Former Treasury minister Philip Oppenheim has signed a deal with Cuba, which will allow his start-up business, The Cuba Mountain Coffee Company, to purchase high-quality coffee and invest into the Cuban agriculture industry. Before the revolution, Cuba was one of the biggest coffee producers in the world but the industry has shrunk by more than 90pc over the past 50 years. Under the terms of the deal, the company, which trades as Alma de Cuba, will invest $4m (£2.4m) into the coffee farming community in the south east of the country over the next five years.
“By investing into nursery, root stocks, and the processes that strip the cherries from the beans, we will improve the quality and the quantity of the coffee produced,” said Mr Oppenheim. “We get these very rare coffee beans and the Cuban farmers get what they need to grow more.” Before the revolution, Cuba was one of the biggest coffee producers in the world but the industry has shrunk by more than 90pc over the past 50 years. Cuba now produces just 500,000 tonnes of coffee a year.
“Only a small percentage of that is high quality,“ said Mr Oppenheim, who has a long history of working with Cuba. He owns Cubana, a Cuban-themed bar near Waterloo in London. “I buy rum and raw sugar from Cuba for the bar,” he said. “It’s a small country, so you get to know people.”Mr Oppenheim first started exploring other business opportunities in Cuba 10 years ago. Mr Oppenheim first started exploring other business opportunities in Cuba 10 years ago. “The rum business was owned by Pernod Ricard and Imperial Tobacco dominated in cigars,” he said. “Cuba has the perfect climate for growing coffee and, with its illustrious coffee-making past, that was the most exciting opportunity.”
This deal marks a new chapter in the liberalisation of Cuba. “It was hard to get a foot in the door,” Mr Oppenheim said. “The Cubans are suspicious of foreigners. They remember the Americans coming in and buying up all the sugar plantations and don’t want that to happen again. But this deal proves that Cuba is becoming an exciting emerging market for entrepreneurs.” Alma de Cuba roasts and packages the Cuban coffee beans in the UK.
“The price point is about 20p-30p a cup,” said Mr Oppenheim. “That’s much cheaper than Starbucks and much better quality.”