Puerto Rico is famous for it’s coffee. The secret is in the coffee bean itself (called “cherry”). The island’s dominant bean is the arabica; it has a more delicate and lower-yielding cherry and produces half the caffeine of the prolific robusta bean found on the mega-plantations of Central and South America. The arabica cherry, in the proper conditions, is known as the richest and most flavorful among the coffee varieties. Cloud cover, tree shade, soil composition, and the altitude at which the coffee bushes are grown — higher than 3,000 feet above sea level — combine to produce a slow-ripening bean that stays on the bush at least two months longer than at lower elevations. This lengthy ripening process acts as a sort of “pre-brew,” imbuing the bean with a rich flavor and a slightly sweet aftertaste.
Puerto Rican coffee has a long and interesting history and is of an exceedingly high quality. At its’ peak, Puerto Rican coffee was consumed in the Vatican and in the royal and imperial courts of Europe and Japan, and considered a premier coffee. In the annals of Puerto Rican history, 1896 stands out as a vintage year for the island’s coffee crop. In that year, according to Luis Pumarada O’Neill’s La Industria Cafetalera de Puerto Rico: 1736-1969, the industry reached the pinnacle of its success, ranking as the world’s sixth-largest coffee exporter and shipping a record 579,613 quintales of locally grown beans to sophisticated coffee drinkers throughout Europe. There were more than 875 coffee estates on the island dedicated to the delicate process of elaborating quality coffee.
As Sugar Production grew in the early 20th century under American influence, fields originally used for coffee production were converted to sugar cane, and production dropped. The world forgot about Puerto Rican coffee and how great it was…. However, in the last 10 years, there has been a resurgence of Puerto Rican coffee production and appreciation.
Throughout Puerto Rico look for local brands: Yauco Selecto, Yaucono, Cafe Rico, Crema, Adjuntas, Coqui, and Alto Grande Super Premium. The Café Yauco Selecto brand is among the best known premium blends the island has to offer. Another brand, Alto Grande, is of super-premium quality; that is, it’s the highest quality coffee you can buy. Alto Grande is one of only one three coffees to carry this label, besides Blue Mountain and Kona.
Yauco Selecto is produced at elevations above 3,000 feet in the southwestern mountains from trees of the admired bourbon variety and other traditional local Puerto Rican cultivars. At best it is a superb example of the Caribbean taste, soft yet powerful, with a fragrant, fruity sweetness.
Alto Grande Super Premium Coffee is exported to the world from Puerto Rico in the limited quantities; either directly or – in case of Japanese market which gets 50% of the annual crop– via one of the most prestigious coffee traders the Gevalia Kaffe company.
“Our whole process takes eight days, from the cherry bean to the finished product, and I believe there’s no other company in the world that takes so long,” said Garrido, 44, whose grandfather started the business around 70 years ago. “But it’s not because we’re lazy. It’s a very time-consuming tradition that has resulted in consistent high quality. We do not use color sorters. After the coffee’s been processed, we keep it in warehouses which are humidity- and temperature-controlled, with zero illumination.”
In 1993, master taster Willy Pettersson of Sweden’s Gavalia Kaffe said his visit to Alto Grande “revealed not only exemplary high-grown coffee from small carefully tended farms, but one of the best contemporary processing facilities” he had ever encountered during his world search for fine beans.
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This article was written by Captain Tim and the Crew of Caribbean Trading Company.
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