Think of the top coffee producing countries in the world. It’s probably a safe bet that Puerto Rico didn’t spring to mind.
And that wouldn’t be unreasonable thinking either.
Puerto Rico doesn’t even make it into the top 50 coffee exporting nations and is behind such ‘powerhouses’ as Liberia and Zambia. But it used to be on top and is now just re-entering the coffee world.
This means that most people haven’t had the chance to experience the complexity and depth of flavor of Puerto Rican coffee.
As far as natural resources go, Puerto Rico has a lot going for it: Volcanic soil, altitude, and climate. These elements combine to make incredible coffee. So, keep reading to discover the best examples of what this forgotten island of the coffee world has to offer. It will change your morning brew forever.
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Whether you’re looking to taste the terroir of the island or looking for the most popular coffee brand for a taste of local Puerto Rican life, we’ve got you covered.
Volcanica Puerto Rico Coffee – Hacienda San Pedro
What to Expect:
Roast Level: Medium
Region: Jayuya (Single-Estate)
Ground or whole bean: Choice of either
Processing Method: Washed
Tasting notes: Chocolate and spice, sweet berries
Important notes: Direct trade with a single estate, grown at 2,500-2,700 feet above sea level
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From a single estate in the central region of Jayuya, this exceptional coffee has been washed processed, and medium roasted to best show off the complexity of Puerto Rican coffee beans.
The coffee beans are grown in rich volcanic soil at altitudes between 2,500 and 2,700 feet above sea level. The conditions here are perfect for growing high-quality, Arabica beans. And you can really taste that perfection in every cup.
Sadly, you can’t always get your hands on this incredible coffee. Following Hurricane Maria, many farms are still rebuilding from the devastation caused and so there is very little coffee exported from Puerto Rico. Whenever it is available, however, you shouldn’t hesitate as it will take your morning brew to the next level. Just be prepared to pay a slight premium for it.
The flavors of sweet berries and chocolate with a hint of spices, alongside the well-balanced acidity, make this an excellent coffee for those looking to try Puerto Rican coffee for the first time. Or, if you already love island coffees and want to see what Puerto Rico brings to the table.
Alto Grande Premium Coffee
What to Expect:
Established in 1839, Alto Grande is one of the oldest Puerto Rican coffee brands, widely considered as super-premium. So premium, in fact, that they boast its preferential status amongst Popes and Kings.
Not just for the royals of the 19th century, it is an immensely popular coffee today too. And the Hacienda Alto Grande has maintained a reputation for quality coffee to this day.
The Hacienda Alto Grande farm processes the 100% Elite Arabica coffee beans but they are actually a blend of specialty coffee beans from across Puerto Rico. By using a blend, Alto Grande can create a consistent taste profile that keeps people coming back for more.
There are pros and cons to blending coffee in this manner:
It won’t be as good as the very best coffee from Puerto Rico. However, if you really like Alto Grande coffee then you know you’re going to get the flavor you love every single time.
Café Lareño Ground Coffee
The Café Lareño brand was established in 1989 by 4th generation coffee growers, Ms. Rodriguez and Mr. Alcover. And, whilst that may seem like a short period of time compared to many other Puerto Rican coffees, the reputation they have built is nothing short of incredible.
Their beginnings were humble – just a small coffee roaster with a capacity of 30lbs of coffee. But from there, they have grown to become a well-trusted source of quality coffee beans. All whilst maintaining that family-run feel.
Café Lareño ground coffee is a rare single-origin coffee from Puerto Rico that is certified organic. The 100% Puerto Rican coffee beans are grown in the mountains of Lares (south of Yauco). This is a popular location for growing premium coffee thanks to the optimal conditions and 3,900 feet altitude.
The medium roast delivers delicate acidity and notes of sweet chocolate and fruit – the flavors that make specialty Puerto Rican coffee so sought after. This is your answer if you’re on the hunt for a bold yet not overpowering coffee.
What to Expect:
In 1914, Thomas Prado established the Yaucono brand. Very quickly, its popularity grew across the island establishing its position as the favorite Puerto Rican coffee.
Today, Yaucono is the biggest coffee producer on the island, controlling around 70% of all coffee produced. Even as the Puerto Rican coffee industry declined, it managed to maintain its position at the top – a testament to the great flavor and value for money.
The iconic yellow branding and mellow, medium roast have made it a mainstay of the Puerto Rican household. Being such a large producer, the coffee beans come from all over the island so there is no single-origin option available.
Like Alto Grande, Yaucono relies on blending the coffee beans of Puerto Rico to produce the same tasting coffee every time. Being smooth and chocolatey with delicate acidity and little bitterness, this is the preferred brew of almost everyone on the island. It is a true taste of Puerto Rico, particularly when brewed in a Moka pot.
Of all the options available, Yaucono offers one of the lowest prices and a high value for money. It is totally flexible to your preferred brewing method and preparation as you can buy it as whole bean, ground, or as a single-serve coffee pod (compatible with Keurig machines). However, unlike the whole bean/ground coffee, the Yaucono coffee pods are a blend of coffee beans from Puerto Rico, Honduras, and Brazil.
Café Oro de Puerto Rico
Café Oro translates as Gold Coffee so the instantly recognizable packaging is very fitting. The metallic packaging also protects the precious ground coffee from the elements and from being knocked about in transit.
The 100% Arabica coffee beans used by Café Oro de Puerto Rico are sourced from Hacienda Los Eucaliptos in Lares. Although some coffee beans also come from surrounding farms when the yields are too low.
If you like a rich, full-bodied coffee, you’ll be impressed with this offering which embodies the trademark low acidity and bitterness of Puerto Rican coffee beans.
This is a great choice if you’re a black coffee or straight espresso fan. Their dark roast pre-ground coffee has the big body and rich chocolate and caramel flavors that you’re looking for. But the naturally low acidity and bitterness give a sweet taste to the final brew without the need for sugar.
Café Draco Rosa
What to Expect:
Being a singer-songwriter may not be the natural path to selling coffee but that’s exactly how Café Draco Rosa started. But don’t let that put you off – this is a delicious option, showcasing the unique mountainous flavors.
The 100-acre eco-farm (Horizonte) is located at the Monte Sagrado Reserve in the Central Mountains of Puerto Rico. If you want to get even closer to this great coffee, you can stay at the plantation and wake up to the smell of some freshly brewing Café Draco Rosa too.
COFFEE FLAVOR PROFILE
When you drink Puerto Rico coffee, expect flavors of rich chocolate complemented by the naturally sweet tastes of caramel or honey. Overall, it makes a sweet and mild brew that is gentle to the stomach thanks to the low acidity.
Depending on the coffee roast level, you will either experience the taste of the terroir (light roasts) or toasty flavors from the roasting process (dark roasts). So, with such similar growing conditions across the island, it is the roasting (and processing) that really distinguishes between the coffee brands.
It is most common to find medium to dark roast Puerto Rican beans. But, light roasts are still possible if you prefer the lighter style for pour-overs.
The coffee industry in Puerto Rico is still in the process of trying to rebuild after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. This means there are very few certifications for their coffee. But, this doesn’t mean they aren’t growing coffee ethically: shade-grown, organic, Rainforest Alliance, etc.
However, getting certified is expensive. And when you’re barely surviving as a business, getting a label for your coffee isn’t a top priority.
That said, there are a couple of certified coffees from Puerto Rico. So if ensuring your coffee has that Organic label is a priority for you then you can still enjoy these exceptional beans with peace of mind. Just don’t let the lack of certification put you off trying the amazing coffees made on the island, or you really will be missing out.
Either way, coffee cultivation began in the 18th century and quickly took hold as an important economic resource for the island.
Initially, most of the coffee was consumed locally. However, by the end of the 18th century, production was at 3 million pounds of coffee a year. Puerto Rican coffee was so renowned for top quality that even the Pope requested some, fuelling its reputation as coffee for “popes and kings”.
Towards the end of the 19th century, coffee production hit its peak with Puerto Rico being the 7th largest coffee-producing nation in the world. At the time, Utuado was the most important region for Puerto Rican coffee production.
After the annexation of Puerto Rico by the United States in 1898, there was a significant decline in coffee production. Instead, the emphasis shifted toward growing sugar cane. Recently, this trend has been reversed with many people setting up old-style Spanish “haciendas”, utilizing the volcanic soil, high altitudes, and superb climate. Doing so allows them to produce excellent single-origin coffee.
Being a United States territory means that all Puerto Rican coffee farmers receive US wages that are significantly higher than in many other coffee-growing countries. So, whilst you may pay slightly more for your bag of coffee beans, you are supporting sustainable futures for the farmers.
The hurricane not only destroyed the coffee cherries but 80% of coffee trees across the island were also ripped up. And, as coffee trees take 3 to 4 years to produce a crop, this has devastated the economy of Puerto Rico. The farmers of the mountainous central region were particularly hard hit.
As coffee farming was the backbone of 22 municipalities on the island, around 2,000 families had their entire lives destroyed by the hurricane.
Since then, there has been considerable investment from NGOs such as Technoserve and ConPRmetido. Together, alongside government grants, positive steps have been taken to revive the Puerto Rican coffee industry and expand on pre-Maria production.
At the time of Hurricane Maria, coffee production was worth an estimated $85m to the Puerto Rican economy. Now, it performs well below capacity with land lying fallow and coffee cherries unpicked due to a lack of labor.
The long-term goal is to make Puerto Rico a self-sufficient economy, with coffee as one of the key sectors. This means more availability of their great-tasting coffee outside the island. A huge bonus for us!
What makes Puerto Rico coffee so special is the altitude, volcanic soil, and climate:
Almost all the coffee is grown in the mountains in the center and west of the island at altitudes between 2,400 and 2,800 feet above sea level. Here, the volcanic soil is nutrient-rich providing an optimal home for the coffee plants to thrive.
Across the island, you will find varieties of Arabica coffee including Typica, Bourbon, Pacas, Limani, and Catimor.
The main municipalities involved in coffee growing are Lares, San Sebastian, and Las Marias. But, there are no obviously distinguishable flavor differences in their terroir.
So, whilst some of the best Puerto Rican coffee choices show single-origin, this is indicative of sourcing from just one farm or a small group of farms – not necessarily of superior quality. But, take into consideration that other countries’ single-origin coffees come from a wider geographical area than the Puerto Rican blends.
Traditionally, a morning in Puerto Rico starts with a cup of viciously strong coffee to give enough energy to fuel a day working the land. Then another one at the end of the working day.
Nowadays this tradition of enjoying very strong coffee continues, though often in espresso form. In almost every café on the island, you’ll find porcillo (single espresso) and cortadito (espresso with a thin layer of foam). But, unlike many other places in Central America and the Caribbean, traditional Puerto Rican coffee isn’t sweetened as the beans themselves have a natural sweetness.
With naturally low acidity and sweet flavors, it’s easy to see why people become obsessed with the coffee of this tiny island. And why local demand is so high.
Thanks to the hard work of NGOs and investment from both the government and consumers, we’ll soon see a diverse choice of Puerto Rican coffee beans and roasts. And, in the meantime, every option recommended here is available to buy. So you are just one click away from taking your morning brew to the next level with a cup of joe from this hidden gem.
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