Area: 109.884 square kilometers
Population: 7.9 million
Currency: Cuban Peso
Annual Production: 100,000-300,000 Bags
Coffee Producing Area: 28,000 hectares
Producing Regions: Sierra Maestra, Escambray, Guaniguanico, Pinar del Rio
Coffee Varietals: Both Arabica and Robousta
Terrain: Mainly Mountains
Altitude: 700 – 1974 MASL
Soil: Fertile, reach in minerals
José Antonio Gelabert introduced the first coffee plant to Cuba in 1748. By 1791, French colonists, fleeing the abolition of slavery during the Haitian Revolution, introduced better coffee production methods to Cuba. Coffee production in eastern Cuba during the 19th and early 20th centuries “resulted in the creation of a unique cultural landscape, illustrating a significant stage in the development of this form of agriculture.” As such, UNESCO has listed Santiago and Guantanamo provinces, South-Eastern region, as a World Heritage Site since 2000. Prior to the Castro era, Cuba’s coffee industry prospered. In the mid-1950s, Cuba was exporting more than 20,000 metric tons of coffee beans per year. Cuban coffee was sold at premium prices on world markets. Much of that coffee was exported to Europe, particularly the Netherlands and Germany.
Following Cuban Revolution in 1959, coffee production in Cuba declined largely because of the dissolution of large farms and a disincentive for small farm production. As a result, Cuban coffee producers began mixing coffee beans with roasted peas. Mixing coffee beans with peas remained a staple in Cuba until pure coffee returned to the Cuban ration books in 2005. Rising Robusta prices led to the return of roasted peas to Cuban coffee in 2011.
In 1962 the United States placed an embargo on all goods imported from Cuba, further damaging the Cuban coffee industry. During the embargo, Cuban coffee was not prevalent in the US market.
The collapse of the Soviet Union caused a major decline in Cuban coffee production, going from 440,000 60-pound bags of coffee in the 1989–1990 production cycle to eventually reaching an all-time low of 7,000 bags during the 2007–2008 cycle. The production of Cuban coffee has since rebounded to between 100,000 and 130,000 bags per year due to government investment in increased coffee production including raising coffee prices and providing better equipment.
By the 21st century, 92 percent of the country’s coffee was grown in areas of the Sierra Maestra mountains, especially under forest canopies. The island produces both arabica and robusta beans, with most production coming from small family farms. In 2003, Cuba began exporting organic coffee to Europe and Japan, with more than 4,000 hectares certified as organic. According to the FAO, the total number of hectares where coffee is harvested in Cuba has fallen from 170,000 hectares in 1961 to 28,000 hectares in 2013.
All coffee from Cuba is exported by Cubaexport, which pays a government-regulated, fixed price to coffee growers and processors for their coffee. Currently, Japan and France are Cuba’s major coffee export markets, with smaller amounts going to Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand.
Domestic distribution is currently limited to two ounces of coffee rations every 15 days for Cuban citizens.