More than a century ago, Puerto Rico produced some of the world’s best coffee. But in recent decades, coffee production has declined. This U.S. territory features small farms, and labor has been scarce. The island has also struggled to compete with commercial coffee producers in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.
But last year coffee production actually increased in Puerto Rico. It’s part of a growing movement to improve the quality of beans and rebuild the industry. The island’s government is providing incentives to boost production, including paying for items ranging from equipment to farm labor. Elena Biamon is part of that movement. She farms near Jajuya, a town in the island’s mountainous interior. She says, “More and more people are really into specialty coffee. And they’re conscious of having a good coffee quality.”
[Alfredo] Rodriguez is a grower with 60 acres of coffee in Maricao, on Puerto Rico’s western edge. He’s also a certified taster and cupping instructor, one of just 32 in the world, he says. His students learn how to identify and describe the characteristics of good coffee.
“Is it sweet, is it not sweet?” he explains to us. “Does it have a defect? The flavor is intense or is pale, low? All those type of things are what we’re looking for in the cupping.”
In his classes, Rodriguez has taught doctors, lawyers, engineers, recently even an airline pilot. They’re professionals who are now beginning second careers in the industry. Producers must learn to identify quality to raise good coffee — and to know when they’re doing something wrong, Rodriguez says, so they can fix it. That way, he says, ” they can get better scores for the coffee and better value for their coffee.”