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Cuba and coffee used to go hand in hand, with the island one of the world’s largest exporters of the bean for decades. More recently, however, Cubans’ taste for coffee has been dialled back due to a shortage of beans. When production is low, at various points in history the country has had to resort to drastic measures to make sure that everyone can get their caffeine fix.
Due to coffee bean shortages, state-produced Cuban coffee is in fact combined with roasted chickpeas to make it go further. This might sound like heresy to coffee lovers around the world, but the thinking in Cuba seems to be that coffee mixed with chickpeas is better than no coffee at all.
Those that have tried the unusual brew report that it can be bitter, but for many Cubans there is no alternative. With coffee prices fluctuating on the global market, high costs put pressure on the ability of the Cuban government to import enough coffee to satisfy demand. Pure coffee is available to buy in many cities, but prices put it out of the reach of most Cubans who earn the state salary of around $20 per month.
Café con chicharo, as the chickpea mix is known, can still be found at neighbourhood stores, but is best drunk with sugar. If you notice Cubans shovelling spoonful after spoonful of sugar into their morning cup of joe, it might be because they’re drinking café con chicaro. Either that, or they’ve got a really sweet tooth.
As private enterprise increases its reach across the island, it’s likely that visitors will be able to find a decent cup of coffee wherever they are. For Cubans living on a state salary, the reality is that they could be stuck with chickpea coffee until prices drop or there are significant economic reforms that increase their spending power.