16th
Jan
2016

Posted in Kafevend Blog

Wrapping up this week is the first in what shall be a series of articles looking at the history of coffee from countries in the New World- the Americas. First up today is a look at coffee's role in the island nation of Cuba.

Coffee first arrived on Cuba in the middle of the 18th century, brought there by a man named José Antonio Gelabert. The island nation had been identified as a prime candidate for the crop some decades before, and coffee was soon serving as a cash crop alongside the tobacco and sugar already grown there. Towards the end of the century in 1791, the coffee industry was boosted as a result of the Haitan Revolution as fleeing French colonists who resettled there passed on their expertise. Cuba's coffee industry continued to prosper and was sold on the world stage, but in the 20th century revolution was set to change that.

Coffee suffered greatly following the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Many plantation owners were exiled, their lands passing into the control of the government. A migration from rural to urban areas saw further expertise and labour lost. From a height in the 1950s of some 20,000 tonnes of coffee produced per year, it gradually fell and came to its lowest point almost ten years ago, producing barely one percent of what it had done five decades ago. Thankfully as Cuba has opened up to an international stage again in recent years, outside investment into its coffee industry has seen production climb back up to around 3,500 tonnes, though it obviously still has some way to go. The small amount of production means that coffee is rationed in Cuba itself, limited to just 2 ounces every two weeks- which is really quite a small amount. It isn't even pure coffee either, but blended with ground roasted peas in order to stretch it further.

Much of the coffee now grown in Cuba is done so in the Sierra Maestra, a mountain range found in the south eastern end of the island. Here, Cuba's tropical climate is tempered by the trade winds blowing in from the Atlantic, creating a brilliant environment for growing coffee. Alongside coffee, the mountains are famous as the place where many battles have been fought throughout the island's history. With the arrival of the conquering Spanish in the 16th century, the native Taino fell back to the Sierra Maestra to wage a guerilla war. It is interesting then that 400 years later, they were the staging post for Fidel Castro's own war against the regime of Fulgienco Batista in the 1950s when he returned from exile in Mexico.

We'll finish up now with something to try for yourself. Like almost every country, Cuba has its own particular spin on the espresso- the Café Cubano. Using finely ground and dark roasted coffee, demerara sugar is added to the grind before the shot is pulled- this results in a sweeter and creamier brew than if the sugar was added afterwards- be sure to ask for one at your local coffee shop!

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