Cuba relies on specialty coffee to boost the industry

Cuba relies on specialty coffee to boost the industry


In the lush, fertile mountains of Cuba, farmer Jesus Chaviano dreams of adding his Arabica beans to a list of specialty coffees the country hopes will boost an industry in decline.

It’s harvest time on Chaviano’s eight-hectare plantation in the central Guamuaya Mountains, and its 42,000 coffee plants are bursting with ripe reddish fruit under the shade of avocado and banana trees.

At an altitude of 800 meters, there are ideal conditions for the eight types of high-quality Arabica coffee beans that he planted “hand-made”.

While Cuba has been growing coffee for nearly 300 years, it has never produced the specialty coffees carefully cultivated in a specific terroir that are loved around the world for their unique flavor profiles.

In the last two decades, the appeal of high-end coffee has increased significantly, and with it its price in the international market.

“I think that has to be the route we’re taking: looking for specialty coffees. Not big batches… small batches that we’re good at selling,” said Chaviano, 46.

As the island embraces the appeal of high-end coffee, December’s first five specialty coffees will be showcased at the first-ever Cuba Cafe Producers’ Fair, taking place in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

The name and origin of the selected coffees are kept secret.

“We are taking the first concrete steps to add value to this coffee,” said Ramon Ramos, scientific director of Cuba’s National Institute for Agroforestry Research. He added that “with the same production, the same yield, it sells at a much higher price”.

-‘It’s the future’-

According to Ramos, the price of 1,000 kilograms of commercial coffee varies between $4,000 and $5,000. A kilogram of specialty coffee can now be sold for “up to $10,000.”

According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), a coffee must score above 80 points on a 100-point scale to meet the required standard, after being assessed by a “certified coffee taster.”

The final grade influences the price at which it is sold.

“This is the future,” says Chaviano, who built his house in the middle of his plantation, in the style of the French colonists who fled Haiti in the 18th century and brought coffee-growing culture to Cuba.

In 1960, Cuba produced more than 60,000 tons of coffee. Last year that figure was just 11,500 tons, less than half of local consumption.

According to official figures, only 1,365 tons were exported.

Experts say climate change – which is drastically reducing coffee-growing areas around the world – is partly to blame for the drop in production.

In Cuba, the emigration of plantation workers is also having an impact on industry.

“Why did the country used to produce a lot of coffee, but now it can’t produce coffee?” asked Chaviano.

“My focus is on getting it right and showing that it’s possible to make coffee, and quality coffee at that,” but “you have to put your heart into it,” he added.

In 2021, its yield was one ton of coffee per hectare, four times the national average.

– ‘We can do it’-

About 25 kilometers from his farm, researchers at the Jibacoa Agroforestry Research Station were tasked with training growers and providing technology to improve their yields.

Director Ciro Sanchez said the goal is to produce 30,000 tons of coffee by 2030.

To achieve this, some plantations in climate-affected areas will be restored by planting more resilient coffee varieties. Sanchez also wants to prioritize growing “high-quality Arabica” in mountainous areas.

Chaviano is optimistic that one day his coffee will be one of the celebrated specialty brands exported from Cuba.

“We can do this. We just have to work!” he said.

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