Even Adulterated Coffee in Short Supply for Cubans

Premium, organic coffee goes for export

Nury’s days of going without her morning shot could end if Holguín’s Reynerio Almaguer Paz coffee roaster lives up to its managers’ promise.

By Miguel Garcia (14ymedio)  

HAVANA TIMES – A stain on the wall reminds Nury that not only does rationed coffee taste worse and worse but it can be dangerous too. “They’ve added so many things to it that it clogged* the coffee pot while it was brewing. Luckily, I was in another room at the time,” she says. Despite the risks, this 57-year-old Holguín resident misses the coffee, which local stores have not been able to carry for months.

Nury’s days of going without her morning shot could end if Holguín’s Reynerio Almaguer Paz coffee roaster lives up to its managers’ promise. This week, company director Rider Juan Sanchez Hijuelos told state media that the factory was able to resume production after it received a delivery of raw materials. He added that its ¡Hola!-brand coffee mixed with peas would not only be in Holguín by October 25 but in Granma and Las Tunas as well.

“And what about the coffee we were supposed to get months ago? Why haven’t we gotten any since June?” asks Nury. Sanchez Hijuelos has made it clear that, to his regret, back orders will not be filled because the shortage of raw materials does not allow it. Residents in the east of the country, where the coffee shortage is most acute, have had to get it on the illicit market or make do with infusions of one sort or another.

“Orange leaves, lemongrass, wild oregano — for months we’ve been brewing everything except coffee,” says Nury. Those with family members overseas have rediscovered the joys of coffee unadulterated by roasted peas, a common additive on the island. “The other day I was at a neighbor’s house and she offered me a little cup of La Llave [from the United States]. I almost licked the bottom of the cup because I had forgotten just how good coffee could taste,” says the Holguin native.

Difficulty importing peas has been one of the reasons production of ¡Hola! has ground to a halt. Raquel Vingut Ceballos, director of the Coffee Roasting and Distributing Company in Ciego de Ávila province, urges patience. She reports that five tons of peas have already been delivered, which will allow the company to meet its October quota.

“And what about the coffee we were supposed to get months ago? Why haven’t we gotten any since June?” asks Nury. (14ymedio)

In response to the crisis, Vingut Ceballos has been issued coffee from the strategic state reserve, a stockpile that is supposed to be used only in an emergency situation. A mixture of 50% coffee and 50% peas, it is one rationed item that Cubans may purchase with their ration books. The coffee harvest will begin in November but few have little hope that it will alleviate the current situation considering that some portion of it will end up on the international market.

Meanwhile, thousands of kilometers from Nury’s house and the Vingut Ceballos offices, Lavazza — one of the most prestigious coffee brands in the world — was rolling out its new premium organic coffee, Reserva de Tierra Cuba. A blend of coffee beans from different regions, it is being marketed to the hospitality industry.

“With Cuban music playing in the background, Lavazza’s best baristas brew the product in full view of attendees [at a company event in Madrid on October 10]. The flavor and aroma of the Island’s coffee captivates the restaurateurs, distributors, and food lovers. And no wonder since it offers a contemporary, sustainable, quality coffee experience that perfectly embodies our values of social and environmental responsibility,” the company press release boasts.

The statement details the product’s origins when, back in 2018, “the Lavazza group launched a sustainable development program” in collaboration with several institutions and local authorities to revive coffee cultivation in the country and restore the quality of Cuban green coffee. The company acknowledges that Cuban coffee growing has been drastically curtailed but attributes the drop in production not to the exodus of producers, government credit defaults or the lack of investment but to an outbreak of rust disease.

“The final result is La Reserva De ¡Tierra! Cuba, made from beans grown by 170 farmers in the provinces of Santiago and Granma.” To further tease the palate, the statement notes that it is made up of 65% specially washed Arabica Turquino Special beans, 25% washed Robusta and 10% fermented Robusta, which the company claims makes the final product “sweeter and more elegant.”

The resulting cup has a “velvety body with notes of almond, milk chocolate and the sweet aftertaste of wine,” nothing like dry, grassy flavor and grainy texture of the product that rationing has forced on the island’s consumers.

Lavazza claims that its collaboration with Cuba “protects farmers, promotes the role of women and young people, and helps the environment in terms of forest conservation and the exchange of good agricultural practices.” It adds it has provided specialized training to farmers and local producers “in the implementation of a controlled fermentation process during part of the Robusta harvest.”

Meanwhile, back on the island, many people are counting the days until ¡Hola! is back on the shelves. When brewing it, though, they’d better keep a safe distance from the coffee pot.

*Translator’s note: “Additives” used to stretch the coffee often clog the stove-top espresso pots, which sometimes explode in Cuban kitchens. 

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times

2 thoughts on “Even Adulterated Coffee in Short Supply for Cubans

  • Las Terrazas in the Province of Artemisa, had lots of coffee producers. Now there are none! But if a few entrepreneurs were encouraged?

  • First, there are no Cuban-grown coffees that are considered among the best in the world. Cuban coffee has historically been good coffee but not among the top ten coffees commercially sold around the world. Second, along with sugar production, there is no other reason that coffee could not be grown en masse in Cuba other than government incompetence. Given the hot days and cool nights of the coffee growing region of the Sierra Maestra mountains in Eastern Cuba, coffee should be a cash crop like no other in Cuba. But, the Castro dictatorship is inefficient and corrupt. As a result, Cuba must rely upon coffee imports to meet national consumption needs.

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