Old Cuban Coffee

Where the Bean Gets its Bite
Sierra Maestra at a Glance
What: Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba
Location: Sierra Maestra, Southeast Cuba
Date of Inscription: 2000
Why You Should Go: The first coffee plantations in the southeast region of Cuba trace the coffee culture back to its genesis, when the land was pristine and commerce was free.
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Cuba is known for its three C's: cigars, (sugar) cane and Castro. Yet centuries before cigar bars, Sugar Busters!, and dictator-related sanctions, coffee was the New Economy of the Old World—a much-needed jolt that helped keep the developing Caribbean island afloat. In the 19th century, the epicenter of coffee production was in the foothills of Sierra Maestra, a lush mountain range in southeast Cuba. With its virgin forests and green peak-to-peak carpeting, the region seemed more friendly to camouflaging bandits than to growing coffee. Yet the French emigres from Haiti persisted, taming the land and subsequently making the bean counters happy.
Cuban coffee—a shot of mud-thick java that makes Starbucks seem as weak as seltzer—is still popular. Yet the coffee plantations from the past are no longer. What remains, though, are hints of what was and what was to come: architectural remnants, technological advances, ecological modifications and, most importantly, a coffee culture that has gone global.
Practically Speaking
At 155 miles long and 19 miles wide, the Sierra Maestra is the largest mountain range in Cuba. The area is wedged between the provinces of Granma and Santiago de Cuba and the Caribbean Sea. From 1956 to 1958, Castro and his gang of revolutionaries took cover in the mists of Pico Turquino. Today, however, the area offers shelter only to birds, orchids, and trekkers. Access to a network of trails is tightly controlled from the Hotel Villa Santo Domingo, but once on the paths, the trek is a lovely romp through exquisite landscape.

For low-altitude sights, the museum at Cafetal La Isabelica details the coffee industry from the 19th and early 20th centuries, including a defunct plantation and a trio of coffee drying platforms built by French entrepreneurs from Haiti.

Published: 23 Mar 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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