Rhode Island Coffee Cabinet

Every state has peculiarities that contribute to its regional character.  Rhode Island is no exception, and here, in a single recipe, we get two of Little Rhody’s foibles.  First is Rhode Islanders’ big love for all things coffee.  While most of the country gulps down chocolate milk, Rhode Islanders have their own version – coffee milk.  Flavored with coffee syrup that can be found on the shelves of nearly every supermarket in the state (usually right next to the -- largely ignored -- chocolate syrup), so great is Rhode Islander’s devotion to coffee milk that in 1993 the legislature proclaimed it to be the official state drink.

Oddity number two is linguistic.  To Rhode Islanders, the blended mixture of coffee milk and coffee ice cream that most of us would call a “milkshake” (or in the rest of New England, a frappe) is called a coffee cabinet, owing, popular opinion has it, to the fact that the machines used to blend the drinks, and often the syrups used to flavor them, were kept in wooden cabinets.

There are three top brands of coffee syrup -- Autocrat, Eclipse, and Coffee Time -- all made locally in Rhode Island of course.  Generally, Autocrat is considered to be the sweetest; Eclipse and Coffee Time are thought to have a stronger coffee flavor.  As you can see, I go for Autocrat, if for no other reason than its elegant packaging and labeling – worthy of a design award, in my view.

These days all three syrups are produced by Autocrat, Inc., a company that dates back to 1895.  To purchase coffee syrup online, go to www.autocrat.com/cart/, and with your new bottle of syrup in hand, make a Rhode Island Coffee Cabinet to sip while you admire the label!


About 3½ cups


  • ½ cup cold whole or lowfat milk (about 4 ounces)
  • ¼ cup coffee syrup (about 2 ounces)
  • 8 medium scoops coffee ice cream (about 1 quart/24 ounces), softened until just melty at the edges


Place the milk and syrup in a blender and blend to mix thoroughly, about 10 seconds.  Add the ice cream and pulse several times to begin breaking it up.  With the blender motor off, use a flexible spatula to mash the mixture down onto the blender blade.  Continue pulsing, stopping, and mashing until the mixture is well blended, thick, and moves easily in the blender jar, roughly 30 to 90 seconds.  Pour into a chilled glass or glasses, and serve at once.

Jim Scherer Photo