Sandra Farms Coffee

May 8, 2024  •  Caribbean, North America, Puerto Rico, Travel

Ever since I started visiting Puerto Rico, I have been thirsty for more understanding of Puerto Rican coffee farming, so what better way to learn than to visit a farm high in the mountains (the mountain shade filters the sun and gives coolness to produce better coffee) in the western part of the island? Sandra Farms isn’t easy to reach but it’s worth the drive!

Mountain shade arabica coffee was brought to the island by black Arabs from Africa around 1736, and Puerto Rican coffee has been loved by kings and popes, not to mention regular joes like me, ever since. At the height of the industry there were 8000 farms on the tiny island, but now only 1000 farms have survived, and the government no longer helps with fertilizer and roads and equipment. As a result, 95% of the coffee that is sold in Puerto Rico is not actually grown in Puerto Rico.In addition to coffee plants, which are grown from seedlings, Sandra Farms grows an impressive list of other crops: turmeric, cocoa, ginger, plantains, oranges, taro, almonds, coconut, sour sop, hobos, breadfruit, grapefruit and passion fruit. I’m sure I’ve missed something in that list as everywhere we looked were trees and plants flowering and bearing fruit.Coffee season runs from September to February. At Sandra Farms, they are very picky about having very ripe fruit that’s picked in passes over weeks. To dry the fruit, it’s pressed then air dried for 40 hours. The farms pay fifty cents per pound for the work, which in Puerto Rico is considered a high wage. After 3 weeks, the coffee begins to deteriorate, so time is critical.Israel and Sandra Gonzalez purchased the farm in 1994, and began to work the farm in 1997 when they retired from the peace corps. But the hurricanes came shortly afterwards, starting in 1998 with hurricane George, followed by all of the others including the big one, Hurricane Maria in 2017, and the very wet Hurricane Fiona in 2022.On Sandra Farms, the coffee is planted on 8 x 8 x 8 plots on steep hills for the best results.It’s a never ending struggle to fight Mother Nature in this industry as you can see from the debris surrounding everything in these two photos above.The farm has invested in a new passive dryer, where the bottom is utilized for the most wet fruit which is then moved to top for grill drying. Air circulates on the beans when they reach the right roast so it doesn’t carry over roasting.There are many different types of roasts for coffee: light city roast, city roast (what Sandra Farms does), city roast plus, medium dark roast, dark roast, Italian roast, and French roast.We had no idea how specific the process of making a cup of coffee is – that is, if you want the best experience. Our guide explained that if done properly, there is no need for milk or sweetener to mask the bad elements of the brew. That means using only a pour over technique with a clean filter with boiling water. Specifically, the water should be between 197-200 degrees, and you should use 13 parts water to coffee (650 grams of water to 50 grams coffee, for example). The coffee goes in flat over the filter, and then the heated water is poured over the coffee for only 3 1/2 minutes.Having always taken my coffee with creamer and sweetener, I was shocked at how perfect this little cup of coffee was on it’s own. Well, made even better with some dark chocolate with a coffee bean inside, that is!

There are a few ways you can help the Puerto Rican coffee industry:

Visit a coffee farm and help spread the word.
Sandra Farms
Israel and Sandra Gonzalez
HC-01 Box 4150
Adjuntas, Puerto Rico USA 00601

Coffee Touring and Tasting
Discover Puerto Rico Guide

Purchase coffee not just bagged in Puerto Rico, but grown there as well:
Sandra Farms

Cafecito de Puerto Rico

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