The Los Angeles Times,
August 6, 1899, p. 14:
Scenes in Porto Rico
UNCLE SAM'S COFFEE FIELDS.
By Frank G. Carpenter.
HE HAS 100,000 ACRES
OF THEM IN PORTO RICO,
AND THERE IS MONEY IN THEM.
From Our Own Correspondent.
PONCE, July 20, 1899.--How would you like to own a Porto Rican plantation? There is big money in some of them, I can tell you. I have met several men who are making from 25 to 50 per cent. a year out of them. One coffee planter near Adjuntas cleaned up $100,000 in 1898, and there are sugar men who are doing equally as well.
There is no doubt but that there is money in coffee. Porto Rico already raises enough to give half a pound to every man, woman and child among her fellow-citizens of the United States. She produces annually more than fifty million pounds, and she could produce at least as much more. So far not one tenth of the coffee lands have been developed, and those in cultivation are not half cared for.
This is so, although coffee is king in Porto Rico. It is the chief industry of the island, and its sale profits the country more than anything else. The coffee exports are three times as large as the sugar exports. They amount to something like $9,000,000 a year, and go almost altogether to continental Europe.
Folger's coffee ad from the Feb 18, 1915 LA Times
The Best in the World.
I doubt whether there is better coffee in the world than that raised in these new coffee fields of Uncle Sam's. If there is, I have not tasted it. Porto Rican coffee has the same flavor as the best Mocha and Java mixed. As prepared by the Porto Ricans it is a drink for the gods--strong, aromatic and delicious.
The best of the coffee is called cafe caracolilla; it has brought right along 25 cents and more at wholesale. It all goes to France, for it is too rich for our American blood, costing so much that our importers have not introduced it into the American markets. They can get Brazilian coffee cheaper, and the profit upon it is greater. The result is that the Porto Rican coffee has been going to Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Spain. France gets the best; Germany, Austria and Italy take the second and third grades, and the poorest of all is sold to the Spaniards.
This should and will be changed. There are people in United States who are now paying 40 cents a pound for so-called Mocha and Java coffee which costs in Santos and Rio de Janeiro less than 8 cents a pound. They could buy the Porto Rican coffee at a less rate and have a better article...
Where the Coffee Lands Are.
In Brazil the best coffee is raised at an elevation of from 1500 to 3000 feet above the sea. It grows on the highlands south of the center of the country and some distance back from the ocean.
The coffee plantations of Porto Rico begin almost as soon as you leave the narrow strip of coastal plains, which runs about the island. They grow all along the hills, clear to the tops of the mountains. In some districts you ride for miles through nothing but coffee, the bushes growing among other trees. This is especially so in the eastern end of the island, where at blossoming time the air is so full of the perfumery of the coffee flowers that is almost overcomes you.
There is a great deal of coffee along the military road and quite a large amount in the western portion of the island. I have been told that coffee will grow anywhere outside the low coast lands, and that there are large areas of coffee lands which are now in grass. There is no doubt that this is true. Porto Rico has in the neighborhood of 2,500,000 acres of land, and there are, it is said, only about one hundred thousand acres in coffee.
The most of the coffee lands are in comparatively small tracts... The average estate is not over fifty acres, although there are some which are much larger.
There is a man named Shroeder, for instance, who has 1000 acres, and who is putting out more every year. He had not a large capital, but he bought cheap land and put in his first tree in 1894. He has already had a profit of $4000 this year from his plantation, and he has thousands of young trees coming on, and within ten years his income will be $100,000 a year.
There is a Dutchman from Java who has just gone into the coffee business here who will soon have a similarly large property, and there are other men who are quietly buying up coffee lands.
Price of Lands.
And this brings me to the subject of land values. The conditions here have been so unsettled that it is hard to say just what they are... No one should come to raise coffee unless he has enough to buy his land and keep himself and his workmen for the first four years. He should have as much as $10,000 to establish any kind of a plantation, and above that the more the better. He could not take 100 acres of land and bring it into coffee bearing within five years for much less than $25,000. At the end of that time his profits would come in rapidly, and he would probably be able to make from 15 to 25 per cent. on his investment for many years.
How Coffee is Grown in Porto Rico.
So far I have seen no well-cultivated coffee plantations in Porto Rico. In Brazil, the coffee estates are like gardens, The trees are trimmed. They grow in great bushes in regular rows, which are plowed and hoed and kept free from weeds. The planta are first grown in nurseries and carefully set out.
Here the most of the plants are from the seeds which fall to the ground. They are set out without order, being shaded for the first year by banana plants and after that by larger trees. The result is that they grow tall and spindling, with trunks like pipe stems.
The coffee trees begin to flower in April. Soon green berries take the place of the blossoms, and by October there is a wealth of rich, red coffee cherries shining out of the green leaves. The coffee berry is of just the size of a cherry. It grows close to the branch rather than on a stem, like a cherry. In each cherry are two of the half-round coffee beans of commerce. They are the seeds of the cherry.
The coffee cherries do not all ripen at the same time. The trees must be picked over and over again during the season, and coffee picking forms one of the chief industries of the island.
It is in the picking season that the peons make the most of their money. They have work at this time for from three to four months, and men, women and children are seen among the bushes picking the cherries into baskets and carrying them off to the factory on their heads. The little ones pick the berries on the lower stems, while the men and women bend down the taller trees and gather the ones higher up.
The picking upon many plantations is done by the pound, the usual price being about 1˝ cents per pound. It takes a good picker to average fifty pounds a day, but as the whole family can work at it the peon does fairly well in the coffee regions at picking time.
In the Coffee Factories.
I find the Porto Rican coffee factories quite different from those in Brazil. The most of them are rude in the extreme. They have not the fine machinery nor the economical methods of the Brazilians.
In Brazil the berries are first mashed to a pulp, which takes off the flesh. The seeds or beans are taken off and dried in the sun, and within a short time are on their way to the market. There the machinery is run by steam. Here oxen and men take the place of machinery, and the methods of preparation for the market are slow and expensive.
The berrries are first stored away in the great plantation house or factory of the planter. The buildings are rude in the extreme. They are usually high up on piles, and so arranged that flat boxes, some of which are as large as a city lot, can be rolled at will in and out from under the floor. These great trays are used for drying the coffee beans after the flesh has been taken off of them. It is necessary that the coffee should not be rained upon while drying, and the shoving it under the building protects it from the heavy dews of the night.
The getting of the seeds out of the berry is interesting. This is done by a wheel or roller which moves over the berries, so adjusted that it will mash the berries but not crush the seeds. As soon as the seeds have been freed from the pulp they are dried.
They are still covered with two thin shells which must be removed before they are ready for shipment. This is done in hulling mills, and the beans are then burnished by running over and through them with great wheels faced with tin. The wheels are so adjusted that they do not injure the coffee beans, but by rubbing them over and over burnish them so that they shine as if varnished. In some mills coloring matter is added to give the coffee a blue tint.
Much of the hulling of the coffee is done in great mortars made of wood, men standing before them and letting great pestles drop on the coffee, thus breaking the shells. These wooden mortars are of about the height of your waist. I see them everywhere, and have done not a little coffee hulling myself by experimenting with them.
Among the Coffee Sorters.
After the coffee has been dried and cleaned it must be graded. In some of the factories this is done by machinery, the coffee being run over wire screens with meshes of different sizes. The little round beans which form the very best of the product, and which look just like Mocha coffee, drop into one bag. The largest of the flat-sided beans go into another, and other grades into other bags.
Machines, however, do not take out the bad grains. This must be done by the coffee-sorters. In every large Porto Rican factory you find women picking over the coffee grains and separating the good from the bad. In the smaller factories the picking is done sitting on the floor before a low box covered with cloth. In the larger ones are long tables cut up into little boxes by many partitions, and before each box a Porto Rican girl sits with a pile of green coffee beans before her. She picks these over and over, handling coffee from sunrise until sunset.
During my stay in Porto Rico I visited factories where hundreds of these girls were sorting coffee. I made some photographs of them at work, much to the amusement of all. They are black-eyed, brown-skinned maidens, with eyes as laughing as the Italian coffee-pickers of Brazil. Not a few show signs of Negro blood, and some are quite black. They sing as they work, and are evidently not dissatisfied with their condition. Their wages are on the average less than 25 cents a day.
At the Coffee Ports.
The transportation of the coffee to the seaports is one of the most important factors in the industry. Much of the coffee land is far in the interior, with mountain ranges between it and the places of shipment. Some of it is along the military road. This is shipped upon bullock carts--great two-wheeled affairs drawn by four or five yokes of oxen and carrying enormous loads.
The coffee in the other mountain regions is taken to the coast upon ponies, about two hundred pounds being packed on the back of each animal. Often you will see a long file of these little ponies thus loaded crawling up and down the mountain road. Sometimes an owner sits on the top of his pony and flogs him along the way.
The packs are often roughly put on, so that they rub the skin from the backs of the ponies, and when the loads are removed great, raw, sore patches are to be seen. One of our army officers, who is in charge at the coffee port of Yauco, endeavored to prevent this cruelty. He took the packs off the beasts, and fined each driver of a sore horse $5, putting his horse in the pound until cured.
This created a great sensation among the farmers, and after a few days the coffee ceased to come in. The business at Yauco fell off, and the merchants complained that the officer was hurting the town. Upon investigation it was discovered that the planters were shipping their coffee to the port of Aricebo, on the north coast. The officer at Yauco wrote to Aricebo, and tried to stop this. He also made a complaint to Gen. Henry, who was then in charge, but his complaint was not noticed, and he was forced to allow the cruelty to go on.
At present coffee is brought in this way to all the ports. It is there consigned to the large coffee dealers, who ship it to the markets of Europe.
FRANK G. CARPENTER.
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