I grew up in Rhode Island and recently started working at an ice cream shop in the great Ocean State. Countless tourists pass the ice cream counter numerous times and after reading the menu, almost all of them ask the same question, "what is a coffee cabinet?" So I set out to answer the question to ease all the anxieties of tourists who just want a milkshake.

What is a coffee cabinet?

A coffee cabinet is a coffee milkshake made with coffee ice cream, coffee syrup, and milk. The drink originated with the invention of coffee syrup. Coffee syrup came from the large population of Italian immigrants in Rhode Island. During the 1930s and 1940s, refrigeration techniques improved, which allowed households to keep ice cream and milk on hand. It was only a matter of time before the three things would be combined.

Where does the name come from?

While the origins of the word "cabinet" in this context are a mystery, there are two main theories. It is known that coffee cabinets came about during World War II. 

One theory is that the blender used to make coffee cabinets at a local pharmacy was kept in a cabinet. Underwhelming, right? The second theory is that because Rhode Islanders have such a distinct accent where they drop the letter R, that someone changed the word "carbonate" into "cabinet." This means that cabinets were originally ice cream sodas.

Is it different than a milkshake?

No. It's the same thing as a milkshake, Rhode Island is just really weird. 

Never again should you find yourself asking your ice cream scooper, "what is a coffee cabinet?" While it's the same thing as a milkshake, a coffee cabinet is unique to Rhode Island. One thing I ask you is to please not call it a frappé, as do many Massachusetts residents do. That's just wrong.