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An overview of the Cuban coffee industry

Continuing our series of features looking at different countries that we source green coffee from, we take a look at the industry in Cuba, with our coffee trader Priscilla Daniel discussing its structure, challenges it faces and the cupping profiles of its beans.


Unsurprisingly, given its political leanings and history, the Cuban Coffee industry is one that is heavily controlled by the government. The resulting regulations and systems that are in place set Cuba apart from many other coffee-producing nations.

In particular, the trade embargo the US has imposed on Cuba since the 1960s has made exporting goods challenging, resulting in a coffee that is not only hard to come by, but also comparatively expensive.

However, since dialogue has recently opened between the two nations, hopes are high that the embargo may finally be lifted, paving the way for a regeneration of the country’s exports – most notably coffee.

Priscilla said: "Shifting politics are going to change the shape of the coffee industry.

"If the embargo is lifted, there is almost certainly going to be strong demand from the US."

And with many US-based NGOs poised to offer support and assistance to growers, over time the Cuban production is likely to flourish.

"With strong investment and international support, conditions in Cuba could return to pre-crisis levels, when the small island nation was revered as an excellent producer, with good quality coffee and proud export volumes."

Challenges the Cuban coffee industry faces

Today, excellent quality isn't always assured, and buyers need to have complete trust in their supply chain to ensure they are satisfied with the quality of the coffee that they receive.

Priscilla explained that there can also be traceability issues relating to Cuban coffee, although work has begun to amend this and improve conditions.

A lack of investment is another problem the country faces. With many financial institutions barred from trading with Cuba, little money has flowed in towards supporting coffee farmers and with few export partners, little in the way of foreign exchange has been earned by Cuba, especially since the downfall of the Soviet Union, which was Cuba’s principal trading partner.

Nationalised farms, relying on volunteer labour – rather than skilled farmers – were a main driver of the decline in annual production, as economic hardship fuelled rural to urban migration leaving farms abandoned.

These challenges mean that coffee sourced from Cuba can be rather costly to import.

But aside from the political side of things, what exactly is the Cuban coffee industry like?

Main coffee-growing areas

The majority of coffee in Cuba is grown in one of two regions – Baracoa in the south of the country, and in the Sierra Maestra Mountains.

Conditions in these areas lend themselves perfectly to the cultivation of coffee, with fertile soils and light trade winds creating a temperate climate for coffee trees to establish themselves in. Moderate altitudes create coffees with subtle acidity levels, but well-formed beans.

Production volumes are not especially high in the country – Priscilla explained they currently stand at around 1,500 tonnes per year. At its peak in 1962, Cuba was producing around 45,000 tonnes of coffee annually.

Cupping profiles

There is something of an exotic association regarding Cuban coffee, which is partly due to the tropical Caribbean climes in which it is grown, as well as its rarity.

Having already touched on the moderate acidity of beans from the country, Priscilla discussed the typical cupping profiles of its coffees.

"In terms of flavour, you're going to have a lot of chocolate notes and nutty flavours as well, with overtones of tobacco," she explained.

DRWakefield's relationship with Cuban coffee

Here at DRWakefield, we have a number of Cuban coffees available.

Although we haven't yet undertaken an origin trip to the country, due to the small volumes we import from it, with Cuba's political situation potentially set to undergo radical changes in the near future, the industry could change dramatically and we may pay a visit to see what's gone on and whether there are new coffees for us to source.

Photo credit: Thinkstock/Marcio Silva