In honor of International Coffee Day, celebrated this year on October 1st, Starbucks is giving two million coffee seeds to farmers in Puerto Rico.
Coffee has been grown in Puerto Rico since the Spanish colonial days, when coffee seedlings were brought from Martinique and Haiti by Corsican immigrants. Over the following century, Puerto Rico became famous for its coffee.
It is said that the Vatican served only coffee from Puerto Rico in the 19th century. However, in recent years, two thirds of the coffee consumed in Puerto Rico has been imported. Since 85% of food was imported before Hurricane Maria, this should not be entirely surprising; agriculture has become much less important as an industry in Puerto Rico over the past century.
According to World Coffee Research, Hurricane Maria destroyed 80% of the coffee plants in Puerto Rico — some $18 million in damage. The hurricane struck just before harvest, leaving coffee growers with no results for their hard work in 2017. Earlier hurricanes, in 1899 and 1928, sharply reduced the number of coffee growers on the Island.
This time around, the Starbucks donation may allow the remaining coffee growers to rebuild their companies.
The types of coffee native to Puerto Rico, Limani or Fronton strains of the Bourbon Arabica type, are not available as seeds. A Mexican variety, Marsellesa, will be supplied instead.
The seeds must be quarantined for five months. However, they will be planted, grown, and hardened off during that time, so that coffee planters will have seedlings for spring of 2019. It will take years for the new coffee trees to grow to maturity and produce a good crop.
But Puerto Rico’s government and the coffee growers see this as an opportunity to revive the coffee industry. Starbucks, World Coffee Research, Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters (owners of Cafe Crema, Yaucono, and Cafe Rico, the top brands in Puerto Rico), and the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture have banded together to create a task force intent on improving the quality and sustainability of Puerto Rico’s coffee.
It’s part of the revival of Puerto Rico post-Maria.