Specialty Coffee Cupping Tour in Old San Juan
Coffee lovers rejoice! Puerto Rico’s coffee culture is making a resurgence! You can witness this yourself by checking out the specialty coffee shops opening up around Old San Juan.
Due to its climate, geography and soil, Puerto Rico is a perfect place to grow high-quality coffee. While the majority of the coffee farms produce beans for commercial grade coffee products, there is now an increasing number of small coffee farms that are producing small quantities of premium coffee beans. Along with this, people’s interest in coffee, and coffee quality, is also growing. There are a few schools and labs that have opened to provide information in the art of coffee — from cupping to Barrista classes to official tasters and graders.
If you want a quick and tasty introduction to coffee "cupping" (tasting) of Puerto Rican specialty coffee, Cuatro Sombras offers an informative 1-hour class. So, if you want to learn what makes a good cup of coffee and taste the differences between different grades of coffee, you have got to check this out!
The tour (more of an informal class, actually) is conducted in the back room of the Cuatro Sombras coffee house in Old San Juan. The owners of Cuatro Sombras, Pablo and Mariana, have invested in the Hacienda Santa Clara coffee plantation in Yauco, and are in the process of restoring it to its former glory. Some of their coffee bushes are from the original bushes planted in the 1850s. Luckily, coffee bushes are resilient and many of the old originals still produce fruit. All of their coffee bushes are the tipica variety of the Arabica species. The beans from this farm are used to produce Cuatro Sombras single-origin specialty coffee.
I have to tell you that me and Ray are not "into" coffee at all, so we were not so excited we when were approached about taking this tour. But I have to say that we were pleasantly surprised, and really enjoyed this tour. Pablo’s excitement about their experiences with coffee was contagious, and it made the class extra interesting and informative. It kind of made us want to plant a few more coffee bushes on our property!
Mariana greeted us when we arrived in the shop, and walked us back to the classroom/teaching lab. As you walk through the cafe, you can’t help but notice the aroma of coffee and the large red coffee roaster. Pablo would be our guide, and Luis would be the Barrista, for the class today.
Pablo started off with a slide presentation of coffee production, from the types of coffee bushes, through harvesting, grading, roasting, and packaging. The photos (historical and current-day) in the slides were really pretty, and almost all of them were from their Hacienda Santa Clara coffee farm. They showed us green (un-roasted) specialty grade beans side by side with commercial grade beans, and explained the visible differences. And we discussed Puerto Rico’s past and present coffee production, and the challenges faced by the local coffee industry today.
After we went through the slide presentation, we started with the hands-on coffee cupping part of the tour. Coffee cupping is the term used to describe a specific process of tasting coffee to really quantify the aroma and flavors of the coffee. Professional master tasters are the people who grade the quality of coffees. What Pablo and Luis do in this class is bring the important aspects of coffee cupping down to a level that that can be easily understood by anyone. They give you a good idea of what qualities to look for in a cup of coffee.
They give you a rating sheet that is used to record your rating for each aspect of the coffee tasting. Pablo explained how coffee should be a balance between things like body and acidity. To illustrate these points, we where given samples of milks and waters to taste so that we could feel the differences in our mouths.
Then it was time for the coffee. We compared 3 different specialty coffees (one freshly roasted that morning), and one commercial grade coffee.
We started by looking at the differences in the dry coffee, and smelling the dry coffee grounds. After adding hot water and waiting for it to brew in the cups, we learned the correct methods of deeply sniffing the coffee, and slurping the coffee so that its flavor characteristics spread all over the mouth and the tongue.
The goal was to try to judge the different characteristics of the coffee’s aroma, taste — things like sweet, sour, bitter, salty — and how it coated your tongue. We were amazed at the differences even coffee-ignorant people like us could perceive in the different samples. It was really interesting.
After the cupping, Luis made us some artfully foamed cups of coffee, and even made Ray an amazing hot chocolate while we sat and discussed the future of Puerto Rico coffee production, possible standards for quality, coffee farm tours, and the hopes for future specialty coffee tourism boom.
You can already see more premium coffee houses opening up around Old San Juan and the San Juan metro area. These cupping classes will educate coffee lovers so they can better appreciate a good cup of coffee … hopefully a delicious Puerto Rico grown coffee!
Normally, when we review an activity that is not free to the public, we pay the admission price out of our own pockets. However, we just want you to know that the folks at Cuatro Sombras were kind enough to offer us this tour for free. While we don’t feel that this free ride influenced our review one way or the other, we felt that we should tell you, just as a matter of fact.
$89 for a cupping workshop. Call or use their website for reservations. Note- they also have a Tasting Class” for $16.
The Cupping Workshop is offered by reservation. The class lasts about 1 hour.
You can call Cuatro Sombras at 787-724-9955 for more information or to book this tour.
You can visit the Cuatro Sombras web site for more information or to book this tour.
Cuatro Sombras is located at 259 Calle Recinto Sur in Old San Juan. You can stop in for a coffee or snack.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.
- Cuatro Sombras coffee house: (18.464169, -66.114238)
PuertoRicoDayTrips.com assumes no responsibility regarding your safety when participating in the activities described in this article. Please use common sense! If your mother or that little voice in your head tells you that you are about to do something stupid … then don't do it!