A Puerto Rican Coffee Surpasses The 90-Point Threshold: What Does This Mean For The Future Of Its Specialty Coffee Industry?

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A Puerto Rican Coffee

A Puerto Rican Coffee : Since the 1730s, Puerto Rico has nurtured a rich coffee cultivation tradition, ascending to the world’s seventh-largest coffee producer by the late 19th century. A Puerto Rican CoffeeDespite setbacks from colonial governance and catastrophic hurricanes leading to a significant downturn in coffee production, recent years have witnessed a promising revival. A focus on cultivating higher-quality coffee beans is leading this resurgence.

A landmark achievement came in August 2023 when a Puerto Rican coffee was awarded 92 points by Coffee Review, setting a new record for the island’s coffee on the platform.A Puerto Rican Coffee This accolade underscores the burgeoning quality and potential within Puerto Rico’s coffee sector, signaling a bright future ahead.

The question now is whether Puerto Rico can elevate its status in the specialty coffee arena. Conversations with Domenico Celli Borrero, the visionary behind Forgotten Forest, and Eduardo Trabada, co-founder of Baraka Coffee, provide valuable insights into the island’s capacity to emerge as a distinguished producer of specialty coffee, leveraging its historical roots and recent advancements.

Delving into Puerto Rico’s Rich Coffee Heritage: A Complex Tapestry

Like many coffee-producing regions, Puerto Rico’s entry into coffee cultivation began under Spanish colonial dominion in 1736, marking the crop as a local staple rather than a major export. This period saw the island consuming much of its coffee production locally. However, by the late 19th century, Puerto Rico experienced a significant surge in coffee production, reaching an apex with over 30 million pounds (approximately 13.6 million kilograms) of green coffee produced annually.

The trajectory of Puerto Rico’s coffee sector took a drastic turn in 1898 when the United States took control from Spain, leading to a decline in coffee cultivation as the focus shifted towards other cash crops like sugarcane and pineapple. This shift was further exacerbated in the mid-20th century as the U.S. government pushed for a modernized economic structure, often at the expense of sustainable and local agriculture practices.

Domenico,A Puerto Rican Coffee the founder of Forgotten Forest—a distinctive coffee farm nestled in Puerto Rico’s La Cordillera Central mountains—highlights the adverse impact of these policies on the island’s coffee sector. Despite efforts in the 1980s to revitalize coffee production, challenges such as economic instability and natural disasters, notably Hurricane Georges, severely impeded recovery.

This narrative underscores the complex history of Puerto Rico’s coffee industry, reflecting broader themes of colonial impact, economic transformation, and the resilience of local agriculture.

The Ongoing Recovery of the Coffee Sector

Domenico reveals the profound challenges faced by Puerto Rico’s coffee sector since the 1990s, with over 10,000 farmers transitioning away from coffee to more lucrative crops. The 2010s marked a significant downturn in production, leading to minimal exports. The situation worsened with Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, devastating up to 90% of the coffee plants. Hurricane Isaias in 2020 further battered the already fragile industry.

Currently, approximately 4,000 coffee farmers persist on the island, managing to produce around three million pounds of green coffee annually (1.4 million kg). Domenico’s perspective paints a grim picture of an industry teetering on the brink, heavily impacted by historical colonization and market constraints that suppress coffee prices and deter investment in quality coffee production.

The skepticism faced when promoting the harvesting of only ripe coffee cherries underscores the systemic challenges within the industry. Despite these hurdles, Puerto Rico’s coffee sector, characterized by resilience and determination, continues to strive towards recovery and sustainability.

The Current State of the Puerto Rican Coffee Industry

Today’s Puerto Rican coffee industry is predominantly characterized by arabica production, with minor contributions from robusta, excelsa, and liberica varieties. The island’s prime coffee-producing area, La Cordillera Central, offers optimal climate and diverse microclimates, yielding unique flavor profiles across various terroirs. Given the tropical climate, most local producers favor the washed processing method, as natural and honey processing poses challenges.

Despite being a significant coffee producer, Puerto Rico is also a substantial consumer, annually consuming around 30 million pounds of coffee. Yet, the island imports 23 to 28 million pounds of coffee mainly from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, a trend linked to the decline in local production over recent decades. The importation process is strictly regulated, with only the USDA and PRDA authorized to import green coffee, leading to a market predominantly controlled by large roasters like Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters, owned by Coca-Cola.

This monopoly makes market entry and growth challenging for smaller roasters. Additionally, the practice of blending Puerto Rican coffee with lower-quality imported beans dilutes the authenticity of local coffee offerings. Domenico highlights a common unawareness among Puerto Ricans, many of whom may have never experienced pure Puerto Rican coffee due to decreased local production and blending practices, despite taking pride in their coffee heritage.

The Dynamics of Puerto Rican Coffee: Imports Rise as Exports Wane

Eduardo, co-founder of Baraka Coffee, sheds light on the evolving landscape of Puerto Rico’s coffee industry. Presently, a mere 8% to 10% of coffee produced in Puerto Rico finds its way to international markets.A Puerto Rican Coffee In stark contrast, smaller, specialty roasters like Baraka manage to export as much as 40% of their product, showcasing the potential for global reach.

Large roasters in Puerto Rico often purchase semi-roasted coffees from the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture (PRDA), mixing these imports with local beans. Officially, this is to safeguard against pests and diseases, A Puerto Rican Coffeesuch as the coffee berry borer. However, some speculate this blend also serves to cut costs amidst declining local production.

The high demand for Puerto Rican specialty coffee often means it is exported in large quantities before local roasters have the chance to procure it. This scarcity, coupled with the high cost of specialty green coffee—surpassing US $25 per pound—compels many island-based coffee shops and roasters to seek alternatives from abroad. A Puerto Rican CoffeeThis trend of increasing imports against decreasing exports paints a complex picture of the challenges and opportunities within Puerto Rico’s coffee sector.

Revitalizing Puerto Rico’s Coffee Scene

A Puerto Rican CoffeeConfronting the challenges of a historically overlooked coffee sector, a wave of innovation and passion is sweeping across Puerto Rico’s younger coffee producers. Since the establishment of Baraka Coffee in 2014, Eduardo has observed a significant shift towards specialty coffee, noting a growing number of farmers embracing experimental processing techniques and diverse coffee varietals.

This enthusiasm extends beyond production to include a burgeoning interest among the younger Puerto Rican population in coffee roasting and education. A Puerto Rican CoffeeTraditional dark roasts are making room for specialty coffee in local shops, with businesses investing in advanced equipment and comprehensive barista training, reflecting a rising consumer demand for quality coffee experiences.

Domenico and Eduardo underscore the transformative impact of enhancing educational access throughout the coffee supply chain. Many local farmers, previously unfamiliar with cupping or tasting their own produce, A Puerto Rican Coffee are now engaging more deeply with the nuances of specialty coffee. This educational push is democratizing the coffee industry on the island, ensuring that advancements benefit all stakeholders and contribute to a vibrant, sustainable future.A Puerto Rican Coffee

By championing the essence of Puerto Rican culture through coffee, Eduardo and his peers are not just revitalizing an industry but fostering a sense of pride and community. This movement, termed ‘making patria,’ signifies more than a commercial endeavor; it’s a cultural revival rooted in the rich soil of Puerto Rico.

Amidst the challenges of a historically neglected coffee sector, a wave of innovation and zeal sweeps across Puerto Rico’s younger generation of coffee producers. Baraka Coffee, established in 2014, spearheads this transformation, witnessing a notable shift towards specialty coffee. Eduardo observes a rising trend among farmers, embracing experimental processing techniques and diverse coffee varieties.

This fervor transcends mere production, resonating with the younger Puerto Rican populace, fostering a burgeoning interest in coffee roasting and education. Traditional dark roasts yield ground to specialty coffee in local establishments, reflecting an evolving consumer palate and heightened demand for quality coffee experiences.

Domenico and Eduardo emphasize the pivotal role of education throughout the coffee supply chain. Previously unfamiliar with cupping or tasting their own harvests, local farmers now immerse themselves in the intricacies of specialty coffee. This educational drive democratizes the industry, ensuring inclusive progress towards a sustainable future.

By celebrating Puerto Rican culture through coffee, Eduardo and his peers not only rejuvenate an industry but also cultivate a profound sense of pride and community. This movement, known as ‘making patria,’ transcends commerce, embodying a cultural renaissance deeply rooted in Puerto Rico’s fertile soil.

How are small-scale coffee producers contributing to the advancement of Puerto Rico’s coffee industry?

Achieving a landmark 92-point rating on Coffee Review for a Puerto Rican coffee marks a significant milestone, underscoring the strides made within the sector.A Puerto Rican Coffee It’s noteworthy to recognize that Coffee Review employs a distinct scoring methodology compared to bodies like the Specialty Coffee Association and Coffee Quality Institute, offering a less formalized evaluation process.

For Domenico, the creator of the anaerobic natural “cordial cherry” processed coffee, this achievement signifies a pivotal moment for Forgotten Forest. Reflecting on the experience, he expresses, “After enduring years of neglect, one can easily lose sight of their potential. Yet, here in Puerto Rico, our heritage spans centuries, presenting ample opportunity to produce top-tier specialty coffee.”

Echoing this sentiment, Eduardo remarks, “[The 92-point rating from Coffee Review] was nothing short of astonishing. Typically, Puerto Rican coffees tend to score in the low to mid-80s, regardless of production techniques.”

The Significance of Processing in Coffee Production

Domenico underscores the pivotal role of post-harvest processing in elevating coffee quality, advocating for the exploration of advanced techniques to propel Puerto Rico’s coffee industry forward.

  1. Discovery of Typica 401: Initially an endeavor to enhance value in local coffee farming, Forgotten Forest’s journey began with the fortuitous encounter of the Typica 401 variety, heralding the potential for exceptional coffee. This strain, speculated to be a Typica mutation introduced to Puerto Rico in the 1700s, yields low but boasts a nuanced flavor profile
  2. Implementation and Expansion: Embracing this discovery, Forgotten Forest embarked on planting a Typica 401 microlot, rapidly scaling operations through extensive media coverage. Presently, the enterprise oversees a network of around 50 farms engaged in diverse agroforestry and organic practices
  3. Support Ecosystem: Partner farmers benefit from comprehensive support, including seedlings, organic inputs, technical assistance, financial literacy programs, and access to processing facilities. These initiatives empower them to access international markets, ensuring sustainable growth for the sector

Through innovative processing and collaborative support structures, the Puerto Rican coffee industry flourishes, driven by a commitment to quality and sustainability.

Navigating Challenges in Puerto Rico’s Coffee Industry

Despite promising prospects, Puerto Rico’s specialty coffee sector grapples with various obstacles.A Puerto Rican Coffee

  1. Labour Shortages and Wage Standards: The industry faces labor shortages compounded by US federal minimum wage requirements, escalating production costs
  2. Limited Global Promotion: Insufficient investment hampers the global promotion of Puerto Rican specialty coffee, hindering its market visibility
  3. Controversial Aid Programs: While organizations like TechnoServe extend support, aid initiatives remain contentious. Post-Hurricane Maria, seedling distributions prioritized high-yield, low-quality varieties for larger farms, stirring debate
  4. Declining Local Aid: Domenico notes a decline in local aid programs, impacting the availability of crucial farming resources like subsidies and fertilizers

Adapting strategies amidst these challenges is crucial for sustaining Puerto Rico’s coffee industry growth.

Advocating for Puerto Rico’s Specialty Coffee

With no official Specialty Coffee Association chapter in Puerto Rico, local producers and roasters are taking the initiative to raise awareness about the island’s specialty coffee scene.A Puerto Rican Coffee

  1. Radical TraceabilityA Puerto Rican Coffee: Domenico proposes “radical traceability” as a solution. Forgotten Forest developed a tracking platform enabling buyers to trace their coffees through the entire supply chain 2.A Puerto Rican Coffee
  2. Transparency Initiatives: Baraka Coffee also champions transparency, bridging the gap between consumers and producers and fostering a deeper connection

Producers are committed to preserving Puerto Rico’s coffee heritage, despite challenges. Coffee holds immense cultural significance, motivating the sector to persevere and enhance its practices.

Expanding specialty coffee production and exports will take time. Meanwhile, smallholder producers require increased support and guidance to thrive .A Puerto Rican Coffee