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Your guide to Dominican Republic Coffee
Connoisseurs have frequently rated coffee from the Dominican Republic among the best in the world. The Dominicans themselves absolutely love it; it is not just a drink, but an essential part of their life and society. Thanks to that passion, however, this Caribbean treasure can be hard to find outside the country.
The Dominican Republic forms two-thirds of the tropical island of Hispaniola; the other third is Haiti. Conditions here are perfect for growing coffee beans. The local people, numbering 10 million, consume much of the coffee crop themselves; around 80 percent each year. The remainder that is exported adds up to 400,000 60kg bags (24,000 metric tons) annually, so the country hardly figures on the world stage, making up for less than 1 percent of global production. The keynote of the sought-after Dominican coffee is intensity: in colour, strength, flavour and aroma, but without bitterness. You may well spot it carrying the label of Santo Domingo - the republic's capital city.
Dominican Republic coffee production originated in the 1730s when Spanish colonists brought seedlings over from the Isle of Martinique. The plants thrived in their new environment, boosted by tropical heat, mountainous terrain, nutrient-packed soil and almost constant rainfall. As a result, coffee farming and coffee consumption grew and grew. By the end of the 19th century, it was on a sound commercial footing.
After a hesitant and difficult start, tourism has surged recently in the Dominican Republic. Every year about six million people arrive by air or cruise ship, tempted by the tropical climate, striking scenery, beaches and unique culture. They appreciate the colourful towns and local people, the food and (of course) the gourmet coffees. Many of them take ground or roasted coffee beans home as souvenirs and so the popularity is spreading.
Dominican Republic Coffee Farms
Nowadays, coffee cultivation takes place all over the republic. Most growing happens between 2,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level (600 - 150 metres) because farmers know the beans at this altitude take longer to grow and ripen and hence pack in more sweet flavour.
Although there is some Robusta cultivation, almost all the coffee grown on farms in the Dominican Republic is from Arabica beans, notably the Typica varietal which accounts for some 90 percent. Other varietals are Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai and Mundo Novo.
About 90 percent of Dominican Republic coffee is certified organic, grown in the shade of banana, guava and palm trees to protect the plants from the sun's heat, so they ripen more slowly, plumping up the cherries.
The government in San Domingo has officially denominated seven coffee-growing regions where the highest-rated and best-known farms are to be found: Barahona, Cibao, Noroeste, Neyba, Sierra Sur, Sierra Occidental and Sierra Central. Thirty years ago, the areas were designated as Cibao, Bani, Azua, Ocoa, Barahona and Juncalito, and the names are still often used in referring to coffee regions. It is worth knowing them; when it comes to seeking out the best beans, coffees from these distinct micro-climates tend to lend various flavour characteristics and aromas. The government is keen to promote the individual profiles of the coffees from around the country.
The unique geography and climate of the Dominican Republic mean it can rain at any time of year. Combined with moderate heat and gentle winds, this prolongs the growing season for coffee. The cherries ripen quite slowly, and high-quality beans can be produced at a higher altitude almost all year round. The main harvest takes place between October and June at the 120,000-plus farms spread across the country. Most Dominican Republic coffee plantations cover less than six acres and grow cacao, bananas and nuts alongside the coffee plants. The premium beans are shade-grown at 3,500 feet (1,060 metres) or higher, on terraced hillsides.
The coffee cherries are picked by hand, then washed and left to dry in the sun before being peeled to expose the beans. Most farmers send them to producers to be roasted, although several growers do their own roasting.
How do you drink Dominican Coffee?
For the authentic taste, follow the Dominicans' traditional method: they love their coffee sweet and strong. They use a greca, an essential piece of kitchen equipment, made of aluminium and hexagonal in shape. Water is poured into the bottom half, the ground coffee goes into a filter dish that sits inside it, then the jug is screwed in place on top. The greca goes on to a hot stove and the heated water percolates through the coffee into the jug. While still hot, it is poured into small cups, espresso-style. You might like to add milk, but you probably won't need to add any sweetener thanks to the noticeable sugar cane flavour notes in every cup!
What does Dominican Coffee taste like?
Dominicans have a sweet tooth, and their coffee suits it. It is unlikely that you will want to add sugar, although many people in the republic enjoy doing so. Dominican coffees have a full-bodied flavour and a complexity dependent on where the coffee is grown.
Barahona coffee grown at high altitude is widely considered to be the Dominican Republic's best. It is sweet, intense and packed with taste. Noted for its rich flavour, it is often compared with specialist Jamaican coffee - full-bodied, with creamy, nutty and chocolatey tasting notes.
Our Barahona Paraiso medium-strength coffee is incredibly smooth and aromatic with mild acidity. It is perfect for a strong filter coffee or a full-bodied espresso.
The Bani and Ocoa coffees offer a slightly softer, more mellow taste. The farms in Cibao, located in the mountainous north of the country, produce something full-bodied, nuttier and lightly acidic. Cibao Altura, the high-altitude offering, is reckoned by many to be one of the Dominican Republic's best speciality coffees.
The Sierra de Neyba mountain range, a national park in Bauruco, in the southwest corner of the Dominican Republic, is one of its most productive coffee-growing areas. Beans from this region have a nice citrus hint.
Coffee from Juncalito, in the northern Santiago province of Junca, like Neyba, is made up of 30 percent Typica and 70 percent Caturra beans. This coffee is cultivated between 1,100 and 1,450 metres (3,600 to 4,750 feet), is mildly acidic with a pleasant aroma and hints of malt and tropical fruits.
Azua, like Bani and Ocoa, lies in the south of the republic. Its coffee is soft and fruity with a sweet, nutty edge.
Not sure which size bag you need? See How Many Cups each size provides.