Cuba and its emerging coffee industry

Cofi-Com’s Elizabeth Barry explains the rich history, and recent advancements, in what could be the next specialty nation.

World renowned for its cigars, rum and its beautiful capital Havana, Cuba remains one of the globe’s most iconic islands. It’s strong sense of cultural identity and history means the city has a good deal going for it. Today, Cuba’s coffee industry is experiencing a revival, comfortably emerging in both commercial and specialty coffee sectors.

The origins of coffee production in Cuba date back to the first emigrants and slaves circa 1800. However, it’s only in recent years, with the global expansion of coffee consumption, that the country has started to be regarded as a coffee origin worthy of attention and interest.

Cuba’s first settlers were a result of slave revolt against the French colonial power in Haiti, which had been the main producer of sugar, tropical fruit, and coffee in the Caribbean. Coffee had arrived in Haiti via Martinique with the French colonialists and it did not take long to spread across the Caribbean and much of Central America.

Cuba is a mountainous island, the largest of the Antilles isles, a part of the West Indies, surrounded by more than 1500 small islands. The climate is tropical, wet and lush, and so very well suited to sugar and coffee production. It is largely temperate across the island with plains and plateaus running across the centre, peaked by mountains to the east and west with altitudes reaching heights of 2000 metres above sea level. There are two annual wet seasons during May and November.

The island has three important ports; Havana (the most strategically important), Santiago del Cuba to the east and Cienfuegos in the centre.

The country has maintained a strong identity despite having a rough and unsteady political history. In 1782 Haiti revolted against the French colonial power. The slaves rioted, destroying their rich masters’ plantations and homes, causing many to flee to safety in neighbouring Cuba. With their arrival, coffee took on a veritable economic importance. The emigrants brought with them experience and knowledge of coffee cultivation. They saw that Cuba’s countryside was fertile, abundant in deep, humus-rich soils and well suited to coffee production. This was the beginning of coffee in Cuba. At the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, virgin, uncultivated lands were transformed into prodigious coffee plantations.

To read the aricle in full, see the August issue of BeanScene magazine.

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