Coffee From Central America And The Caribbean
Most countries in the Caribbean and Central America are known for white beaches, coconuts and turquoise waters. That many of these very countries also produce some of the finest coffees there are, is unknown to many a visitor. The tropical climate making these places popular amongst tourists from all over the world are ideal for the cultivation of coffee plants. Many of these small, often economically struggling countries see coffee as their opportunity to shift capital, investment and therefor development into their region as well as earning some tax-money. Today, a lot of countries in Central America and the Caribbean depend on growing and exporting coffee.
Costa Rica and its people
Not for no reason, Costa Rica is known as the Latin-American Switzerland. Compared to neighboring countries, Costa Rica began integrating sensible social politics and establishing a stable, integer democracy many decades before other countries in the area even started. The country located in between Nicaragua and Panama as well as the Caribbean and Pacific, is the most advanced country of its region and a lead example of how things could work in the whole region. More than one quarter of the countries areas are national parks almost 100% of Costa Ricas energy is generated with renewable energy technologies. Education is important and compared to almost all of the neighboring countries, Costa Rica is a safe country for tourists to travel to.
Cultivation of Coffee in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is known for many different decent to excellent Arabica varieties. Some unusual Arabica varieties like Caturra and Villa are almost exclusive to the country. The fairly progressively minded ministry of agriculture prohibited the cultivation of robusta plants because they are often considered to be of a lesser quality. The ministry is also demanding high quality of all of their coffee farmers and their self-declared long-term goal is environmental protection, sustainability and abandoning pesticides and artificial fertilizers in the near future.
Since Costa Rica is a country with many diverse environmental settings, there are hundreds of different coffee varieties growing all over the country. Especially popular amongst the farmers are the numerous slopes of Costa Ricas volcanos, being particularly fertile because of the volcanic ash in the ground. All over the mountains, there are small cooperatives and micro-farmers making their very own coffees. Today, coffee is the second most important export good after bananas and is mainly exported to the US and to Germany and other European countries.
Coffees of Costa Rica
It would not do justice to the many diverse coffees being farmed in Costa Rica, to try to generalize them. Even though single origin coffees from Costa Rica are fairly rare, sometimes you can find them overseas too, normally consisting of a single origin Arabica bean of the finest quality like the Caffe New York. Yet, a lot of Italian espresso blends do at least contain some coffee beans from the sunny country. They are especially known for their diversity and many different aromas. In Costa Rica everything from full-bodied beans to fruity aromas or particularly mild coffees and harmonic aftertaste, can be found.
Because of the prevailing humidity, most of the beans are being processed either wet of semi-dry. Harvesting season is between Juli and February and even though, Costa Rica is a progressive country for its continent, most of the harvesting is still done by hand, caused by the inaccessibility of the mountainous cultivation areas.
The Dominican Republic, known to most as a paradise for tourists, first got in touch with the cultivation of coffee plants during the 18th century when the colonial forces, occupying the country, introduced the plant to the republic. The Dominican Republic shares the Island of Hispaniola with its neighbor Haiti. For a long time, Haiti was a lot more successful farming coffee, at times being responsible for about half of the world wide production. After gaining independence from its occupant Spain, Haiti rapidly became poor and unorganized. The coffee industry suffered a big hit and soon, other countries like the Dominican Republic took over the markets by utilizing the industrialization of farming.
Coffee Cultivation In The Dominican Republic
The small island state, situated between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, provides perfect conditions for the cultivation of coffee plants with tropical climate and vast mountain ranges. While the north of the country is mainly targeted by tourists, the slopes of the many mountains and hills are the homes of numerous popular varieties of Arabica coffees, sometimes growing at elevations of up to 3000m.
For some time, the coffee industry was a lot smaller than the cultivation of sugar cane. Especially growing coffee in a large scale is something, that has not been around for very long in the Dominican Republic. The Mountains and the inaccessible slopes produced many different micro-farms, trying to cooperate by founding cooperatives and giving their best to produce the best quality coffee they can. National competitions between different farmers from different regions motivate everyone to produce top quality coffees and unusually many different varieties. The Dominican people are proud of the coffee they make and especially of what they achieved in the past two centuries. Exporting coffee is becoming more and more important for the economy of the country and drinking coffee becomes more and more popular along with it. After the U.S., the Dominican Republic is the second largest consumer of their own coffee beans.
The Coffees of the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is particularly known for the Arabica varieties „Ocoa“ and „Juncalito“. They are valued by coffee lovers for their balanced mildness and nutty chocolate aromas. It is important to mention, that most of the coffees, produced in this small republic originate from strict ecological and sustainable farming and are traded fairly, just as the famous Dominican chocolate!
„Strictly High Grown“ is the best coffee, El Salvador can offer. Even though, the coffees of El Salvador can not always keep up with the quality from Costa Rica or Guatemala, the small country is starting to catch up and to develop a reputation for itself. In a small area, El Salvador has about seven million inhabitants, making it the Country with the highest population density of Central America. It is a country that can offer a lot of diversity to its tourists. Paradise beaches, spectacular mountain ranges and waterfalls and a vivid culture make El Salvador a popular destination for some. When following the „Ruta de las Flores“, one will quickly notice that the cultivation of coffee is an important part of the countries culture and that the people take pride in their work - as they do in their coffee.
Coffee Cultivation in El Salvador
El Salvador has a lot of mountains. Since most areas of the country do not have the infrastructure necessary for the cultivation of coffee in an industrial scale, most of the beans are produced by small farmers and almost everything is done by hand. Because artificial fertilization as well as pesticides are pretty expensive compared to what farmers earn, a lot of the coffee from El Salvador is very natural. Until the end of the 19th century, El Salvador was the biggest producer of coffee in the world and the vitalizing drink became a part of the culture. Today, the cultivation of coffee is still perceived as an art rather than just a craft and the farmers take great care to achieve good quality results.
There is no robusta production in El Salvador. The different Arabica varieties grow on the slopes of the Apaneca and Liamatepec region, facing the pacific ocean. Farming of coffee in the centre of the country is becoming increasingly harder because of unpredictable changes in temperature. Most of the Arabica production consists of the varieties „Bourbon“, „Pacas“ and „Pacamara“. Because the mountain slopes of El Salvador are particularly steep, ground erosion in monocultures is a big problem here. In mixed farming situations with Banana plants, fruit trees and other plants, the erosion is stopped by the strong network of roots underneath the soil. At the same time these conditions can be favorable for a lot of coffees.
Coffees of El Salvador
The Coffees of El Salvador are described as harmonic and mild. Featuring aromas ranging from chocolate to citrus fruit and fruity sweetness and subtle acidity as well as a balanced, long-lasting aftertaste, these coffees are recognized all of the world today.
Guatemala is a country scarred by civil war. Although, the country’s situation has stabilized recently, it is still suffering from the aftermath of the riots. Prior to the civil war, Guatemala was known for exporting excellent coffee. Because of the destruction of many of the coffee farms, the country is struggling to return to the former results in terms of quality and amount of coffee being produced. Coffee is the most important part of the countries agriculture, with only tourism and clothing being more important industries.
Cultivation of Coffee in Guatemala
The good reputation of the coffee from Guatemala convinced the U.S. to participate in the reconstruction of the coffee industry and designate considerable amounts of money toward it. Today, most of the farmed Arabica varieties are the ones that sell best. New Arabica plants are grafted onto the roots of robusta plants that were destroyed in the war, effectively combining the robustness of the robusta plants with the good quality of the Arabica beans.
More than half of the country is covered by mountain ranges. Amongst them is the volcano „Tajumulco“, the tallest mountain of central America. The volcano offers perfect conditions for the cultivation of coffee by providing fertile volcanic soil, favorable climate and sufficient downfall.
Coffees of Guatemala
As always, the coffee from Guatemala can not be generalized. The Antigua Coffee is especially popular. A typical Guatemalan feature is a smokey spice amongst the coffee’s aromas and some prominent acidity. Guatemalan coffee is valued for intensity, a strong body and a strong but pleasant, long-lasting aftertaste. Depending on the region of origin, Guatemalan coffees can feature many different flavors, from chocolate over caramel to fruity sweets.
Hawaii is known for many things: Surfing, blue waters, beach and parties under coconut palms. The fact that Hawaii is the world’s only coffee producing area that belongs to a western country is unknown to most. In 1817, the coffee plant was introduced to the 50st state of the United States of America. Because the cultivation of coffee proved rather difficult at first due to plagues and vermin, the majority of coffee plantations was replaced with sugar cane plantations towards the end of the 19th century. Though the few farmers that were stubborn enough to stick with their coffee plants, would later notice, that Hawaii featured ideal conditions for the cultivation of their plants. When the world market price for coffee stabilized after second world war, the production of coffee started to flourish in Hawaii.
Cultivation of Coffee in Hawaii
Hawaii consists of many smaller islands of volcanic origin. With tropical climate conditions and so-called vector clouds, that reliably cover the sky every single afternoon, the archipelago provides a good setting for the production of coffee. Indeed, we know today, that Hawaii is the most successful and fertile coffee producing area in the whole world. Nowhere else, the demanding Arabica plants thrive as well as they do here. Responsible for this are fertile volcanic soils and the ideal climate conditions.
The most popular varieties of coffee plants cultivated in Hawaii are the Arabica varieties Caturra and Typica, although the best known coffee is probably the so-called „Kona-Coffee“. Only the coffee grown in a designated area measuring 30 by 3 meters on „Big Island“ is allowed to call itself Kona coffee. Kona beans are known for extraordinary size and quality unmatched by any other coffee in world and sell for up to one hundred euros per kilogram, not just making it one of the best but also one of the most expensive coffees in the world.
Most of the Hawaiian coffees were described as especially full-bodied and balanced. Unique aromas like cinnamon, milk-chocolate, caramel and dried fruit make the exclusive Kona coffee the most exiting variety of the archipelagos coffee spectrum. Real fans insist on preparing the Hawaiian coffees with the „Cold-Drip“ Method.
With tropical climate and varied, mountainous geography, Honduras hosts excellent conditions for the cultivation of coffee plants. Over two hundred years ago, the colonialists occupying the country noticed, that the highlands of Honduras produced high quality coffee and soon after, commercial production began.
Today, most of the coffee plantations are owned by large scale US-farmers. Most of the land is owned by a few big landowners, cultivating fair to low quality coffee plants in huge mono cultures. Heavy rainfalls often prevent dry processing of the coffee cherries and bad batches caused by humid climate are a common problem. The Honduran population does not profit from the coffee cultivation in their country. While many of the big landowners leave almost half of the country barren, a lot of native farmers and farming families don’t have enough land to support themselves. Even more of the Hondurans don’t own any land at all and have to survive as migrant workers. A couple of years ago, an initiative trying to redistribute the unused land failed due to the resistance of powerful US companies and big landowners.
Besides the countries poverty, some industrious Hondurans are founding more and more small initiatives, profiting from the modern age of direct fair trade and eco-farming. In Honduras, the direct fair trade is essential for small farmers, as it is the only real chance for them to survive and establish themselves next to the big players. The „Marcela“ region is known for good coffee, especially their „Strictly High Grown“ Arabica beans, growing at elevations of over 2000 meters. They are known for their pleasantly balanced acidity and fine spices like nut, fruit and wood.
Even though, coffee does not make up for a particularly big part of the Jamaican economy, the Jamaican coffees are known all around the world. Especially the „Jamaica Blue Mountain“ earned its reputation as a top quality coffee and is therefor traded for top prices too. Calculate an average of 120 Euros per kilogram if you are thinking about giving this special variety a go.
The history of Jamaican coffee goes back quite some time. In 1728, the first coffee plants made its way to Jamaica, brought over by its governor. One hundred years later, the Caribbean country already produced about 15.000 tons of raw coffee beans. Soon after, the production stagnated again, mainly because of deteriorating trade relationships with coffee importing countries and the progressing ground erosion of the mono-culture style coffee plantations. Today, Jamaicas main export goods are sugar and rum and tourism plays a vital role too. During the end of the 19th century, the Jamaicans tried to restore the good reputation of their coffee and various new laws eventually laid the foundation of Jamaicas current coffee ministry.
Cultivation of Coffee in Jamaica
The Jamaican mountains host perfect climate conditions for the cultivation of coffee plants. Compared to many other coffee producing countries, Jamaica also features a solid infrastructure and a ministry ensuring that the high demands in quality and sustainability are met by all of the farmers.
The best coffees of Jamaica are Arabica varieties growing in the central mountain regions of the country. The Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is the best known representative of the Jamaican mountain coffees. Just like with champagne, only coffee cultivated in a certain area, designated by the coffee ministry is allowed to call itself Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee. At 900 to 1500 meters of elevation, it is growing on the slopes of the so-called Blue Mountains. Their name is originating from the blueish fog, that covers the slopes of the Blue Mountains in the morning. The fog keeps the Arabica plants cool and ensures a very balanced climate. The coffee cherries take almost twice as long to ripe in this climate, sometimes up to ten months. These cherries grow to unusually large sizes and are hand-picked and sorted, rated by the coffee ministry and then exported, often to Japan. Jamaica Blue Mountain is exclusively roasted in Jamaica and is not packed into bags like normal coffees but rather in oak barrels.
The Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee features a particularly diverse and exciting taste. With a full body, pleasant sweetness and low acidity as well as numerous aromas, it is a real coffee experience.
Everyone known Cuban cigars. But Cuban coffee? At least in Europe, Cuban coffee is not exactly common. The journey of the coffee plant to Cuba is probably just as turbulent as the countries past. During the end of the 18th century, slave riots devastated large parts of the Caribbean. French colonialist farmers - together with a couple of coffee plants - had to flee their lands and eventually ended up in Cuba. They quickly found Cuba to be a perfectly suitable environment for the cultivation of coffee, featuring the right climate conditions as well as many small but mountainous islands. Until the Cuban revolution in the 1950s, Cuba was exporting large amounts of coffee, sugar cane and tobacco. Because of trade embargoes and a shift in global trade relations during the fall of the soviet union, the export of Cuban coffee took a big hit. Today, about three quarters of the Cuban coffee stays within the country.
Coffee Cultivation in Cuba
With extraordinarily fertile soil and its very own set of climate conditions in valley and mountain areas of the almost 4000, usually mountainous islands, Cuba offers excellent conditions for the cultivation of coffee plants. Most of the Cuban plantations consist of Arabica plants, robusta is rare. The temperate climate conditions on mountain slopes and diverse weather with sufficient shade produce some good quality beans. Unfortunately, not all of the Cuban coffee can be called high quality yet as many of the smaller farmers are still within their first years of producing coffee and have to experiment with their new trade. That the production of coffee is gaining more popularity again is mainly due to the support programs initiated by countries like Vietnam. The production is growing from year to year and in recent years, coffee has become a mayor player in Cuban economy again.
Most of the Cuban coffee found in Europe comes from micro-farmers and is part of many direct fair trade programs. Normal espresso blends normally don’t contain Cuban beans - so far. Because of the unique conditions of the Cuban coffee cultivation, some of the Cuban coffees feature unique aromas like wood or even tobacco. One of the coffees known for these aromas is called „Turquino“, a speciality coffee that is said to remind the drinker of Cuban cigars.
The Cuban hillside coffees features a full body as well as subtle, pleasant acidity. Because of osmosis during the long riping period, some of the Cuban coffees are very sweet, making for a intense experience in combination with the coffees unique aromas. The Cubans themselves prefer their coffee just like that: Sweet, super strong and intense and especially never to go! After all, coffee is still more of a luxury drink in Cuba and conciseness while enjoying it is of the essence here.
The first time, Nicaragua came in touch with coffee was in 1790. A couple of catholic missionaries brought a couple of saplings into the country and started cultivating coffee plants for their personal use. When the world-wide demand and price for coffee skyrocketed in the following century, the people of Nicaragua followed up and began farming enough coffee to start exporting. In 1870, coffee officially became the most important exporting good of the country. In 1980, the cultivation of coffee and many other plants came to a grinding halt when the civil war destroyed much of Nicaragua’s infrastructure and cost many peoples’ lives. During the war, the U.S. also prohibited the import of Nicaraguan coffee and many of the people behind Nicaragua’s former coffee industry had to seek refuge in other countries.
Cultivation of Coffee in Nicaragua
With subtropical climate conditions and the Isabelia mountains in the centre of the country, Nicaragua offers some ideal conditions for the cultivation of coffee plants. Today, about two thirds of the Nicaraguan coffee is grown within the Isabelias. Most of the cultivated of coffee consists of the popular „Bourbon“ and „Pacamara“ varieties of the Arabica coffee plants. Most of them are grown in small, mixed use plantations with sufficient shade in so-called „Fincas“, usually each owned by one family. Because many of the Fincas are located deep inside the jungle and mountains, most of the coffee cherries are still picked by hand and sometimes they make use of cows and donkey to get their coffee to the cities.
Only few of the Fincas are accessible by car. Because of the poverty, the poor living conditions and the remoteness of the Fincas in Nicaragua, many of the Nicaraguan coffees are involuntary eco-products. Fertilizers and pesticides are simply too expensive and too much effort to get to the plantations.
Yet, Nicaragua surprises many a coffee drinker with excellent coffees, sometimes even prevailing in international competitions. Finding the good quality coffees of Nicaragua may sometimes prove a little tricky though and the quality of the small Fincas produce can vary dramatically from year to year. Especially highlighted should be the so-called shadow coffees, grown in the shade of mixed use plantations inside the Isabelia mountains. Because of the perfect climate and the slower ripening in shady conditions, these coffees are considered especially delicate and aromatic. They are being described as pleasantly sweet with interesting notes of chocolate and caramel as well as a full body.
The first thing, most people think about when they hear Panama is probably the Panama Channel. With tropical climate, a remarkable biodiversity, its forest and white beaches, the small country attracts a lot of tourists.
Panama is not what most experts would describe as a classical coffee country. In the beginning of the 18th century, the valuable beans first arrived in Panama, brought here by settlers. Ever since, coffee plants were cultivated in the western areas of the country. Until recently though, coffee never really developed into a significant branch of Panama’s economy. Today, coffee cultivation is the fastest growing sector in Panama’s agriculture. Its most important export goods are crude oil, shrimps and sugar.
Cultivation of Coffee in Panama
Most of the coffees of Panama come from small scale plantations. Native families as well as surprisingly many Europeans that remained in Panama after being involved with the construction of the Panama Channel and enjoyed above average education, run the small Fincas that produce the countries’ coffee. The majority of them is located in the west of Panama, towards the west of the border to Costa Rica. There are no large-scale coffee operations in Panama.
The slopes of Panama’s mountains are covered in fertile volcanic soil and the most popular coffees are the Arabica varieties „Caturra“, „Typica“ and the recent addition „Geisha“. The coffee plants thrive in unusually diverse mixed use plantations with a lot of shade, more than enough water and many native animals, producing some fine coffees.
Panama is recently trying to become most known for the good quality of its products. Nationwide coffee competitions catch the attention of more and more international audience and many farmers take great care of the environmentally friendly, natural cultivation of their coffee. They profit from the Direct Fair Trade with their partners in Europe and the U.S., ensuring above (South American) average wages and working conditions for many of the country’s workers.
The Geisha coffee stole the show from the other varieties in Panama. Geisha coffee is the most expensive coffee in the world and really stirred up the asian market and started to make Panama more known for coffee. Geisha is a Arabica variety originating from Geisha mountain in Ethiopia. It is especially resilient against the feared coffee rust and is supposed to have a unique flavor.
Reaching prices of up to $1200 per kilo, Geisha surprises with a spectacular diversity of aromas and flavors while practically having no body. The sweetish and bloomy aromas are as highlighted as in no other coffee in the world. Most of the people who get to try this exclusive variety are surprised though. Geisha coffee is coffee but tastes completely different and only remotely reminds of coffee. Because of this unusual set of features, it became especially popular in tea-drinking countries like Japan and China.
The „normal“ coffees of Panama are soft, wholesome and balanced too. With minimal acidity and flowery aromas, the Panamanian coffee is going to continue to enthuse more and more international customers.
Puerto Rica is famous for its coffee production. About one hundred years ago, Pureto Rico was the largest coffee producer in the world. The beautiful island features breathtaking Caribbean beaches, a high standard of living and a unique culture, making tourism the most important branch of the Puerto Rican economy. Compared to the textile industry and the production of rum and sugar, coffee is losing more and more of its former economic importance.
This is mainly due to the fact that the world market prices for coffee dropped significantly during the last decades while other products became more valuable and therefore more attractive for the Puerto Rican industry. Puerto Rico is one of the American outer areas, resulting in the highest pricing levels and best education and health care in the whole Caribbean. The high wages make the labour intensive cultivation of coffee very expensive. Recently, the Puerto Rican coffee farmers are trying to reestablish the image of the world famous Puerto Rican coffee and thanks to U.S.-American subsidies and clever marketing campaigns, the coffee industry is growing again.
Cultivation of Coffee in Puerto Rico
In Puerto Rico the most poplar coffees are the Arabica varieties „Typica“, „Bourbon“ and „Catimor“. In small, usually family owned farms the plants grow in healthy and natural mixed plantations. Because the production of coffee is fairly expensive in Puerto Rico, most of the farmers here try to accommodate as many agriculturally usable plants in their mixed plantations as possible. This ensures a high efficiency of the plantations and provides good growing conditions for coffee.
But even in these more efficient plantations, the labour intensive cultivation of coffee plants is extremely expensive. Therefore, only the cultivation of speciality coffees of the finest quality pays off. Puerto Rico has a vivid coffee culture and a lot of tourism, resulting in a big coffee demand of its own. With its own production, Puerto Rico can only cover cover about one third of its coffee consumption. As a result, only tiny amounts of the Puerto Rican coffee actually reach other countries.
Puerto Rican Coffee
Coffee experts usually value Puerto Rican coffee. Some even describe it as the best coffee in the world! Generally, it is known for light acidity and a full, long-lasting body as well as little to no bitterness and unusual aromas like cedar, almond and cabbage.