‘This Was a Beautiful Place’: Puerto Rico’s Coffee Farms Devastated By Maria


NPR presents the story of coffee producers Roberto Atienza and his daughter, Rebecca Atienza, who are still reeling from the damages caused by Hurricane Maria:

Café Hacienda San Pedro, a trendy coffee shop in San Juan, is buzzing. A long line snakes through it. People are chatting; dogs sit snoozing. Everything looks normal.

But in a few months, it probably won’t.

After a 2 1/2-hour drive into the mountains, through denuded trees and winding roads cleared by chainsaws, it’s clear that this coffee company has been devastated at its source.

When Hurricane Maria hit nearly three weeks ago, it wiped out more than three-quarters of the island’s small agricultural sector overnight, by some estimates.

“I think that maybe 90 percent of the plantation was destroyed by the hurricane,” says Roberto Atienza, the third generation of his family to grow coffee on this land in central Puerto Rico. He has turned it into a specialty coffee company, with hand-picked beans that are dried in the sun.

Harvest season came late this year, he says. They had picked just 2 percent of the beans before Hurricane Maria blasted through. The ripple effects will continue — he expects the company, including the San Juan coffee shop, to run out of beans in December.

“In this moment we have a good market of the coffee, we have everything, all the coffee chains, but really we don’t have coffee to continue,” Atienza adds. He talks about shutting down the website. Exports, a major part of the business, no longer seem feasible.

His daughter Rebecca Atienza owns the coffee shop, and she says they are trying to work out contingency plans, such as asking for waivers to sell coffee from outside Puerto Rico and working reduced hours. [. . .]

For full article and to listen to program, go to http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/10/10/556657967/-this-was-a-beautiful-place-puerto-rico-s-coffee-industry-devastated-by-maria

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