The curving road leading to Jimmy González’s coffee property is lined with mango, pineapple, and banana trees. The hot and beautiful mountainous terrain is one of Puerto Rico’s coffee manufacturing centres. From González’s fields, one can view coffee crops reaching over the hills above and below.
González, 48, has worked as a cop for much of his life. His father and grandpa, on the other hand, were both coffee producers who taught him the craft. He quit his work two years ago and bought 10 cuerdas (about 39,300 square metres, or 10 acres) of property. His father still owns 80 cuerdas (about 314,400 square metres or 78 acres) of property in the area, where he grows pineapples, bananas, and other fruit.
“I’ve been carrying around a bean can since I was a toddler, collecting coffee off the floor,” González says as he fires up a tiny roasting machine.
Many Puerto Ricans have vivid memories of such events. Coffee has long been one of Puerto Rico’s main crops, and it is an important element of the island’s culture. Despite this, the local coffee industry has been struggling for years, especially since Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Small producers like González are now on a quest to bring it back to life.
Jimmy González removes a bunch of coffee cherries from the tree.
According to the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce, there are about 2,000 coffee farms and 10,000 coffee farmers in Puerto Rico, the majority of which are small and medium-sized producers. Since the 1980s, the local industry has been in decline. Government subsidies for farmers have dried up as production costs have risen, and new restrictions have limited how much farmers can charge for their commodities.
Hurricane Maria delivered the coffee sector another another terrible blow, killing 18 million coffee trees and 85 percent of the estimated yield. According to the US Department of Agriculture, approximately 5,000 coffee plantations existed in Puerto Rico in 2012, but only around 3,000 survived the disaster. Coffee producers who are still in business are finding it difficult to locate local labourers to assist them in harvesting their harvests.
As a result, Puerto Rico today imports the majority of its coffee, largely from Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters, a single firm, owns more than 80% of the market.
According to Alfredo Rodrguez Meléndez, a coffee grower and international taste teacher, most Puerto Ricans are unaware of the extent to which the local coffee sector is suffering.