Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla last week announced a $4.2 million investment plan to reinvigorate PR’s coffee industry by improving yields and adding jobs.
García Padilla said the plan is to develop 16,000 acres of new coffee cropland, while adding 6,000 new jobs. Money will also go toward fertilizer incentives for existing coffee growers, as well as advisory services from PR’s Department of Agriculture.
The Governor made the announcement as part of the government’s “Alejandro With the People” program, in which the Governor and First Lady tour Puerto Rican agricultural towns to help promote farm industry growth. In fact, a lack of farm workers seems to be partly responsible for PR’s slumping coffee industry, which doesn’t even produce enough to meet domestic demand. PR’s Caribbean Business has more on the troubled coffee industry:
Puerto Rico consumes some 300,000 quintals of coffee annually, while its growers produce only 80,000 quintals. The rest is imported from producers including the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
Coffee production in Puerto Rico has hit the lowest level ever in the island’s history, leaving farmers and government officials worried about how to revive a once burgeoning industry.
The reasons behind the recent production drop are many, and farmers worry that few solutions will be found.
One of the main problems is a severe shortage of coffee pickers. An estimated 35 percent of the crop is lost every year because there is no one to pick it, leading to millions of dollars in lost revenue
The Agriculture Department has urged the unemployed or underemployed, including welfare program beneficiaries, to pitch in to help harvest the island’s coffee crop. Low-income beneficiaries of the Nutritional Assistance Program and Mi Salud are not be penalized for working under an executive order issued during the previous administration.
Coffee trees produce their best beans when grown at high altitudes in a tropical climate where there is rich soil. Such conditions are found around the world in locations along the Equatorial zone, between latitudes 25 degrees North and 30 degrees South.
Besides location, other factors affect the quality and flavor of coffee. These include the variety of the plant, the chemistry of the soil in which it is grown, the weather, particularly the amount of rainfall and sunshine, and the precise altitude at which the coffee grows. Such variables -- combined with the way the cherries are processed after being picked -- contribute to the distinctions between coffees from countries, growing regions and plantations worldwide. The combination of factors is so complex, that even from a single plantation one finds variation in quality and taste.
Coffee is grown in more than 50 countries around the world. Here are just a few:
Though coffee farms are found throughout the Hawaiian islands, it is Kona coffee, from the large island of Hawaii, that is best known and always in high demand. Nature provides just the right environment for the coffee trees growing on the slopes of the active Mauna Loa volcano. Young trees are planted in black, volcanic soil so new that it often seems the farmers are planting their seedlings in rock instead of soil. Afternoon shade from tropical clouds forms a natural canopy over the trees to protect them from intense sun. Frequent island showers keep the plants nourished with just the right amount of rain. Kona coffee is carefully processed and produces a deliciously rich, aromatic cup of medium body.
Though coffee in Mexico primarily comes from small coffee farms rather than large plantations, coffee farmers number over 100,000 and Mexico ranks as one of the largest coffee producing countries in the world. Most of the farms are located in the south of the country, primarily in the states of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas. A cup of Mexican coffee can offer a wonderful aroma and a depth of flavor, often with a pronounced sharpness. It is an excellent bean for dark roasts and is often used in blends. A Mexican coffee designated Altura means that it was high grown.
Coffee was brought to Puerto Rico from Martinique in 1736 and by the late 19th century Puerto Rico was the 6th leading exporter of coffee in the world. But the coffee industry in Puerto Rico did not maintain its world standing. Major hurricanes and competition from other coffee producing countries forced the island to seek other means for economic survival. Today, however, the coffee industry is being revived and Puerto Rico is again producing fine coffees. Coffees grown there are carefully cultivated from quality arabica varieties and produced to the highest standards. There are two major growing regions on the Caribbean island: Grand Lares in the south central and Yauco Selecto in the southwest. Excellent coffees come from both regions, noted for their balanced body and acidity and fruity aroma.
Guatemala is a country working hard to bring higher visibility and uniform quality to a well-established coffee industry. Not always as well-known as some of its Central and South American neighbors, Guatemala's coffees have a distinctive taste quality favored by many for its rich flavor. There are three main growing regions -- Antigua, Coban and Heuhuetanango -- and in each, one finds a breath-takingly rugged landscape and rich volcanic soil. Microclimates strongly influence the quality and flavor of the Strictly Hard Beans grown at altitudes 4500' or higher. In the cup, a Guatemalan is a medium-to-full bodied coffee, often with a depth and complexity of taste that is almost spicy or chocolatey to the tongue.
A Central American coffee-growing country with a reputation for fine coffee, Costa Rica produces only wet processed arabicas. With its medium body and sharp acidity, cuppers often describe a Costa Rican coffee as having 'perfect balance.' Coffee is grown on predominantly small farms, or fincas. After being harvested, the cherries are immediately taken to state-of-the-art processing facilities, known as beneficios, where wet method processing begins. In Costa Rica, careful attention to quality processing and conscientious growing methods are consistent with a fine quality coffee.
Colombia, the world's best-known producer of coffee, ranks second worldwide in yearly production. Colombia takes this position seriously and works very hard to maintain a high standard of excellence. The result is consistently good coffee grown carefully and with great pride on thousands of small family coffee farms across the country. An extremely rugged landscape provides the perfect natural environment for the growth of the coffee. But a terrain so rugged has also made it historically difficult to transport the harvested coffee beans to production and shipment centers. Even today, this is often done by mule or Jeep. Such care and attention results in consistently good, mild coffees, with a well-balanced acidity. Colombian Supremo, the highest grade, has a delicate, aromatic sweetness while Excelso Grade might be softer and slightly more acidic.
Brazil is unquestionably the biggest coffee producing country in the world. With a seemingly endless expanses available for its production, coffee plantations in Brazil often cover immense areas of land, need hundreds of people to manage and operate them, and produce huge quantities of coffee. A 'Brazilian' coffee is a 'mild' and the two terms are often used interchangeably. Both arabica and robusta are grown, though in different coffee growing regions. The ambient climate, soil quality and altitude largely determine which variety will grow best in which region. A fine cup of Brazilian is a clear, sweet, medium-bodied, low-acid coffee.
Coffee legend tells of the discovery of the first coffee trees in Ethiopia. Indeed, it is not hard to believe that coffee originated in a land where wild coffee tree forests are still the primary source of harvested coffee. Generally wet processed, coffee from Ethiopia comes from one of three main growing regions -- Sidamo, Harer or Kaffa -- and often bears one of those names. In the cup, an Ethiopian coffee tends to offer a remarkable and bold statement. It is full flavored, a bit down-to-earth and full bodied.
Kenyan coffee is well-known and well-liked, both in both the United States and Europe. Kenyan beans produce a singular cup with a sharp, fruity acidity, combined with full body and rich fragrance. Coffee is grown on the foothills of Mount Kenya, often by small farmers. Kenyan producers place an emphasis on quality and as a result, processing and drying procedures are carefully controlled and monitored. Kenya has its own unique grading system. Kenyan AA is the largest bean in a 10-size grading system and AA+ means that it was estate grown.
On the west coast of Africa, the Ivory Coast is one of the world's largest producers of robusta coffee. Coffees from the Ivory Coast are strongly aromatic with a light body and acidity. They are ideally suited for a darker roast and are therefore, often used in espresso blends.
In the country where coffee was first commercially cultivated, one still finds coffee growing in the age-old, century-proven manner. Within the small, terraced gardens of family farms, one can almost always find a few coffee trees. Water is scarce in this arid land and coffee beans grown here tend to be smaller, and more irregular in size and shape. Lack of water also means that the coffee cherries will be dry processed after harvest. The result is that one finds in Yemeni coffee a distinctive taste that is deep, rich and like no other.
In ancient times, when coffee was shipped from the famous Yemeni port of Mocha to destinations all over the world, the word 'Mocha' became synonymous with Arabian coffee. The Dutch combined Arabian coffee with coffee grown on the island of Java, thus making popular the first coffee blend—one that is still well-known today—Mocha Java.
Indonesia, one of the world's largest countries, is composed of thousands of islands. Several of the larger islands -- Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi (or Celebes as it was called) -- are known throughout the world for the fine, quality coffees which grow there. The coffee plant was introduced to Indonesia by Dutch colonists in the 17th century and soon led the world's production. Today, small coffee farms of 1-2 acres predominate and most of it is dry processed. Indonesian coffees are noted for a pronounced rich, full body and mild acidity.
Indonesia is also known for its fine aged coffees. Traditionally, these were coffees held over a period of time by farmers who wanted to sell them at higher prices. Warehousing, it was found, gently aged the coffee in Indonesia's warm, damp climate and resulted in an coffee prized for even deeper body and less acidity. It is a process which cannot been matched by technology.
We want you to enjoy our coffee when it's at its finest. Just like other fresh produce, coffee begins to deteriorate in quality about 14 days after roasting, even under ideal conditions. To ensure you receive your coffee beans in the best condition, we store and ship our coffee in airtight, recyclable/reusable gas valve bags, which help the coffee retain its freshness and guard from the effects of temperature, light, and air.
Learn more about proper coffee storage.
Our beans are roasted in small batches, ensuring each roast comes out at the peak of perfection and highlights the coffee's unique characteristics. We recommend buying our beans in small quantities (1/2lb or 1lb), so that you buy fresher beans more regularly and enjoy your coffee at its most excellent. All of Bittersweet Cafe's coffee is cooled and bagged in a reusable gas valve bag, which we encourage you to reuse. You receive a discount every time you bring your bag back!
No one can say a single roast is necessarily better than another. Preferences in roast vary widely, influenced by culture (East-Coasters often prefer lighter roasts, West-Coasters darker), brewing style (coffee used in drip brewing is usually best roasted lighter than coffee used in espresso) and drinking style (people who drink coffee with milk often prefer darker roasts to lighter.)
At Bittersweet Cafe all our roasts are sold by the degree of roast, ranging from a Light Cinnamon through to a French Roast. Our expert roasters profile each coffee and roast it to the individual bean's 'sweet spot', as some beans are better roasted darker, while others are just fantastic when roasted light.
Roasting is a heat process that turns coffee into the fragrant, dark brown beans with which we are most familiar. Before being roasted, the beans were stored green, a state in which they can be kept without loss of quality or taste. Once roasted, however, they should be used as quickly as possible before the fresh roast flavor begins to diminish.
Roasting is a technical skill which approaches an art form. It takes years of training to become an expert roaster with the ability to 'read' the beans and make decisions with split second timing. The difference between perfectly roasted coffee and a ruined batch can be a matter of seconds.
Roasting brings out the aroma and flavor that is locked inside the green coffee beans. A green bean has none of the characteristics of a roasted bean. It is soft and spongy to the bite and smells green, almost 'grassy.' Roasting causes numerous chemical changes to take place as the beans are rapidly brought to very high temperatures. When they reach the peak of perfection, they are quickly cooled to stop the process. Roasted beans smell like coffee, and weigh less because the moisture has been roasted out. They are crunchy to the bite, ready to be ground and brewed.
Most roasters have specialized names for their favored roasts and there is very little industry standardization. This can cause a great deal of confusion for the buyer. But in general, roasts fall into one of four color categories—light, medium, medium-dark or dark. The perfect roast is a subjective choice that is sometimes determined by national preference or geographic location
Within the four color categories, you are likely to find common roasts as listed below. But it is a good idea to ask before you buy. There can be a world of difference between roasts!
Light brown in color. This roast is generally preferred for milder coffee varieties. There will be no oil on the surface of these beans, because they are not roasted long enough for the oils to break through to the surface
Medium brown in color with a stronger flavor, and a non-oily surface. This roast is often referred to as the American roast because it is generally preferred in the United States.
Rich, dark color with some oil on the surface and with a slight bittersweet aftertaste
Shiny black beans with a oily surface and a pronounced bitterness. The darker the roast, the less acidity will be found in the coffee beverage. Dark roast coffees run from slightly dark to charred and the names are often used interchangeably which can be very confusing. Be sure to check your beans before you buy them!
Storage is integral to maintaining your coffee's freshness and flavor. It is important to keep it away from excessive air, moisture, heat, and light -- in that order -- in order to preserve its fresh-roast flavor as long as possible. Coffee beans are decorative and beautiful to look at but you will compromise the taste of your coffee if you store your beans in ornamental, glass canisters on your kitchen countertop. Doing so will cause them to become stale and your coffee will quickly lose its fresh flavor.
It is important not to refrigerate or freeze your daily supply of coffee because contact with moisture will cause it to deteriorate. Instead, store coffee in air-tight glass or ceramic containers and keep it in a convenient, but dark and cool, location. Remember that a cabinet near the oven is often too warm, as is a cabinet on an outside wall of your kitchen if it receives heat from a strong afternoon or summer sun.
The commercial coffee containers that you purchased your coffee in are generally not appropriate for long-term storage. Appropriate coffee storage canisters with an airtight seal are a worthwhile investment.
It is wise to purchase coffee in amounts proportionate to how quickly it will used. Coffee begins to lose its freshness almost immediately after roasting so it is far better to purchase it in smaller quantities. Purchase freshly roasted coffee frequently and buy only what you will use in the next 1 or 2 weeks. And because exposure to air is your coffee's worst enemy, it is a good idea to divide your coffee supply into several smaller portions, keeping the larger, unused portion in an air-tight container.
If you've purchased a large quantity of coffee that you will not use immediately, small portions, wrapped in airtight bags, can be stored for up to a month in the freezer. Once you have removed them from the freezer, however, do not return them. Instead, move them to an air-tight container and store in a cool, dry place.
In the Ethiopian highlands, where the legend of Kaldi, the goatherd, originated, coffee trees grow today as they have for centuries. Though we will never know with certainty, there probably is some truth to the Kaldi legend.
It is said that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night.
Kaldi dutifully reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. Soon the abbot had shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and ever so slowly knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread. As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would spread its reputation across the globe.
Today coffee is grown in a multitude of countries around the world. Whether it is Asia or Africa, Central or South America, the islands of the Caribbean or Pacific, all can trace their heritage to the trees in the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau.
The Arabs were the first, not only to cultivate coffee but also to begin its trade. By the fifteenth century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the sixteenth century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey.
Coffee was not only drunk in homes but also in the many public coffee houses -- called qahveh khaneh -- which began to appear in cities across the Near East. The popularity of the coffee houses was unequaled and people frequented them for all kinds of social activity. Not only did they drink coffee and engage in conversation, but they also listened to music, watched performers, played chess and kept current on the news of the day. In fact, they quickly became such an important center for the exchange of information that the coffee houses were often referred to as 'Schools of the Wise.'
With thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca each year from all over the world, word of the 'wine of Araby' as the drink was often called, was beginning to spread far beyond Arabia. In an effort to maintain its complete monopoly in the early coffee trade, the Arabians continued to closely guard their coffee production.
European travellers to the Near East brought back stories of the unusual dark black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. Opponents were overly cautious, calling the beverage the 'bitter invention of Satan.' With the coming of coffee to Venice in 1615, the local clergy condemned it. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. Before making a decision however, he decided to taste the beverage for himself. He found the drink so satisfying that he gave it Papal approval.
Despite such controversy, in the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland, coffee houses were quickly becoming centers of social activity and communication. In England 'penny universities' sprang up, so called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation. By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which attracted patrons with common interests, such as merchants, shippers, brokers and artists.
Many businesses grew out of these specialized coffee houses. Lloyd's of London, for example, came into existence at the Edward Lloyd's Coffee House.
In the mid-1600's, coffee was brought to New Amsterdam, a location later called New York by the British.
Though coffee houses rapidly began to appear, tea continued to be the favored drink in the New World until 1773 when the colonists revolted against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George. The revolt, known as the Boston Tea Party, would forever change the American drinking preference to coffee.
High on a lush, steep hillside covered with coffee trees, a picker carries a heavy bag filled with a long day's work. The bag contains ripe, red coffee cherries. Months from now, the beans from that day's harvest might be the very ones you purchase at your favorite store. Between the time that he picked them and you purchase them, the beans went through a series of steps very much like this.
A coffee bean is actually a seed. When dried, roasted and ground, it is used to brew coffee. But if the seed is not processed, it can be planted and will grow into a coffee tree.
Coffee seeds are generally planted in large beds in shaded nurseries. After sprouting, the seedlings are removed from the seed bed to be planted in individual pots in carefully formulated soils. They will be watered frequently and shaded from bright sunlight until they are hearty enough to be permanently planted. Planting often takes place during the wet season, so that the soil around the young trees remains moist while the roots become firmly established.
Depending on the variety, it will take approximately 3 or 4 years for the newly planted coffee trees to begin to bear fruit. The fruit, called the coffee cherry, turns a bright, deep red when it is ripe and ready to be harvested. In most countries, the coffee crop is picked by hand, a labor-intensive and difficult process, though in places like Brazil, where the landscape is relatively flat and the coffee fields immense, the process has been mechanized. Whether picked by hand or by machine, all coffee is harvested in one of two ways:
Strip Picked - the entire crop is harvested at one time. This can either be done by machine or by hand. In either case, all of the cherries are stripped off of the branch at one time.
Selectively Picked - only the ripe cherries are harvested and they are picked individually by hand. Pickers rotate among the trees every 8 - 10 days, choosing only the cherries which are at the peak of ripeness. Because this kind of harvest is labor intensive, and thus more costly, it is used primarily to harvest the finer arabica beans.
In most coffee-growing countries, there is one major harvest a year; though in countries like Colombia, where there are two flowerings a year, there is a main and secondary crop. A good picker averages approximately 100 to 200 pounds of coffee cherry a day, which will produce 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans. At the end of a day of picking, each worker's harvest is carefully weighed and each picker is paid on the merit of his or her work. The day's harvest is then combined and transported to the processing plant.
Once the coffee has been picked, processing must begin as quickly as possible to prevent spoilage. Depending on location and local resources, coffee is processed in one of two ways.
The Dry Method
This is the age-old method of processing coffee and is still used in many countries where water resources are limited. The freshly picked cherries are simply spread out on huge surfaces to dry in the sun. In order to prevent the cherries from spoiling, they are raked and turned throughout the day, then covered at night, or if it rains, to prevent them from getting wet. Depending on the weather, this process might continue for several weeks for each batch of coffee. When the moisture content of the cherries drops to 11 percent, the dried cherries are moved to warehouses where they are stored
The Wet Method
In wet method processing, the pulp is removed from the coffee cherry after harvesting and the bean is dried with only the parchment skin left on. There are several actual steps involved. First, the freshly harvested cherries are passed through a pulping machine where the skin and pulp is separated from the bean. The pulp is washed away with water, usually to be dried and used as mulch. The beans are separated by weight as they are conveyed through water channels, the lighter beans floating to the top, while the heavier, ripe beans sink to the bottom.
Next they are passed through a series of rotating drums which separate them by size.
After separation, the beans are transported to large, water-filled fermentation tanks. Depending on a combination of factors -- such as the condition of the beans, the climate and the altitude -- they will remain in these tanks for anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. The purpose of this process is to remove the slick layer of mucilage (called the parenchyma) that is still attached to the parchment; while resting in the tanks, naturally occurring enzymes will cause this layer to dissolve. When fermentation is complete the beans will feel rough, rather than slick, to the touch. At that precise moment, the beans are rinsed by being sent through additional water channels. They are then ready for drying.
If the beans have been processed by the wet method, the pulped and fermented beans must now be dried to approximately 11 percent moisture to properly prepare them for storage. These beans, still encased inside the parchment envelope (the endocarp), can be sun dried by spreading them on drying tables or floors, where they are turned regularly, or they can be machine dried in large tumblers. Once dried, these beans, referred to as 'parchment coffee,' are warehoused in sisal or jute bags until they are readied for export.
Before it is exported, parchment coffee is processed in the following manner:
Machines are used to remove the parchment layer (endocarp) from wet processed coffee. Hulling dry processed coffee refers to removing the entire dried husk -- the exocarp, mesocarp & endocarp -- of the dried cherries.
This is an optional process in which any silver skin that remains on the beans after hulling is removed in a polishing machine. While polished beans are considered superior to unpolished ones, in reality there is little difference between the two.
Grading & Sorting
Before being exported, the coffee beans will be even more precisely sorted by size and weight. They will also be closely evaluated for color flaws or other imperfections.
Typically, the bean size is represented on a scale of 10 to 20. The number represents the size of a round hole's diameter in terms of 1/64's of an inch. A number 10 bean would be the approximate size of a hole in a diameter of 10/64 of an inch and a number 15 bean, 15/64 of an inch. Beans are sized by being passed through a series of different sized screens. They are also sorted pneumatically by using an air jet to separate heavy from light beans.
Next defective beans are removed. Though this process can be accomplished by sophisticated machines, in many countries, it is done by hand while the beans move along an electronic conveyor belt. Beans of unsatisfactory size, color, or that are otherwise unacceptable, are removed. This might include over-fermented beans, those with insect damage or that are unhulled. In many countries, this process is done both by machine and hand, insuring that only the finest quality coffee beans are exported
The milled beans, now referred to as 'green coffee,' are ready to be loaded onto ships for transport to the importing country. Green coffee is shipped in either jute or sisal bags which are loaded into shipping containers, or it is bulk shipped inside plastic-lined containers. Approximately seven million tons of green coffee is produced worldwide each year.
At every stage of its production, coffee is repeatedly tested for quality and taste. This process is referred to as 'cupping' and usually takes place in a room specifically designed to facilitate the process. First, the taster -- usually called the cupper -- carefully evaluates the beans for their overall visual quality. The beans are then roasted in a small laboratory roaster, immediately ground and infused in boiling water, the temperature of which is carefully controlled. The cupper "noses" the brew to experience its aroma, an integral step in the evaluation of the coffee's quality. After letting the coffee rest for several minutes, the cupper "breaks the crust" by pushing aside the grounds at the top of the cup. Again the coffee is nosed before the tasting begins.
To taste the coffee, the cupper "slurps" a spoonful with a quick inhalation. The objective is to spray the coffee evenly over the cupper's taste buds, and then "weigh" it before spitting it out. Samples from a variety of batches and different beans are tasted daily. Coffees are not only analyzed this way for their inherent characteristics and flaws, but also for the purpose of blending different beans or determining the proper roast. An expert cupper can taste hundreds of samples of coffee a day and still taste the subtle differences between them.
Roasting transforms green coffee into the aromatic brown beans that we purchase, either whole or already ground, in our favorite stores. Most roasting machines maintain a temperature of about 550 degrees Fahrenheit. The beans are kept moving throughout the entire process to keep them from burning and when they reach an internal temperature of about 400 degrees, they begin to turn brown and the caffeol, or oil, locked inside the beans begins to emerge.
This process, called pyrolysis is at the heart of roasting. It is what produces the flavor and aroma of the coffee we drink. When the beans are removed from the roaster, they are immediately cooled either by air or water. Roasting is generally performed in the importing countries because freshly roasted beans must reach the consumer as quickly as possible.
The objective of a proper grind is to get the most flavor in a cup of coffee. How coarse or fine the coffee is ground depends on the method by which the coffee is to be brewed. Generally, the finer the grind the more quickly the coffee should be prepared. That is why coffee ground for use in an espresso machine is much finer than coffee which will be brewed in a drip system.
Before you brew your coffee, take a moment to look carefully at the beans. Smell their aroma. Think of the many processes that these beans have gone through since the day they were hand-picked and sorted in their origin country. Consider the long way they have traveled to your kitchen. Prepare your coffee thoughtfully and enjoy it with pleasure. Many people have been instrumental in bringing it to your cup!