Cuban Coffee Returns To The U.S. After 50 Year Embargo, But Only For A Select Few

Cuban coffee has been off the menu in the United States for more than 50 years, but it is set to finally return in just a few months.

Although the Obama administration’s Cuban policy changes were announced in late 2014, those changes didn’t immediately open the floodgates of trade. Cuban staples like cigars and rum remain on the no-fly list, but Cuban coffee got the green light when the U.S. State Department’s list of allowed Cuban imports was amended last April.

According to the new list of Cuban goods that are eligible for importation to the United States, all vegetable products other than coffee remain banned.

The provision that allows companies to return Cuban goods like coffee to U.S. soil also stipulate that those goods can only be purchased from independent Cuban entrepreneurs. Importers are required to obtain documentary evidence that goods like coffee have been obtained from independent entrepreneurs rather than state-ran operations; so, the business of importing is a little more complex that it might otherwise be.

cuban coffee returns from independent growers Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations employees plant coffee in this file photo, but current regulations require Nespresso to buy exclusively from independent entrepreneurs. [AP Photo]Fortune reports that, at this time, Nespresso is the only company that has been able to establish relationships with enough independent Cuban coffee growers to actually return Cuban coffee to the United States. In an announcement issued on Monday, Nespresso said that it will start selling Cuban coffee in the fall.

“Nespresso is thrilled to be the first to bring this rare coffee to the U.S., allowing consumers to rediscover this distinct coffee profile,” Guillaume Le Cunff, president of Nespresso USA, said in a statement. “Over the long-term, we have a view to supporting the development of environmentally sustainable coffee farming practices for smallholder farmers which benefit the farmers themselves and their communities. Ultimately, we want consumers in the U.S. to experience this incredible coffee and to enjoy it now and for years to come.”

The catch is that Nespresso’s exclusive Cuban coffee won’t be available to everyone. If you own a standard drip coffee maker, french press, or even a K-cup machine, you’ll be out of luck. According to a report from Reuters, the new Cuban coffee will only be available in pods that are specifically designed for use in Nespresso brewers.

According to Reuters, Nespresso’s pod-based espresso maker is dominant in Europe, while that market in the United States is owned by Keurig. So, if you want to try out Cuban coffee when it returns this fall, there’s a good chance you’ll have to go out and buy a new coffee maker first.

cuban coffee returns from nespresso Nespresso will import Cuban coffee to Europe, where it will produce coffee pods for sale in the U.S., which is allowed under new regulations. [AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron]Nespresso claims that “Cuba has produced some of the greatest Arabica coffee in the world,” but few have actually been able to try coffee from the formerly-embargoed nation in recent years. According to Quartz, Cuba exported more than 22,000 tons of coffee in the mid-1950s, but that fell sharply after the U.S. embargo. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, less than 727 tons of coffee were harvested in Cuban annually.

Despite the relatively small annual harvest, Nespresso isn’t the only company that has expressed interest in bringing Cuban coffee to the U.S.

GulfWise Commerce, a company that has been set up specifically to conduct business with Cuba, is also exploring ways to import Cuban Coffee. According to Quarz, GulfWise wants to have a Cuban coffee product on shelves by the end of the year, but that project is still in the planning stages.

Cuban cigars, rum, fruit, livestock, and many other classes of goods are still illegal to import to the United States, except for in certain specific circumstances. For instance, you can bring home a small amount of Cuban cigars and alcohol if you travel to Cuba, but you still can’t by those products, or coffee, via the Internet or through other countries.

Will you try out Cuban coffee when it finally returns to the U.S. this fall? Or, will you wait until GulfWise or another business makes it more widely available? Do you think the claim that Cuba produces some of the greatest Arabica in the world is overblown?

[Photo by AP Photo/Alan Diaz]