Yay for my first #guestpost of 2018! This article was written by a new friend here in Puerto Rico. Carlos Ortiz is a US mainland-born writer who has family here on the Island of Enchantment. He told me he was touring the coffee plantations in the mountains learning about the history and what is going on now after the hurricanes swept through the region. I wanted to tour these areas myself but I haven’t been able to figure out how or where to go so when Carlos told me his plans I begged him to write an article for me. Below is what he wrote to teach us about the history of Puerto Rican Coffee and the Effects on the Crops After the Hurricane Season of 2017.
Puerto Rico has a rich history of producing some of the best coffee in the world with its perfect climate and high elevation reaching 4,390 feet. Coffee was introduced to Puerto Rico in late 1700’s by the Spaniards and at its peak in late 1800’s, coffee production reached over one million pounds of coffee annually. This made Puerto Rico one of the largest coffee producers in the world. In Utuado, the elevation is approximately 2,400-2,780 feet which is ideal for cultivating coffee.
In late 1900’s after the Spanish American war, the United States seized control of Puerto Rico from Spain and that was the beginning of the decline of coffee production, the emphasis was in producing sugar by the United States.
Coffee Farms were devastated by hurricanes, inflated prices, competition from other countries and a shortage of workers (coffee pickers). At this time Puerto Ricans were joining the military and leaving the island to the continental United States for better opportunities. By the 1950s, the coffee industry in Puerto Rico became worse. Puerto Ricans were consuming more coffee than it was producing, therefore, Puerto Rico started importing coffee beans from various countries and mixing them with the ones native to the island. Today two thirds of coffee beans are imported to Puerto Rico.
In 2011 the Coca-Cola Company purchased 85% of Puerto Rican coffee brands under the umbrella name of “Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters”. An example of the brands purchased by the Coca Cola Co. are Alto Grande, Cafe Crema, Cafe Rico, Yauco Selecto and Yaucano just to name a few. With this, we don’t know if we are purchasing true authentic Puerto Rican coffee.
For the past few years, there has been a resurgence of local farmers growing amazing Gourmet/Organic Puerto Rican coffee and with educated consumers and their quest for true authentic coffee, Puerto Rican coffee started making a comeback.
In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated 100 percent of the coffee in Puerto Rico. I recently visited a coffee farm in Jayuya after Hurricane Maria called “Hacienda San Pedro” which is a 360-acre farm. I spoke with a local farmer Jaime on a rainy Sunday afternoon on this year’s harvest after Hurricane Maria. He says right now they are trying to save the existing trees and plant new ones which typically takes approximately four years to bear fruit. Hacienda San Pedro was just weeks away from having the best season in years. Unfortunately for Hacienda San Pedro as well as Kurt Wagner, the Farmer/owner of Hacienda Pomarrosa, they are going to look at other countries to supply them with coffee beans for the 2018 season. In a recent interview, Kurt said that a coffee farmer needs to produce at least 500 pounds of coffee per season to make a decent living. In the meantime, if you want pure Puerto Rican coffee check the label before you purchase for “100% pure (hecho) Made in Puerto Rico.”
A huge gracias to Carlos and if you want to read more of what he’s writing about he has another post on the app Stellar so just search his name and he will pop up.