Tastes of the States

Not Your Average Cup of Joe

Long before the reign of Starbucks lattes, Rhode Islanders spent their mornings gulping coffee milk. A mixture of milk and a dark, viscous syrup made from boiled-down black coffee, the sweet drink has been a staple since Italian immigrants introduced it to locals in the 1920s. Today, the area’s top coffee-syrup producer, Autocrat, cranks out enough of the stuff—sold in grocery stories and souvenir shops—to make 31 million low-caffeine glasses each year. Though Autocrat’s efforts to expand beyond New England have failed, Rhode Island maintains its allegiance: The legislature declared coffee milk the official state drink in 1993.