Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island known for its tropical retreats, was once a strategic military outpost for Spanish conquistadors. Colonization brought about a series of defensive structures built along the Bay of San Juan to protect the city’s narrow cobblestone streets and the treasures inside the flat-roofed stone and brick buildings. Many of these historical sites are unlike anything found in the mainland United States.
But the real gem of Puerto Rico is beyond the historic sites of Old San Juan and the postcard-worthy beaches and resorts. It lies in the mist-covered, cool mountain region in Central Puerto Rico. It is Puerto Rican coffee!
During the 19th century, Puerto Rican coffee was a sought after commodity in the royal courts and cafés of Spain, Austria and France. Even the Vatican sang its praises and wouldn’t trade it for any other coffee.
However, over the past century, Puerto Rican coffee production has lost its vigor to countries like Brazil and Colombia. Local demand for coffee has increased, but the production has dwindled and not much is left to export.
Today, Puerto Rico imports coffee from other countries, which has created two categories of coffee drinkers in this small island. The first group is made up of those who drink the standard coffee for sale in stores, usually commercial-grade imported coffee mixed with local commercial grade coffee. The second group consists of coffee aficionados who appreciate fine coffee and will go anywhere to find a great cup. They prefer to drink the specialty coffee grown in Puerto Rico’s interior mountains.
In recent years, specialty coffee production has been making a comeback in Puerto Rico. We had the honor of meeting Robert Atienza, a third generation coffee grower in Hacienda San Pedro and hobbyists-turned-professional coffee growers and bed and breakfast owners, German-born Kurt Legner and his son Sebastian of Hacienda Pomarrosa.
Hacienda San Pedro
Hacienda San Pedro is a specialty coffee farm (with a coffee shop and coffee museum) in the remote town of Jayuya. It is located at 2,000 feet elevation along La Ruta Panoramica (scenic drive) in the central region of Puerto Rico.
Spanish immigrant, Emeterio Atienza started Hacienda San Pedro in 1931 after working hard to save enough money to purchase his own land. He had over 30 years of experience in Puerto Rican coffee farms before starting Hacienda San Pedro. Emeterio Atienza’s vision continued with his son Alberto, who is now in his 90s, and has since handed over the reins to his son, Roberto, a third generation coffee grower.
Roberto worked for over 40 years on the farm, and under his leadership, Hacienda San Pedro is now a 216-acre coffee and fruit farm. He is one of the most passionate coffee growers we’ve met. Roberto’s son and daughters, the fourth generation Atienza coffee growers, have caught on to the vision as well. Hacienda San Pedro’s coffee is sold throughout Puerto Rico and in specialty stores in the US.
For those who can’t get to the ridges of Central Cordillera, Hacienda San Pedro has a specialty coffee shop in Santurce, San Juan’s hipster haven.
A tour of the farm includes visiting the coffee plantation, seeing the process of harvesting the cherries (from October to January only), visiting the plant with processing machines, drying machines, milling machines and roasting machines. All visitors get the chance to taste the specialty coffee from Hacienda San Pedro and to purchase a bag or two of coffee beans from the coffee shop.
It was harvesting season during our visit and we had the opportunity to witness first hand the problem Roberto and other coffee growers were facing in Puerto Rico – coffee rust, a topic we will write in the near future.
To preserve the history of Hacienda San Pedro, The Atienzas maintained a small museum on-site with vintage burr grinders, photos, and memorabilia from years past.
Tours can be arranged in advance. Our tour included a choice of specialty coffee made by Roberto.
Information: Hacienda San Pedro
Hacienda Pomarrosa is located 3,000 feet above sea level in Barrio Anon, close to two Puerto Rican mountain peaks, Cerro Punta (4,500 feet) and Cerro Maravilla (3,953 feet). It is about 45 minutes from Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico. We traveled about 40 minutes through the mountain roads from the Jayuya to Hacienda Pomarrosa. It isn’t necessary to use the mountain roads to get to Hacienda Pomarrosa from San Juan. The easiest route is through Highway PR-52. Because of its proximity to the highway, Hacienda Pomarrosa is perfect for travelers who prefer self-drive vacations.
The owner Kurt Legner is an immigrant from Germany. He runs the eight-acre coffee farm with his son Sebastian. A tour experience in Hacienda Pomarrosa is entirely different from Hacienda San Pedro. Kurt and Sebastian offer daily coffee tours (including coffee tasting) with or without the bed and breakfast accommodation on-site. Currently, there are three casitas (villas) in this eight-acre property.
Guests at the casitas get to enjoy a full breakfast prepared by Sebastian. A typical breakfast includes fresh seasonal fruits, freshly squeezed orange juice from their own farm, Pomarrosa’s specialty coffee, avocado toasts with eggs and bacon or banana pancakes.
Every day at 11 am Kurt Legner gathers his guests (on day trips or guests in one of his casitas) around his rectangular table at the gazebo, complete with coffee machines, coffee cups, plates, and cutlery. While he shares stories and the history of coffee, his son, Sebastian, serves various types of freshly brewed coffee.
During our visit, on the long rectangular table was a plate of freshly baked banana bread and a spread made with coffee cherries without the coffee beans. The coffee tour included a walk through the farm, passing through pine trees, specially grown by Kurt when he acquired the farm. The tour includes visiting the processing room, drying room, roasting and packaging room. Guests can purchase the freshly roasted coffee beans in half-pound bags for $17 each.
For more information on directions, tours and a bed and breakfast stay at Hacienda Pomarossa, visit their website.
Hacienda San Pedro and Hacienda Pomarossa are just two of the many coffee plantations in Cordillera Central, the rugged interior mountains of Puerto Rico. It’s best to combine the coffee plantation tours with a scenic drive in the mountains.
Have you tried Puerto Rican coffee? Leave a comment below.