Puerto Rico has a long history of coffee production, and we would love to offer this coffee as it is “grown in the USA”, a distinction that groups it only with Hawaiian coffee, and some experiments in California. We offered the famed Yauco Selecto coffee back in the day.
But for us, Puerto Rico has been a tough coffee origin to offer in recent years. With increased awareness about the effect of low altitude production on coffee, the need for a lot of human labor to hand pick and sort coffee to create truly great lots, and changing weather patterns…well, everything is stacked against Puerto Rico. Some of the issues might be addressed, but come with costs. Others are global problems, such as a warming climate and its impact on tropical zones (see the scenario maps for Puerto Rico’s coffee future below).
We currently have no coffee from Puerto Rico to offer, since none has passed muster on the cupping table. Sadly we can’t see this changing in the near future, but since we have offered Puerto Rico coffee in the past, we want to share our experience with it.
Puerto Rico has been a tough coffee origin in recent years. With increased awareness about the effect of low altitude production on coffee, the need for a lot of human labor to hand pick and sort coffee to create truly great lots, and changing weather patterns…well, everything is stacked against Puerto Rico. They don’t have the access to labor, they don’t have the altitude compared to other coffee lands, the picking and preparation have been poor, and all of this shows in the cup.
When it is good, to describe the Puerto Rican coffee flavor it is best to think about the general term “island profile.” These coffees, which include Jamaica as an example have a soft cup, not acidic, balanced, and mild. They are approachable coffees and all happen to be quite expensive.
When it is not good, Puerto Rican coffee is usually impacted by premature aging from humid storage conditions. But the issues could stem to the selection or post harvest processing too: At times, the selection of coffee cherry can be quite poor due to harvest conditions and labor availability. To produce clean and defect-free coffee flavors in the cup, one of the requirements is selection of ripe coffee cherry only. Green unripe cherries make for astringent and harsh flavors in the cup, while over-ripe produce fermented wine-to-vinegar notes.
It’s good to be aware of the fact that higher priced coffees don’t necessarily have a “better” cup, but rather that price is determined by the cost of production, and limited availability. Remember that this is a coffee grown in the U.S. so production costs are higher. We would love to support coffee production in PR because it is from the US, but can’t do it solely because of that factor, and particularly because we find it does not pass our minimum expectations on the cupping table.
Puerto Rico has a well-developed coffee tradition. The history of coffee is closely tied to the history of this Caribbean island. First brought in 1736, the Spanish immigrants who settled on the island relegated coffee to a secondary role for the most part of the 18th century. At the time, the fertile valleys were their main concern was sugar cane.
During the early part of the 19th century, events in Europe forced a migration of residents from the Mediterranean island of Corsica. They arrived to Puerto Rico and were quickly told that if they wanted to farm, they would have to go to the highlands because all the valleys were taken by the Spanish. They settled in the Southwestern Mountains of the island, mostly around a town called Yauco.
Their work and determination was rewarded when they entertained the idea of growing coffee in these mountains. By the 1860s they dominated the coffee industry on the island. Two devastating hurricanes hit Puerto Rico during 1898. The hurricanes destroyed the coffee industry. Farmers needed to wait two years to begin seeing the crop return to its normal level. During this time, it was evident that the United States was interested in Puerto Rico (along with Cuba and the Philippines) for its sugar production.
Tariffs gave coffee in Puerto Rico a severe blow as European nations no longer allowed Puerto Rican coffee to come in as a product. At the same time, Brazil was providing the bulk of the coffee for the United States. The result was an increasingly diminished role of coffee on the island.