By WILL WEISSERT
Adios, cafe con leche?
Cuba -- where super-strong shots of espresso are a way of life -- says
it had its worst coffee harvest in history last year, with production
plummeting to just 5,500 tons nationwide.
And a full-page article in the Communist Party newspaper Granma on
Wednesday warned that authorities will no longer fill the shortfall with
imports. It said the government cannot afford to spend a projected $40
million this year and $47 million next just to keep islanders in
Cuba was the world's top coffee exporter in the 1940s, Granma reported,
producing a bean "that was very coveted in discerning markets."
As recently as the harvest of 1961-1962, Cuba produced 60,000 tons.
The newspaper cited inefficiency and negligence as reasons for the drop
in production, but did not go into detail.
Orlando Guevara, a coffee specialist at the Agricultural Ministry, told
Granma that Cuba hopes to produce at least 6,700 tons of coffee in the
coming harvest that begins in October and lasts about two months. He
said Cuba hopes to one day get back to 1970s' level of 28,000 to 30,000
tons a year.
As part of an effort to improve coffee production, Cuba recently
abandoned the long-held practice of using teams of ill-trained student
volunteers to harvest coffee, most of which is grown in the island's east.
Strong, almost tar-like espresso is most commonly served on the island
in thimble-sized shots cut with copious portions of sugar. Cafe con
leche is strong espresso combined with a large glass of steamed milk.
Though it is famous in Cuba, it is more commonly drunk by Cubans living
in the United States or elsewhere.
But cafe con leche's days could be numbered on the island itself. Bad
news about coffee production follows a report in May that Cuba recorded
its worst sugar harvest in more than a century, a scathing assessment
that followed the firing of the head of an industry that was once a
symbol of the nation.
No official figures were given, but officials acknowledged there had not
been "such a poor sugar campaign" since 1905, when the Cuban census
reported 1.23 million tons of sugar were harvested in the 1905-1906 season.
Communist officials have also for years attempted to jump-start the
country's foundering milk production, with only spotty results.
All of that could mean a lot less cafe con leche.
President Raul Castro has used every major address since taking over
power from his older brother Fidel in July 2006 to stress the need to
revive Cuba's farming sector and cut back on costly imports.