With its natural climate and geography, Cuba has the potential to produce some of the world’s best beans. Cuba started planting coffee in the mid 18th century. By 1820, Coffee was one of Cuba’s largest cash crops. At its peak coffee production just before the 1956 Cuban revolution, Cuba exported 20,000 tons of coffee. After the revolution the quality and quantity of Cuban coffee rapidly declined. While you still find Cuban cultivars among the most renowned coffees in the world, the overall quality of the crop below the most elite cultivars have noticeably dropped over the years.
The Cuban Revolution led to the nationalization of the entire coffee industry. The decline of Cuban Coffee can be traced to the replacement of skilled coffee farmers with an unskilled labor force and the migration of rural workers to the cities. Family farms with decades of experience were now placed under government control. Cuba has made many attempts to reverse the decline of its coffee industry, most notably in 1989 with a new initiation led by Fidel Castro’s brother Raul Castro. Even with more government attention and money, the current regime has not been able to reverse the coffee industries overall decline .
Currently Japan and France account for approximately 70% of Cuba’s Coffee exports. Most of the coffee beans grown in Cuba are the higher quality Arabica beans. The variant you will run into the most is the “Typica” variety. Known for its full body and rich fragrance, Cuban coffee beans are beloved in the coffee houses of Paris. However, it’s the Japanese that buy the best of the Cuban crop, and have done so for the past 20 years. Japan prizes the “Crystal Mountain” beans and strives to purchase only the largest of the beans. Crystal Mountain is known to be sweet and nutty, full bodied, with relatively low acidity. Its taste profile is similar to the finest island coffees and is a distant cousin of the Jamaican “Blue Mountain” coffee. Unlike other Island coffees, many describe the rich aroma of Cuban Coffee to be more sedentary, than volcanic. Due to its economic difficulties Japan has not been buying entire crops like it use to in the 1990s. With most Island Coffees supply problems are always a concern. Because of its political differences with the United States, finding “authentic” Cuban beans in the US is virtually impossible. You can Crystal Mountain coffee beans through some Canadian and European distributors. And of course, if you are ever in Japan, you can easily stop by a specialty shop for the finest Cuban Coffee beans.
Notable Cuban Specialty Beans:
Cubita Coffee – Heady Aroma and warm Body.
Serrano Coffee – Is an Arabica cultivar. Serrano coffee is known for its dark and intense flavor with a hint of caramel notes. When you add a bit of milk the caramel notes are intensified without being overpowering. Like all Cuban coffee its described to be very smooth.
Estrella del Norte – Estrella del Norte beans are grown above 4,000 feet in the shady jungles of the Sierra Maestra Mountains. The beans have a rich, chocolate, nutty flavor with a heavy body and smooth aftertaste.
FLAVOR: Full body with smoky notes
ROASTS: Great as a Blending Bean. Medium-High to High