Once upon a time, the tiny island nation of Haiti--then still a French colony--produced 70 percent of the world's coffee, and it remained one of the top exporters of the bean for over 200 years. Haitian coffee is one of the most unique, intoxicating gourmet coffees on the planet. It's organic, sustainably grown and has been described as "rich, opulent, and sweetly low-toned." Unless you've traveled to Haiti, however, you've probably never tasted this liquid gold. Why?
The gourmet coffee scene really took off in the late 1990s. Before that, there was only a small market for exceptional beans, and in the 1980s and early 1990s the worldwide coffee market was in a slump. Bean prices plummeted. Haiti was in the midst of political and social upheaval, and the economy tanked. Many Haitian producers switched to food crops such as beans or yams, even going so far as to cut down their coffee trees to make more room for these crops. When the gourmet market began booming, Haiti was left behind.
Today there are many organizations working with Haitian coffee farmers to make coffee a viable export again. New trees are being planted. Farmers are learning new techniques to improve production. Haitian coffee is finding novel outlets through high-end chefs like Eric Ripard and Daniel Boulud, but it is still difficult to find.
That's a shame. Haitian coffee is spectacular in taste, but it's also a trip back in time. All of Haiti's coffee is Arabica and derives from the original trees brought to the island of Martinique in the 1720s. Coffee farming has changed little in the three centuries since, and the trees themselves are virtually unchanged from those original trees. Drinking Haitian coffee is like drinking coffee from 300 years ago, and that in itself is pretty amazing.
Thanks to the Internet, you don't have to travel to The Four Seasons in New York to experience this unique coffee. Kafe Pa Nou--"Our Coffee," in Haitian Creole--offers Rebo and Café Selecto roasts for a taste of real Haitian coffee.