws, Section 42-4-15 – official Rhode Island state drink designation