For other Coffee Thoughts, see my pages in Esquire Magazine’s Eat Like a Man
Haiti has a uniquely tragic history. Evidence of it permeates everything here, its all around me. But perhaps Haiti’s singular bright spot may be an unassuming heirloom coffee, a variety brought here by the French nearly 300 years ago. Grown on small peasant plots high in the mountains, picked by hand and painstakingly processed in the sun, it is a godsend to Haiti as well as millions of coffee drinkers around the world – it is remarkably sweet, smooth, and completely unforgettable.
It is some of the best coffee I’ve had, so incredible even unrelenting bad fortune could never stop it. In fact, by 1950 Haiti was the third largest coffee exporter in the world. But then came some even more bad fortune: brutal military rule, UN and US embargoes and deadly hurricanes – all horrifically punctuated by a devastating earthquake striking squarely in the middle of coffee harvest.
Now Haiti lays in ruins, splayed open like a smashed melon, with over a million people in camps and another 300,000 dead – crushed under the weight of their own homes – corruption and distrust are everywhere, and now disease, Cholera, is spreading and killing survivors.
But does this mean it’s over, that the great Haitian coffee is dead? Does this mean Haiti can no longer claim it produces something that rivals the best in the world?
I don’t think so.
Mts of Haiti, January 2011