STiR coffee and tea magazine

Volume 5, Number 5

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34 STiR coffee and tea / Issue 5, 2016 (October/November) Story and photos by Larry Luxner SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico Tucked away in a suburban industrial park, and wedged among an electronics shop, an air-conditioning distributor, and a maker of industrial equipment, Gustos Coffee Co. runs one of Puerto Rico's most eclectic coffee shops — as well as a roasting plant aimed at satisfying the indulgences of demanding local coffee drinkers. Omar Torres, president of Gustos, has been in business since 1999 and now fo- cuses on specialty coffee, even though the industry itself is going through hard times. "Coffee has been in decline here for the past eight years, and the last five years have been even more dramatic," said the 51-year-old businessman. "The biggest problem in the last decade is the world economy and oil prices, which have raised the cost of growing coffee on the island. Oil prices have come down now, but over the last 10 years when they were going up, it affected the cost of fertilizer and insecticides. Farmers were losing money but the government didn't raise coffee prices to keep up. Even so, our company has been growing every year no matter what," Tor- res said in a recent interview here, though he declined to discuss revenues. Gustos has 75 employees and two 12,000-sq.-ft. warehouses in San Juan and Ponce, making it a rising star in the local coffee industry, which spans nearly two centuries. Yet in the annals of Puerto Rican history, 1896 is particularly memorable. That year, according to Luis Pumarada O'Neill's La Industria Cafetalera de Puerto Rico: 1736-1969, the industry reached the pinnacle of its success, ranking as the world's sixth-largest coffee exporter and shipping a record 579,613 quintales (a measurement equivalent to 100 lbs., abbreviated as qq) of locally grown beans to sophisticated coffee drinkers throughout Europe. For a time, the Vatican imported Puerto Rican coffee for the exclusive consumption of its popes and cardinals. Since then, production has fallen dramatically, to 113,000 qq in 2012 and only 40,000 qq last year — with only 1,000 to 2,000 qq of that exported. The industry's decline coincides with a dramatic exodus of Puerto Ricans to the US mainland; in the past decade, more than 500,000 of the island's 3.9 million inhabitants have left as the island's government, nearly $70 billion in debt, suffers one of the worst financial crises in recent history. Puerto Rico: Despite the crumbling economy pioneers invest in reviving the island's stagnant coffee business Baltasar Soto, project manager for the Hotel Hacienda Lealtad project in the Puerto Rican mountain town of Lares Coffee picker Angel Ruíz Cruz at work at a Café Hacienda Lealtad plantation near the Puerto Rican mountain town of Lares

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