Cuba – land of cigars, rum and sugar, all wrapped up in a salsa beat.
That’s the cliché, and after a recent visit we can say, it's true! There is, however, also coffee production.
In fact Cuba used to be a coffee powerhouse, generating more money from the tasty bean than sugar in the 19th Century. The arrival of the Castro brothers and subsequent breakup of the USSR saw investment levels drop, leading to a slump in production.
We saw signs of a resurgence, perhaps partly thanks to improving U.S.-Cuban relations.
The Caribbean island is very much in fashion at the moment with tourist numbers surging. In café El Escorial in Havana’s Plaza Vieja, locals and foreigners sitting on the terrace were throwing back iced coffees this June as the sun beat down.
The beans in El Escorial come from the Escambray mountains near the city of Trinidad, and are roasted onsite. “We can produce coffee as good as Blue Mountain from Jamaica,” manager Lester Chapotin told us. “Cuba is coffee, rum and tobacco. It’s a trio.”
We decided to visit Escambray, a hiding place for anti-revolutionaries during the Cuban Revolution because of its inaccessible mix of deep valleys and mountain peaks.
Navigating the twisty roads in the spectacular countryside we eventually made it to the small coffee farm run by Omar Ramirez, an awarded-winning farmer.
Omar very kindly showed us his home and coffee trees, mainly Typica, and introduced us to his family. The Colombian rigor may be lacking when it comes to processing the beans, but the potential is certainly there, given the area’s good growing climate.
And the Cuban government is paying twice as much for coffee compared to last year, according to Omar, presumably an attempt to boost production. We left with a bag of coffee, home roasted in a pan. Certainly no Probats here!
Clutching a final coffee back in Havana we considered the prospects for Cuba’s coffee industry. With a nation of unquenchable coffee drinkers, excellent ‘terroirs’ and new export markets on the horizon, it appears to be very bright indeed!