Java arrived on these shores around 1736 and began to be grown on a number of farms near the coasts, and mostly for local consumption. For more than a century it made relatively modest contributions to the colony’s economy. But then in the latter half of the 19th century, coffee truly entered into its “golden age”, cultivated especially throughout the island’s more mountainous areas and by immigrants pouring in from Spain as well as all over Latin America.
By the end of that century, Puerto Rican café came to comprise more than half of the island’s exports, and became one of the world’s most prized, for its sweetness, smoothness, and supple body (and fun fact: it was the favourite of European aristocracy, and the only coffee drunk by the Pope and the king of Spain). It was during this period that the Fiesta del Acabe (Coffee Harvest Festival) was established, and it’s still celebrated to this day, in February and March in towns like Maricao and Jayuya.
So let’s take a deep draught of Puerto Rico’s beautiful brown brew!
Getting Into Puerto Rico’s Coffee Culture
These days international exports of coffea arabica are fairly negligible and the industry far reduced from its peak – also suffering more recent setbacks such as devastation from Hurricane Maria six years ago. But still, a number of haciendas still grow beans, and taking a tour of the coffee plantation route is a great way to enjoy the island’s natural beauty as well as one of its liquid prides and joys.
You can for example begin your java jaunt at the Museo del Café – in the town of Ciales, in the central mountain range an hour’s drive west of San Juan – where you’ll find exhibits about coffee production, coffee mills, and documentation of the industry and culture reaching back centuries, along with tastings.
Prime plantations to visit include one of the oldest, Hacienda Lealtad in the town of Lares, just over an hour from Ciales and an hour and a half from San Juan. Here the décor dates from the 19th century and you’ll learn how to distinguish between the different types of coffee and how they’re processed, as well as enjoy a traditional Puerto Rican breakfast – accompanied of course by a rich cuppa or two. Another is Hacienda Tres Ángeles in Adjuntas, an hour and a half from Ciales and 15 minutes more from San Juan. This is the first coffee plantation to be certified as an agritourism establishment, concentrating not just on growing beans but in hosting guests at its café and restaurant. In addition, on Saturdays they give tours of the estate by reservation.
How to Order Coffee on Island
A prieto or negro is black (and if you take it without sweetener, puya). If you want milk/cream with that, a cargao or oscuro has just a hint of it, while a término medio is half and half. Café con leche is closer to a latte or flat white, while a café bibí is mostly milk. And finally, aguao (“watery”) is what they call light, U.S.-style coffee.
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