14ymedio, Havana, 24 November 2020 – The coffee harvest is an urgent matter in Villa Clara. The rains caused by the effects of Hurricane Eta have spurred on the harvesters paid daily by the Jibacoa Agroforestry Company, as well as volunteers. All for the salvation of a “premium quality” coffee that will be mainly destined for export, as admitted by the State newspaper Granma, this Monday.
A day earlier, the also official site Cubadebate ran a special – titled “The ‘to be or not to be’ of coffee. Hello!” – on the coffee sold in the ration stores, which is mixed 50/50 with peas, a measure that has been practiced for decades despite the fact that the International Coffee Organization says that any product with more than 5% other mixed-in matter cannot be classified as coffee.
The official press reported on the mobilization that took place last Saturday to harvest the beans due to the urgency of completing the work in three or four days, according to Pedro Blanco Méndez, general director of the Jibacoa Agroforestry Company. Of the 8,000 cans (at 20 pounds per can) that were maturing upon Eta’s arrival, 65% had been harvested, but the remainder was lost in the mud. Those beans are what they want to save, with planned collection areas and a redoubling of effort.
According to Granma, the economic incentives created “an additional motivation to add new forces to the effort to contribute to achieving the 150 tons of coffee destined for internal and external trade, before the end of the year.”
Just enough of the crop will stay on the island so that after mixing it with peas – ‘fifty-fifty’ insists Cubadebate – to supply the rationed market. “We Cubans drink coffee because it ‘lights up’ our souls,” reads the text, in which it is confirmed that the product purchased in the ration stores – called bodegas on the island – is made up of 50% Arabica or Robusta and 50% peas.
To make matters worse, the report acknowledges that the 50% of the ration store ‘coffee’ that is actually coffee comes mostly from Brazil and Mexico, (curiously, Granma does not include Vietnam, which is Cuba’s main supplier) although, “sometimes some quantities from national production are used, especially from Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, and Cienfuegos.” Not a trace of the top-quality Villa Clara product promoted the day before in Granma.
The report attempts to respond to the criticism received about the coffee for sale in the ration stores, marketed under the ‘Hola’ (Hello) brand, which arose after the publication of an interview with Antonio Alemán Blanco, general director of the Cuba-Café Company, last October. In the interview the official admitted that the supply will not be able to satisfy the demand until at least the end of the year. Which includes the coffee for sale outside the ration system and even the coffee for sale only in hard currencies.
Alemán Blanco said that 85% of the available coffee is allocated to the “market basket” which each Cuban qualifies for under the ration system, to try to at least guarantee the product to that segment. In response, complaints rained down from readers who questioned the quality of a product that, thanks to the peas, was well known for making their coffee pots explode.
Cubadebate tries to respond to this general feeling among consumers, arguing that the bean is ‘supervised’ and that there are specialized tasters who test the product before it is put on sale.
This is backed up by the testimony of the head of the quality control laboratory at the Cabaiguán Roasting Plant, Suleika González Méndez, who explains that it is verified that the “coffee and pea” mixture that they receive meets the established requirements.
Ricardo René Pérez Pérez, director of Torrefactora, adds that the quality is also tested after roasting and if something goes wrong the process is stopped and they start again. In the roasting plant there are nine tasters and a laboratory that controls the smell, taste and appearance of the product. Finally, another control is carried out on each batch of finished coffee, repeating the process and samples are kept for a time to respond to possible complaints, they add.
With all this, it would be expected that the coffee, or rather that mixture that they consider coffee, is of good quality. But consumers complain that it does not turn out well and their stove-top espresso pots explode. The fault, of course, is theirs, for improperly preparing it.
“People do not believe it or they laugh at science, but one of the causes of poor straining in homes is that the proportion of water corresponding to the ounces or grams of the coffee used is not taken into account,” says González Mendez. In his opinion, it is “a serious mistake” to press down the coffee by pressing it with the spoon on the filter.
However, if the same operation is carried out with real coffee, the expert admits, coincidentally, that does not happen: “The difference is in the peas, which do not allow or assimilate well if you compact it inside the filter holder,” she acknowledges.
The text ends with the personal touch of its author, Yosdany Morejón Ortega, who, although optimistic about a future with real coffee, recognizes that the present is not promising. “It is also true that at the end of the day, there is not enough coffee for everyone’s buchito (‘little sip’) and it is not available in the domestic market. I do not use justifications, nor do I try to cover the sun with a finger, that is not my objective.”
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