By: Gretchen Gonzalez Wheelings
April 24, 2021
Drinking a cup of coffee a day is part of Puerto Rican culture, whether it's the morning cup or the 3 p.m. cup, it's an essential part of the daily routine. When we asked Pedro "Pichy" Maldonado Ramírez what his favorite cup of coffee was, he replied that it varies depending on the day. He usually likes to have a double shot with a little bit of cold milk, however, he emphasizes that a freshly brewed coffee always tastes good. According to Pedro, "the best coffee is the one you like yourself. Maldonado is perhaps one of the people with the most years of experience in the coffee industry in Puerto Rico. His first job was at the age of 4, opening the bags at Café Cialitos. From an early age he worked in the family business and 11 years ago, when his father passed away, he inherited the business. He is currently the director of the Museo del Café de Puerto Rico in Ciales. Pedro says that from the moment he got into the Museum he knew what he was going to do.
The museum was founded in 1997 and is the most complete library on coffee in Puerto Rico. It contains the history of Puerto Rican coffee exports, a collection of antique grinders and rustic pieces used for pulping, drying, grinding and roasting the beans. It also has a tasting room and a coffee laboratory. It is the only museum of its kind in Puerto Rico and has the distinction of being the first museum to appear in the cultural section of the "Latin American Coffee Summit", 2020 edition. The vision and mission of the Museo del Café de Puerto Rico is to preserve and promote the culture of coffee in Puerto Rico.
On the other hand, besides managing the museum, Pedro also owns his own brand of coffee: Café Don Pello. Café Don Pello is distributed throughout the island and the United States, and is probably the most exported artisanal brand outside the country. Maldonado is very meticulous with the process to elaborate the coffee, taking into account the selection of the bean, the level of roasting and the quality of the mills, among other details. According to him, the difference between Café Don Pello and other coffee brands is the quality of how the coffee is roasted and elaborated. For Pedro, the roasting process is the most important in the coffee process. As he emphasizes, the success of the business is in the production. In addition to having grown up in the industry, his academic background in marketing has facilitated his process of distributing coffee in Puerto Rico. He enjoys everything about working in the coffee industry, especially roasting and bean selection. He explains that once you get started in the industry "there's no one who can take you out".
"To sell coffee you have to know," in Pedro's words. Many coffee brands indicate that the coffee is 100% Puerto Rican, but the quality of the coffee on the market leaves much to be desired. We have to start a scientific agriculture and promote education to improve the coffee industry in the country. In Puerto Rico they forget the process, there is no scientific agriculture when it comes to coffee. According to Maldonado's definition, scientific agriculture incorporates the unification of flavors, cupping, PH (acidity) measurement, oxygen measurement, sugar, among other elements. Producing coffee is a science, it is chemistry. It is important to keep in mind that coffee is drunk for the taste. The taste is what is important. Therefore, the taste must be adjusted to the palate. This can be achieved by thinking of the coffee making process as a science.
One of the situations in Puerto Rico that we must address most urgently is consistency in quality in order to be attractive to foreign markets. It is difficult to export Puerto Rican coffee. The importance of the coffee grower should be to produce the best coffee, but unfortunately, there is a lack of education about the growing process. When growing coffee you have to analyze the coffee zone and you also have to know how to pick it. On the other hand, coffee production costs are higher compared to other countries. Unlike other countries, Puerto Rico pays the federal minimum wage to pickers and as a consequence generates higher production costs. We cannot compete in the international market because of coffee prices. For example, "Premium" coffee has to be marketed as quality coffee. The quintal of coffee is approximately $800, says Pedro. To these problems, we can add that in Puerto Rico there is no manpower, there is no one to pick the coffee and 40% of the crop is lost. In the absence of Puerto Ricans to pick coffee, some coffee growers have opted to import Mexican labor.
In response to these problems, Pedro's solution is education. People who work in the coffee industry must educate themselves and, likewise, educate the consumer. He stresses over and over again, "the most important thing is to read and learn. We have a lot to learn from other countries. In Hawaii, for example, all the coffee that is produced is exported and the farmer earns a fair amount of money. According to Maldonado, the future of Puerto Rico is exports. Now, coffee must be marketed scientifically. We have to innovate. Puerto Rican coffee has nothing to envy to the coffee of other countries, because the aroma and quality of Puerto Rican coffee is very good because we have the sea nearby and we have altitude due to the distance we have from the equator. In short, there is much to transform in our coffee industry, but the longest road begins with one step.
For more information and to purchase Café Don Pello go to https://bit.ly/2TsfUst