Courtesy of Kenneth Davids, 21st Century Coffee: A Guide
Haiti, which shares the large island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, has a long coffee history. As a colony of France, by 1788 Haiti produced roughly half of the world’s coffee, a production entirely dependent on the labor of slaves. Three years later, in 1791, during the ferment created by the French Revolution, the slave population rebelled, plantations were burned, and in 1804 under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, Haiti defeated France and declared its independence. It remains the first-established independent nation in Latin America, the world’s oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the western hemisphere after the United States.
Since then, however, economic woes largely provoked by the cascading impact of punitive monetary reparations imposed by France (reparations that started in 1825 and did not end until 1947!) depressed Haiti, and along the way, its small-holding coffee producers. To continue to pay the reparations, Haiti took out massive loans from foreign banks at very high interest. By 1900, Haiti was spending about 80% of its national budget on loan repayments. Corrupt leaders compounded 1990s, conditions in Haiti became so dire owing to a United States-led embargo against the prevailing dictatorship that many farmers burned their coffee trees to produce charcoal for sale in local markets.
Two decades of political disorder and a sequence of natural disasters since then have continued to depress the quality of this once famous origin. Today probably few in the coffee world outside Haiti itself probably even notice the absence of the roundly low-toned, full, resonantly chocolaty Haiti cup that once graced specialty coffee menus. Haitian small-holding farmers continue to produce considerable coffee, but almost all of it is carelessly dry-processed and sold into the internal market.
The Haitian Bleu Experiment
In the 1990s, USAID decided to invest almost US$6 million in an effort to help lift Haitian farmers out of poverty by reviving Haitian coffee as a premium specialty origin, paralleling the successful program established in Rwanda after the genocide in 1994. In Haiti a federation of small-holder cooperatives was established called Cafetières Natives with 7,000 participating farmers, wet mills were built and a marketing program established to promote the new coffee. It was branded Haitian Bleu, a brilliantly conceived piece of marketing that referenced the famous Blue Mountain coffee from nearby Jamaica while adding a Gallic twist appropriate to French-speaking Haiti. Supporting the branding was the moving story of Haiti’s struggling but dignified small holders. However, unlike the perhaps more coffee-savvy development effort that took place later in Rwanda, the Haitian effort failed, its downward spiral intensified by a crushing earthquake in 2010.
Continuing Efforts to Revive Haiti Coffee.
Nevertheless, idealistic private-sector entrepreneurs have not given up on Haiti coffee, nor, apparently, have the long-suffering small-holding Haitian coffee farmers themselves. Roaster-importer Cafe Kreyol, using a direct trade model, has developed a Haiti coffee that, based on my limited sampling, is a lovely rendition of the Caribbean cup. Branded as Haitian Blue, the samples I tested were lightly syrupy, smooth, resonantly low-toned, pleasingly vibrant rather than bright. I have cupped other Haitian coffees that have arrived through more conventional supply chains produced from traditional Haitian Typica-related varieties that have also impressed, with similarly quietly sweet, smoothly cocoa-toned character.
Haiti Coffee Ratings and Reviews
Click here to view ratings and reviews of coffees from Haiti.