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Great strides in the Greater Antilles: the reintroduction of Puerto Rican specialties.

A tropical climate tempered by trade winds, and a latitude of 18 degrees North which is shared by the Blue Mountains of Jamaica helps Puerto Rico have one of the great natural coffee growing regions of the world. This bean, of U.S. origin, has both a rich and noble history, and is emerging as one of the truly great varietals after a century of obscurity.

Coffee was introduced to Puerto Rico from Martinique by way of Guadeloupe and Santo Domingo in 1736. It thrived in the Cordillera Central where altitude, rain, sun, and temperature for coffee are at their best. By the beginning of the 1800's, Puerto Rican coffee was renown throughout Europe. During the last decade of the 19th Century, Puerto Rico was among the largest exporters of coffee in the world. Puerto Rico shipped 60 million pounds of coffee in 1896, (the equivalent of 2.2 million 60 kilo sacks).

The beans were nurtured by farmers of Spanish, Corsican, Italian, and Mallorcan ancestry along with Canadians and freed slaves who found a home in the lush Western mountains of the island.

Topographically, the Cordillera Central, a spine-like mountain range that crosses Puerto Rico from west to east, dominates the central and southern portions of the island.

The district of Yauco (jau-ko), West of Ponce and on the southern slopes of the Cordillera Central, overlooks the Caribbean from 3,000 ft. above sea level. Here, the Allisean winds and heavy rains (over 100 inches per year) maintain a cool atmosphere. Historically, Yauco has been a premier coffee district since coffee's earliest days on the island.

Lares (lahr-es) is located in the foothills of the northern slopes of the Cordillera Central about 30 miles NW of Ponce, and 18 miles NE of Mayaguez. It has been an important coffee market center for generations.

The coffee grows on the steep (sometimes 45 degrees + sloped mountainsides, in nutrient rich Alonso, Malaya Arcilloso, and Humata Arcilloso soils, with a pH level near 5.0 which minimizes the need for additional fertilization.

As a Spanish colony, the Island shared Spain's special relationship with Rome. It is said that Puerto Rican coffee was favored as the "Vatican's Choice."

The Spanish American War crippled Puerto Rican coffee production. This was followed in 1899 by a hurricane which further savaged the coffee districts.

The islands' coffee industry was moribund through much of the 20th Century, as the U.S. was preoccupied with a succession of other interests including two World Wars and a Depression. Operation Bootstrap, President Truman's initiative for vitalization of the island's economy, focused on industrialization. For the most part, this ambitious plan for economic stimulation neglected the agricultural business possibilities of Puerto Rico.

Castro's rise to power and the subsequent closing of Cuba made Puerto Rico a hot spot for tourism in the 1960's. Suffering from terminal economic neglect, Puerto Rican beans disappeared from the international marketplace all together.

Hurricane Gilbert devastated Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee district on September 19, 1988. The Japanese, great lovers of luxury coffees and great importers of Blue Mountain, were forced to look for other origins to bring home. They found one in Puerto Rico. Only one year later, on September 17, 1989, Puerto Rico was ripped by Hurricane Hugo. An equivalent of 80,000 quintels (100 weights) was lost to high winds. The Japanese interest in the coffees they discovered withstood the storm. In 1990 the sales, for exportation to Japan, of 3,000 quintels of Alto Grande PuertoRico[TM], by Nettali Soto, began a new chapter in Puerto Rico's coffee story.

The strong specialty market on the mainland and the emerging international market for specialties has given Puerto Rico the opportunity and the monetary incentive to develop and market specialty coffees of merit.

Favorable conditions of geography, geology, and weather create the raw materials for the production of great coffee. It is the traditional practices of generations of farming that set Puerto Rican island specialties apart. The habit, for instance, of storing "en pergamino" (parchment) and only husking with receipt of an export order eats time and costs extra money. But the tradition preserves the freshness of the "green" until the last possible moment.

All farming in Puerto Rico is monitored by EPA, FDA, USDA, and local governmental agencies, guaranteeing the same protection of the food supply, and the environment as found on the mainland. At the present, I was unable to find information of any organic farming of coffee in Puerto Rico.

A new generation of Puerto Rican growers and marketers are producing coffee at a quality level which is a match for the best in the world. They are growing traditional Bourbon, and Typica (Porto Rico) variety beans, in clay based soils ideal for the development of specialty beans.

Harvest is from the middle of September to the middle of December, when the cherry bears the bold beans of bluish gray to dark green color.

The Yauco district coffees are the last of the island's crop to be realized, do to slower riperting times at their high altitude. Yauco washes and processes their beans within 24 hours to avoid fermentation. The beans are dried in a slow 48 hour cycle.

Yauco Selecto[TM], as all true specialties should, offers a unique taste in specialty coffee. It is a fancy roaster with a very distinctive cup, medium-heavy bodied, only mildly acid, with a sweet malty undercurrent and nose. At present only 3,000 quintals (100 lbs. each) are available yearly.

Yauco Selecto[TM] comes in two screen sizes: #16 (A) and screen #1617 (AA). Yauco Selecto is offered by specialty coffee roasters throughout Europe, including Coffea de France, and Harrod's Department Store and H.R. Higgins (Coffee-Man) Ltd. (coffee supplier to the British Royal family) in London.

The partnership that is Yauco Selecto[TM] includes Ignacio Pinado of Care Luri, Miguel Lopez of Care Hayuya, Yauco district coffee Haciendados (farm owners), independent businessman Roberto Atienza, and Care Rico, and Care Yaucono, one of the island's largest coffee processors. The objective of the partnership is to realize the potential of Puerto Rican grown specialty coffee on the world market. The plan has been implemented by Jaime Fortuno, whose firm Escogigo, S.E., Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, acts as the sales & marketing office for the Yauco Selecto brand.

Hacienda Alto Grande, about an hour's drive from Ponce, was rounded in 1839, and has been in continuous operation for 154 years. Alto Grande, deep in the mountainous interior of the Island, has survived a century of adverse conditions for Puerto Rican coffee. It is here that the Garrido Corporation produces Alto Grande-Puerto Rico[TM].

A super premium coffee which is being exported to UCC Ueshima Coffee Co. Ltd., Japan's largest coffee company. UCC markets the beans, in a pale blue can with a gold label, under the trade style Grand Lares after the picturesque mountain town and coffee market center.

Alto Grande[TM] is beautiful in the green. It is a uniquely balanced coffee with a very distinctive body and acidity, and a very particular wellrounded flavor. Gevalia Kaffe, one of the most exclusive mail order programs in the U.S., has selected Alto GrandeTM as one of their limited edition coffees. Each #18+ Screen Kernel is like a "perfect soldier" in the word's of Lenny Tauber of Hena Coffee, Brooklyn, New York, and Alto Grande roaster.

The hacienda is ideally situated, with mountains protecting it from strong winds while providing a cool temperature range from 65-85 degrees during the day. Workers follow the time honored ways of picking by hand. The best wet process washed coffees are produced with an eye to the ecological balance. Coffee pulp, as an example, is returned to the soil to develop natural humus and mulch for the next crop.

Alto Grande washes and processes its beans within eight hours from being gathered. They dry for at least 5 days, until the moisture content is below 11%.

A third mark, Care Hacienda Maricao, is also in the export market. The principal is Randy Torres, a New York attorney of Puerto Rican heritage. Another Puerto Rican coffee now available on the mainland is Care de Toreno Montana. This fine product from the highland estates of Ciales is now being marketed in the U.S. by Bridge Marketing Group, Philadelphia.

Seasonal farm workers on Yauco Selecto Haciendas earn compensation on a per almud (28 pounds of cherry) basis. The average daily volume picked can average between 4,30-60 per day.

The Commonwealth government allows seasonal coffee workers to receive a food supplement check, similar to the U.S. food stamp program, without penalizing the workers for wages earned. Approximately 15,000 people were at work in the island's coffee industry in 1990.

The Puerto Rican specialty entrants have developed strong marketing efforts with good roaster support programs. They can deliver a consistency in production quality which, if it can be maintained season to season, will be the envy of many.

Puerto Rico is still a net coffee consumer. The island imported the equivalent of 60,000 (60 kilo) sacks of coffee, in 1991. Supermarket brands in Puerto Rico are Robusta-Arabica blends, as on the mainland. Still, specialty coffee exports brought $22 million into Puerto Rico's economy in 1991. 1992 figures are expected to surpass that substantially, and the future looks bright for what has become one of the island's most lucrative cash crops.

Phillipe Jobin wrote of Puerto Rican coffee (The Coffees Produced Throughout the World, 1982) "One of the best "crus" in the world, if not the best. It has unfortunately become impossible to get and difficult to replace." Jobin passed away in 1992, but not before he had the opportunity to see Puerto Rico's grand coffees again available throughout the world.

For further information contact: Yauco Selecto Specialty Coffee,

Hostos Avenue 4,595, Baldrich, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00918. Tel: 809 764-9376.

Garrido Alto Grande Corp., P.O. Box #71, Caguas, Puerto Rico 00726. Tel: 809- 743-1000.

Bridge Marketing Group, 1326 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Tel: (215)732-9541.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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