Cuba is best known for its cigars, but the country does make coffee too. The climate in Cuba is ideal for making robust, sweet espressos, which are ideal when served with sugar to make an “espumita”, or for serving as a “café con leche” – the Latin version of a Latte.
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Popular Cuban Coffees
Perhaps the most popular brands of Cuban coffee are Bustelo and Pilon. These coffees are swet, caramel-type coffees that have a distinctive molasses like taste and texture. They are very strong, and they are best enjoyed with a dash of added sugar, or a lot of milk.
One popular way of enjoying coffee in Cuba is the Colada. A Colada is a form of espresso where four to six shots are served in a single cup. This drink is designed to be shared, and is often enjoyed on social occasions. The Café con Lege is also enjoyed socially, and is often served with Cuban bread and butter.
The History of Coffee in Cuba
Coffee was first introduced into Cuba in 1748 by Jose Antonio Gelabert, but when he brought the plant to the country he did not bring with him much knowledge of effective cultivation techniques. It was not until many years later, in 1791, that French colonists taught the Cubans how to cultivate coffee well. Armed with that knowledge, however, Cuba quickly became a major coffee grower, and exported a lot of their produce to Spain. By the late 1950s, it was exporting 20,000 metric tons of coffee per year.
The Modern Cuban Coffee Industry
The Cuban revolution in 1959 crippled the coffee industry and it took a long time to recover. For a long time, there were tensions between Cuba and the United States, and this made Cuban goods very difficult to get in the USA. This has just started to change, with travel, tourism and trade opening up over the last few months.
The Cuban domestic coffee industry is still quite limited. Each citizen is given an allowance of two ounces of coffee per 15 day period, and that coffee is quite low quality because it is not pure – other ingredients are added to make the beans go further. What little coffee Cuba does export, however, is very much nicer than the coffee that is consumed domestically.
Even the Cuban export coffees are primarily commodity coffees, however. The country has not yet become a major force in the specialty coffee world. It is a dependable commodity coffee source, and as the country rebuilds its export industries more and more growers are starting to pay attention to the options that are open to them in terms of increasing their income, but the training and the infrastructure is not yet there to support the highest end of the export industry.
However, it is likely that this will change over the next few years. Cuba is rapidly becoming an important part of the global economy, and the coffee tradition is a strong one in the country.