27th
Jun
2014

Posted in Kafevend Blog

We've recently paid frequent attention to the wealth of premium coffee coming out of Latin America. Today's blog continues the theme with a look at Cuba whose coffee exports have had a chequered past. Nevertheless, its re-emergence into the global export market since the fall of the Soviet Union has brought us the taste of Cuban coffee once more. Additionally there is the nation's signature coffee beverage, Café Cubano, and it is to this drink that we will turn first.

Despite the plethora of espresso drinks available to try at any one coffee shop, the Café Cubano isn't one you'll typically find in the UK. It is however very popular wherever there's a large expat Cuban community, meaning that outside of Cuba itself Florida is the next best place to find yourself this short and sweet espresso drink. Demerara sugar is added to dark roasted coffee beans before the shot is pulled, creating a sweeter drink than if the sugar were to be added afterwards. If you're amongst those who find they need to add two or three sachets of demerara to their coffee to make it more palatable, the Café Cubano is certainly worth a try. An experienced barista should be able to create one for you.

The Café Cubano became popular once the first espresso machines had been imported from Italy, but coffee's history on the island goes back much further. Europeans, quick to spot the potential for economic gain, started to bring coffee plants to the islands of the Caribbean around the 1720s. The first coffee seedlings arrived in Cuba in the middle of the eighteenth century, but widespread cultivation didn't begin there until late in the century when slaves in the country we now call Haiti revolted. Many of the French colonists who had owned coffee plantations in Haiti resettled in Cuba and used their expertise to build a coffee industry there instead. It was a good move on their part, the mountain regions proving to be optimum growing territory; the tradewinds blowing in from the Caribbean counteract the tropical climate meaning that the beans ripen slowly, developing greater depth of flavour as a consequence.

Coffee became a booming business, alongside sugar and honey. Abundant exports continued until, by the 1940s, Cuba was the largest exporter of coffee in the world. Then came the Cuban revolution of 1959; plantations owners were exiled, farms nationalised and the free market economy abandoned in favour of communist principles. The coffee industry shrunk massively as a result and exports became restricted to the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc nations. Cubans are still faced with perpetual coffee shortages to this day. Coffee is frequently rationed and tends to have other ingredients added to it, such as crushed roasted peas, in order to bulk it out.

Nevertheless, the potential to grow high quality coffee beans remains and there are plenty who are willing to try their hardest to help Cuba regain its status in the coffee world. Economic reforms have opened the way to foreign investment and a number of companies have already taken advantage of the opportunities inherent in the fertile mountain coffee farms. One such company is Alma de Cuba, formed by former Conservative MP, Philip Oppenheim. It was during a hike through Cuba's mountains that he discovered the best coffee he'd ever tasted. Entrepreneurial spirit coming to the fore, he became convinced that he could help Cuban farmers with production techniques and bring their delicious beans to an appreciative global audience. Alma de Cuba (Soul of Cuba) opened its internet sales platform last November with great success.

For those who'd like the total Cuban experience, Oppenheim also owns Cubana, the Cuban bar and restaurant that he opened in Waterloo when his parliamentary stint drew to a close, which has now been joined by a second venue in Smithfield. The success of such ventures is undoubtedly helping to promote the fine taste of Cuban coffee, but just as important, is helping to lay the foundations for greater economic security for the coffee growing communities themselves.

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