My New England roots are showing.

Coffee cabinet, coffee milk, coffee syrup

A coffee cabinet, coffee milk, and a bottle of coffee syrup.

While I’m from Green Bay, most of my extended family is from Rhode Island. There, coffee is king. Iced coffee is pretty much understood countrywide now, but this is a relatively new thing. Before chains such as Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts expanded nationwide, iced coffee was limited to pockets of the US, Rhode Island included.

But I’m not here to talk about iced coffee. I’m here to talk about, among other things, coffee milk. Coffee milk is the official state drink of Rhode Island, and is pretty analogous to chocolate milk. It’s milk, mixed with coffee syrup.

What is coffee syrup? It’s simply a coffee-flavored sugar syrup, and is distinctly Rhode Island. You may be able to find bottles of the stuff in parts of New England as a whole, but pretty much every grocery store in Rhode Island will carry bottles of Autocrat and Eclipse brand coffee syrup.

Sites like Only in Rhode Island can ship you bottles for a pretty decent price, but I decided to try my hand at making it from scratch, based on what I remember it tasting like. I think I’ve come close at a simple recipe, but I suppose I’m going to have to order a few bottles of the “authentic” stuff to compare, as it’s been well over a decade since I’ve had an authentic Coffee Cabinet (more on that later).

Coffee syrup


  • 2 cups double strength coffee

  • 3 cups granulated sugar

  • 4 tbsp (1/4 cup) light corn syrup

Brew the coffee. I found that 1/2 cup grounds to 3 cups water will produce a little over 2 cups of very strong coffee. Thoroughly combine 2 cups of the coffee, the sugar, and corn syrup in a large saucepan over high heat while whisking often. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately take the pan off the heat and reduce the heat to low.

Do not walk away from this! Once the syrup hits a boil, it will foam up in literally about 3 seconds. If you don’t move the pan off the heat, you will be left with a stove covered in napalm. (No, thankfully this is not known from experience.)

Bring the pan back to low heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. After 10 minutes, remove from heat and cool for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the syrup is cool enough to handle, transfer to a dispenser bottle. You should have almost exactly 3 cups of syrup. I initially tried a generic squeeze bottle, but I later found that a 24oz pancake syrup bottle works perfectly.

Coffee syrup

That’s not maple syrup.

What can you do with coffee syrup? Coffee milk is the first suggestion. Simply combine 2-3 tbsp of syrup with 1 cup of milk, and stir for coffee milk. You can drizzle over ice cream, or even make coffee ice cream!

Or you could make a coffee cabinet. I’ve heard several versions of the etymology of “cabinet”, but it’s what the rest of the world would call a milkshake. Everybody has their own preference on how to make a milkshake/cabinet, but here’s my favorite:

Coffee cabinet


  • 3 scoops coffee or vanilla ice cream

  • 4 tbsp (1/4 cup) coffee syrup

  • 1 cup milk

  • 4 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse.

Coffee ice cream would be better than vanilla, but the only place I can find coffee ice cream is a store brand at Safeway, and it tastes pretty wretched. I’d like to buy an ice cream maker to make my own, but can’t justify buying another kitchen appliance that’ll be rarely used.

Oh, and the irony here? I don’t drink coffee.

Update: New concoction:

Caffeinated Russian

The name was invented by teferi{.lj}, who immediately disavowed it.

  • 2 parts vodka

  • 1 part Kahlua

  • 1 part coffee syrup

  • 2 parts cream

Combine vodka, Kahlua and syrup in a Old Fashioned glass with ice. Float the cream, and stir lightly. This is a standard variation of a White Russian, but with a twist: when first trying it, I forgot about the properties of the syrup and only lightly stirred. The coffee syrup mostly stayed at the bottom of the drink, giving you a pleasant kick of coffee at the end.