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Cuban Coffee Back in the States After 50 Years

Grant Whittington headshotWords by Grant Whittington
New Activism
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Cigars? Rum? Not quite yet. But coffee will be the first Cuban product to come back to the United States after a more than 50-year trade embargo. The U.S. Department of State gave independent Cuban entrepreneurs the green light to begin exporting coffee to the U.S. after updating its list of acceptable goods.

The coffee won’t be sold at a wide-scale range just yet. Nespresso, the Swiss-based coffee company specializing in the sale of individual coffee capsules, will be the first to sell the product in the states. Nespresso’s initial purchase is only a few dozen tons, Quartz reported on Monday, but the company said the goal is to create a steady pipeline between Cuban coffee producers and U.S. shoppers.

Nespresso will feature the coffee in stores, online and over the phone, and it will sell the product as a limited-edition good called Cafecito de Cuba.

Prior to Fidel Castro’s revolution and the beginning of Cuba's estranged relationship with the United States, coffee was a booming industry in the island country. With exports exceeding 20,000 metric tons of coffee beans in the mid-1950s, the good was sold at lavish rates and often exported across the Atlantic to European buyers.

The Sierra Maestra Mountains, Cuba’s goldmine region booming with soil perfect for coffee beans, was the site of Castro’s revolutionary activity -- consequently creating a decline in the coffee industry. In 2009, the country had an all-time low harvest, and the government spent more than $50 million on imported coffee.

While Cuba managed to export 1.7 million pounds of coffee in 2014, Costa Rica — a country half the size of Cuba — outshone its counterpart by more than 150 million pounds that year, the Boston Globe reported.

Cuban coffee, although surviving some tough economic times, may finally be on the rise again following the U.S. Department of State’s lift on its embargo. In July 2015, the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relations and lifted the embargo, but goods such as coffee, rum and cigars are still strictly monitored.

Cigars, the symbolic Cuban commodity, are still not sold in the United States. Americans leaving Cuba are prohibited from bringing back $100 worth of cigars. In March, President Barack Obama announced that Americans traveling to other countries around the world are officially allowed to purchase a Cuban cigar.

Nespresso isn’t likely to hold the monopoly on Cuban coffee in America, with competitors eyeing a run at the commodity recently given the okay to enter the states. GulfWise Commerce, a new company created to work directly with Cuba, is looking into roasting, packaging and ultimately selling coffee in the U.S., Quartz reported. 

With Americans drinking an average of 2.7 cups of coffee per day and coffee shops seeing the fastest growth in the restaurant industry, this could be a fantastic springboard for Cuban goods to catch fire on American shelves.

Image credit: Javier de la Rosa/Flickr

Grant Whittington headshotGrant Whittington

Based in Washington, DC, Grant works as a program assistant at SEEP Network, an international development nonprofit. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. Grant is passionate about humanitarianism and finding sustainable approaches to international development. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

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