What is a Coffee Cabinet?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Sweet and creamy, a coffee cabinet is an ice cream-based beverage consisting of coffee-flavored syrup, ice cream, and milk. The frothy confection is produced with a drink or milkshake blender. The drink is a signature dessert of Rhode Island and some areas of Massachusetts.

Milk is one of the ingredients in a coffee cabinet.
Milk is one of the ingredients in a coffee cabinet.

The most common venues that feature the coffee cabinet are Rhode Island creameries, and the term is largely unknown outside the New England area. Other regional names for these coffee beverages include the Coffee Cab, the Awful Awful, and the Frappe. Other regions may feature similar drinks known as coffee shakes.

Coffee milk contains about two tablespoons of the beverage mixed into eight ounces of milk.
Coffee milk contains about two tablespoons of the beverage mixed into eight ounces of milk.

To make a coffee cabinet, 0.5 cup (118 milliliters) of cold milk, 0.25 cup (57 milliliters) of coffee syrup, and eight scoops of coffee-flavored ice cream are needed. The ice cream should be softened until slightly melted, then all ingredients poured into a blender. The drink is then blended until well-mixed, and poured into serving glasses. For a stronger flavor, more syrup can be added.

Coffee cabinets can be altered with any flavoring preferred. Some people may opt to add caramel or chocolate sauce, or additional syrup flavors, such as hazelnut, can be incorporated for added layers of flavors. Vanilla extract is another favorite coffee cabinet flavoring. Whipped topping can be used as well.

Light cream, ice chips, frozen yogurt, or frozen custard may be used in place of ice cream if necessary. Some adults prefer to add coffee-flavored liqueur to their coffee cabinets. A biscuit, scone, or other treat can be served alongside the frozen beverage to create a more elegant dessert.

Theories about the drink's namesake vary, though none are proven. One regional story is that the soda jerk who made the original drink stored his syrup or his blender in a wooden cabinet, giving the Rhode Island beverage the name coffee cabinet. Another legend is that the word comes from the term carbonate, or soda, pronounced with a local Bostonian accent.

Another tradition of the state, the coffee milk or coffee milkshake, is also commonly available. Milkshakes in the region are typically flavored milk rather than an ice cream blend. Declared the official state drink in 1993, coffee milk is simply coffee syrup stirred in milk. The drink is widely available and sold with other dairy products in Rhode Island as well as in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Fresh coffee milk is made with 2 tablespoons (29 milliliters) of coffee syrup stirred into an 8-ounce (237 milliliter) glass or half-pint container of milk.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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