In my time in Tanzania I witnessed coffee growing at a subsistence level; small family operations gathering fruit from a few plants, stoning the cherries, and drying the resulting “beans” in the sun until they resembled small white pebbles which they could then sell to a local cooperative. Hard to imagine that in the context of global trade, yet coffee is one of the most valuable exported commodities. Largely produced in developing countries and mostly consumed in the richer industrialised nations.
So I wasn’t surprised to find that Cuba is a coffee producing nation, though I had no idea as to its quality until I had lunch with a young French woman called Geraldine who had emigrated to the country. I had a fascinating conversation with her about several aspects of Cuban life, which I ended by asking “What is the one thing you would say that I absolutely must do before I leave Havana?”
She asked me if I’d been to Café O Reilly, a relatively sophisticated bar (by Havana standards) on a street with the same Irish name. (Which came first?)
She told me that this was the best place to buy coffee with my tourist pesos (there are two currencies in use in Cuba). I confessed that though I’d lunched there the previous day I had not partaken of their speciality (unless you count the coffee and lemon daiquiri that I consumed) but had noticed them selling freshly milled coffee to other customers.
As we had both finished our lunch and paid she said she would treat me to something special and took me to the bar of La Luz, a bar not selling alcohol but coffee, and a place that I had noticed packed with Habaneros every time I passed.
Behind the ‘L’-shaped counter a man was washing small white coffee cups while chatting to the eager masses of his audience and ensuring that he took payment from all of those present. He then dealt the cups to all around the counter and poured rich black coffee into each. A few sugar dispensers of the type found in 60’s coffee bars were passed around and it was time to taste his product…
…and it was delicious. As good as any espresso I’ve tasted. Geraldine had paid on my behalf as promised and in national pesos, the currency used by Cubans. Actually my use of the plural is incorrect. After a little Gallic charm she was given her coffee free of charge, so she paid only a single peso for mine.
The cost of this black nectar? Roughly equivalent to 3p!
Geraldine was reluctant to be photographed. Not so these guys!