July 24, 2008

Puerto Rican Coffee, or why you've never had any

Before the Spanish-American War, coffee was one of the strongest industries of Puerto Rico. Along with sugar and tobacco, it dominated exports. So why is it today nearly unheard of?

One of the most abrupt changes that the war brought was the devastation of the industry. This can be blamed on a few factors: 1, the U.S. had already entered in a deal with Brazil for their coffee, 2, the taste of Puerto Rican coffee was too strong for most Americans (most of its success was in Europe), and 3, American interests in the Caribbean laid mostly in the sugar industry, as seen with Cuba. Sure enough, the sugar industry exploded overnight, causing ruin for most coffee-growing families who could no longer export to Europe or the U.S.

Despite this, the coffee companies have hung on. On the island, there are a few companies that keep their products on local shelves. Sadly, however, quite a few of these include coffee from outside the island. Both output and demand aren't high enough to change this.

Yauco Selecto has previously been reputated to be an excellent coffee, equal to Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona (some of the most consistently high rated coffees in the world), although apparently quality has been hard to maintain lately. Right now, according to Coffee Review, the best coffee Puerto Rico has to offer at the moment is something called CaféBello, which I've never heard of before. Sounds good though.

Coffee, by the way, is definitely one way to Puerto Rico differs from the U.S. It's usually enjoyed in small cups with milk (and sugar, if you want), making a perfect café con leche, common throughout Latin America. Extremely bitter black coffee is called café puya (in comparison to café prieto, which is sweetened) and is also popular. Starbucks and the entire idea of fancy coffee drinks is really unpopular, kind of startling considering Puerto Rico's incredible sweet tooth. Cold coffee is a no-no and milk will often be heated up on the oven as well. Apparently warm coffee is seen as rude gesture in restaurants. So if you have guests over, don't give them cold coffee! Not that anyone would do that on purpose...

Generally whenever I get read to leave I make sure to pick up a little coffee to take with me. It's difficult to get it away from the island otherwise.


Minerva said...

I have seen PuertoRican coffee in a grocery in USA, in Atlanta. Don't remember which one, but most likely Whole Foods, since it was an organic coffee, the same I have been drinking (and purchasing) at Natural High in Rincon

Speaking Boricua said...

Oh, very cool. I never even thought of looking there... hmm, I'll have to give it a shot.

Liz Lougee said...

I just want you to know, that I am a loyal reader of your blog. It keep me in check with my Puerrican roots and I thank you for that.

This post, reminds me the old timer tradition, on visiting someone's house, no matter the time of the day; The hostes of the house, always serve coffee, whether you ask for it or not.

And God forbid, you decline the coffee offered, back in the day was consider an offense to the family you were visiting.

Keep up the good work with your blog, I really enjoyed it. :)

Speaking Boricua said...

Thanks, I'm really glad you are reading! It always means a lot to me to know other people get something out of this thing.

You're absolutely right about that great memory you have. There is something very strangely comforting about a hot coffee on a hot day on a hot day, even if it seems illogical. It's not too common anymore, but still enjoyable nonetheless.

Please stop by again soon. :)

Petra H said...

I have been bringing Puerto Rican coffee to my European friends in the US and Europe - they really like it! And I tell European visitors to buy a jar or two as a souvenir, easier to pack than a glass bottle of rhum.
I have also noticed that people offer you coffee when you visit them at home, which is just like in Sweden where people drink coffee throughout the day and everytime you get a visitor.
Don't like Starbuck's but the two ones close to our home in Condado are always packed - quite a lot of local students seem to go there to use the free wireless!

The current exModians said...

Ah, but here in NYC we have the Porto Rico Coffee Importing Company. It's old, it's musty, it's dank and it still sells coffee from all over the world out of coffee sacks with those old metal scoops.

Best P.R. coffee? Pues, el Café Real, por supuesto. Ese no faltaba en la cocina de mi abuela.

Arlene said...

Cafe Mami is getting quite popular and the different types of Cafe Cibales from Ciales are really good. Last time I went to PR I bought me a few packets. :)