What's In That Coffee Cabinet? A Delicious Taste Of Rhode Island History : The Salt The ice cream beverage with the quirky name is a Rhode Island staple. It's just coffee syrup, ice cream and milk. Despite its popularity, the origins of the drink – and its name – remain a mystery.

What's In That Coffee Cabinet? A Delicious Taste Of Rhode Island History

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/492278535/492727672" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When you go to Rhode Island, you got to have a coffee cabinet. For you non-New Englanders, that's a drink known as a milkshake in most other parts of the country. So why do they call it a cabinet?

Rhode Island Public Radio's John Bender tried to find out.

JOHN BENDER, BYLINE: Hey.

ERIC DELEKTA: How you doing?

BENDER: Good, how are you?

DELEKTA: Good.

BENDER: Walking into Delekta's Pharmacy in downtown Warren, R.I. is like stepping into the past. An old-school silver soda fountain sits atop a stone bar. You can still fill prescriptions in the back. The guy behind that bar is Eric Delekta. And you should know, if you order a milkshake here expecting a frothy, thick drink, you're going to be disappointed.

DELEKTA: A milkshake here is just milk and syrup.

BENDER: If you want ice cream blended into that cup, you're going to have to order a cabinet. Delekta's has been serving up the drink with the quirky name since before World War II. Delekta says, he's got regular customers, some daily, just for the beverage.

Rhode Island resident, Justin Riley's been coming here for years.

JUSTIN RILEY: It's Rhode Island. It's the drink you've got to have. And you've got to have them here.

BENDER: But as to the name, Riley's stumped. So is fellow customer, Lisa Murphy.

LISA MURPHY: I don't know. I know there are different names for it in different parts of the country, but I don't know. It's always been a coffee cabinet to us.

BENDER: All this sleuthing has got me thirsty. So I order - what else? - a coffee cabinet. Delekta takes out an aluminum cup and begins adding ingredients.

DELEKTA: So we put in some coffee syrup.

BENDER: That's homemade syrup, by the way. The exact recipe is top secret, Delekta tells me.

DELEKTA: A couple of scoops of ice cream - we use Hood ice cream and a carton of milk from local surplus dairy. Then we put on the mixer and blend it all up.

BENDER: And that's it, just three ingredients. Likely, the drink was a happy marriage of the state's historically robust dairy production, European immigrants' love of coffee and coffee syrup and modern-day refrigeration technology.

And as for the name, Eric Delekta says the story might be as simple as the drink itself.

DELEKTA: I've heard that they used to keep the machine inside of a wooden box or a cabinet, hence the name. But I don't, definitely, know for sure.

BENDER: But as long as Delekta's keeps churning out these coffee cabinets, perhaps it's fine to just let the mystery be.

Wow. That is insanely good. That's - oh, that's delicious.

For NPR News, I'm John Bender in Rhode Island.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.