If its marketing jingle is to be believed, Bustelo is "el café de tradición" among Latinos. Even if you didn't have this particular brand in your house, your madrina or your tías probably had a similar brick-shaped bag of Cuban-style espresso in the kitchen for daily use (preferably made in the ubiquitous stovetop cafetera), be it Goya or Café Rico.
Fast-forward a generation. Today's Latin kitchen is less likely to stock these vacuum-packed brands of yore. As the “artisanal everything” craze has taken root in this country, serious coffee drinkers want to know more about the beans that are harvested, roasted, and ground to fill their morning cup.
Latin America figures prominently into many of those backstories. Latin America, including the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, is still the world's largest coffee producing region. And while a growing number of international conglomerates, including Coca-Cola, are trying to get in on the game, the Natural Resources Defense Council reports that most coffee producers in Latin America are small farms, often run by families or community co-ops.
Often, these small farmers' beans are bought by big businesses like Starbucks and packaged and sold under their own names. But some artisanal, small batch producers sell their coffee to consumers under their own label, and others sell their coffee through smaller distributors based in the U.S. Here are five of TLK's favorite Latin American coffees you probably haven't heard about before.
Source: Latin America, various countries
The California-based Zona Rosa has been importing, roasting, and distributing organic, fair trade coffee from Latin American fincas since 1993. “We are one of the oldest roasters in Los Angeles,” said founder and CEO Michael Moreno, “and the first in the country to specialize in Latin organic coffee.” Their 2014 roasts include 13 different types of bean, sourced from Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru.
Zona Rosa's website is currently undergoing a revamp; once it's complete, coffee-loving customers can order from the company directly. In the meantime, you'll have to visit one of the restaurants where Zona Rosa is served, among them Oyamel in Washington, D.C., Dos Caminos in New York City, and China Poblano in Las Vegas.
Source: Jayuya, Puerto Rico
Four generations of the Atienza family have cultivated coffee at Hacienda San Pedro, located in the mountains of Jayuya, Puerto Rico's most significant coffee producing region. Today, the family exports a considerable amount of its crop to the U.S. mainland, where it's sold at grocery stores like New York City's Fairway Market. You can also purchase the coffee online through Hacienda San Pedro's website. Don't expect these beans to be cheap; at Fairway, they retail for nearly $25 a pound.
But according to Benny Lanfranco, director of Fairway's coffee and tea department, you get what you pay for. In a description of his visit to the hacienda, he wrote, “[E]very tree [at Hacienda San Pedro] has its own name... and [the staff] still hand-pick beans and dry them in 100-year-old antique drums.”
La Quinta Mary
Source: San Sebastian del Oeste, Mexico
As you drive into the small town of San Sebastian del Oeste, one of Mexico's pueblos mágicos, the smell of freshly roasted coffee envelops you. That's because Rafael Sanchez's roastery, La Quinta Mary, sits right at the entrance to the town, beckoning visitors to stop in for a just-brewed cup and, of course, a bag of beans to go.
Don't expect anything hip or precious about La Quinta Mary; this is a mom-and-pop operation in the truest sense of the term. Chickens wander in the backyard and fading portraits of family members surround a cross attached to one whitewashed wall. There's no website and while Sanchez has a Facebook page for the business, he doesn't post on it daily... or even much at all. But if you're keen to try his beans and don't have a trip to San Sebastian in your immediate future, you can order beans by phone (52 32 2168-7516) or contact Sanchez via email at email@example.com.
Finca las Granadinas
Source: Ocotepeque, Honduras
This shade-grown coffee is cultivated in the mountains of western Honduras at an altitude of 4,500 feet, and is distributed in the U.S. by Cervantes Coffee. Cervantes, based in Virginia, is a family-owned and operated artisan roaster that specializes in single-origin coffees from Central and South America. Working on a roast-to-order basis, Cervantes believes that it's important to not anonymize the fincas and farmers who produce coffee, and they sell each coffee they source under the producer's own name. You can purchase Finca las Granadinas coffee on the Cervantes website, or purchase a three or six-month “coffee subscription,” which entitles you to a different coffee each month. In addition to Honduras, Cervantes currently sources coffee from Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua.
Just Coffee's Las Diosas
We love everything about Las Diosas, a coffee produced by a women's co-op based in Estelí, Nicaragua and sold in the U.S. through Just Coffee Cooperative, a group of folks based in Madison, Wisconsin who describe themselves as “reluctant entrepreneurs... who had absolutely no business or coffee roasting training” when “positive peer pressure” forced them into distributing coffee from Chiapas, Mexico. In the years since, Just Coffee Cooperative has begun working with small farmers all over Latin America and the world.
Las Diosas, like all of the other roasts sold by Just Coffee through its website, benefits not only from the sale of its beans, but also from the support Just Coffee and partners like Outside the Bean provide. Support is typically in the form of community development projects, including clean water initiatives. Just Coffee also supports artists by commissioning colorful, culturally-conscious packaging, the coffee world's equivalent of wine labels. We'd buy this coffee for the pretty bag alone, but the fact that the coffee is exceptional is a bonus.