Barista Magazine

APR-MAY 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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"The government brings semi-roasted coffee that they buy at auc- tions—sometimes it's from Mexico, sometimes it's from the Dominican Republic. Since they're the government, they don't have to pay the import fee, which can be $2.50–$3 per pound," Gabriel explains. "It's easier for them to do it: They bring it in semi-roasted and have it available and sell it to the big companies to mix with whatever they have. It's kind of misleading, because the bags are from Puerto Rico and say 'Puerto Rican coffee.' "Basically, what they're doing is saying, 'We have coffee available. You don't need the permit,'" he says. "What they don't understand is that some of us are in a different market. Their coffee is commer- cial coffee. If we're trying to serve a coffee that's above average—I don't know if I can call it specialty, because Puerto Rico is not there yet—but they don't understand that. Last year, the government made between $20–$30 million [selling semi-roasted coffee]. This year, they'll probably make a killing with all that's happened. It's in their best interest not to give you the permit because they'd rather sell you the coffee and make money." While coffee shops like Gabriel's, focusing on Puerto Rican coffee are worried about just how long they'll be able to keep serving, there's been an initiative for roasters outside the country to send beans to the island called Beans for PR. "The idea behind Beans for PR came from two cool dudes trying to help the coffee industry in Puerto Rico recover after Hurricane Maria," Kali Jean Solack, who runs Café Regina in Santurce, says. "Stephen Hoppe of La Penúltima, in Santurce, and Xavier Alexander of Metric Coffee, in Chi- cago, decided that receiving bean donations from roasters across the States could be a great help to shops that had been closed or affected by the hurricane. They asked me to help manage the project and be a liaison be- tween U.S. roasters and local coffee shops. I also help in the distribution of the beans. Metric Coffee is making strides in the coffee industry and is known quite well across the country, so Xavier brought a great crowd of roasters on board. He is Puerto Rican and spent his early childhood in Puerto Rico. He still has family here." As of now, between 30 and 40 roasters are involved, including Metric, Máquina, La Colombe, 4 letter Word, Ipsento, and Caffe Ladro. "The process has been very humbling," Kali says. "We were pleasantly surprised by the eagerness of so many roasters to get involved. The end goal is to connect Puerto Rican coffee shops with roasters in the States in the event that it is hard to obtain local beans because of the destruction caused by Maria." The hurricane has increased discussion of those exorbitant taxes on coffee importation. "The whole system is a hot topic right now," Kali says. "You will talk to some coffee shop owners who want the tax lifted so they can have freedom to import, and others who would argue that it would have signifi cant negative consequences. "Being able to import coffee at a cheap- er rate from countries where labor is less expensive would make competition very strong," she adds. Puerto Rico's crop is pricey to produce because it's subject to U.S. labor law. "It would defi nitely bring a strong competition so the farmers and roasters would have pressure to keep improving and to adapt to the new industry," she says. "This could be a good thing." 80 barista magazine

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