Never Thought I’d be Glad to see a Starbucks – San Juan, Puerto Rico

Never Thought I’d be Glad to see a Starbucks

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Let’s be clear. I love coffee, especially strong, dark coffee that’s well prepared. (Sulawasi Taraja from Alterra in Milwaukee comes to mind.) But I’ll drink almost any coffee. Sacrilege though it may be, I’ll drink cold (not iced) coffee, day old coffee, even reheated coffee. As long as it doesn’t have things growing in it, I’ll probably drink it.

I was looking forward to sampling great coffee in a coffee producer’s home ground.

Until the United States took control of Puerto Rico at the end of the Spanish-American War, the island was one of the world’s great, proud coffee producers. Throughout the 19th Century, Puerto Rican coffee was served in the finest coffeehouses in Vienna, Paris and Madrid. Puerto Rican coffee was served in Europe’s royal courts and was even the “official” coffee of the Vatican.

With a history like that, you’d think finding a great cup of coffee would be easy.

Yes and no. There is good coffee – Alto Grande, a native coffee that bills itself as “super premium,” and Alto Grande has a few coffee shops in and around San Juan (and maybe other cities). Coffee is available in most restaurants and panaderia, bakeries.

But – and here’s the rub – they tend to bring it in little, tiny cups. And there aren’t bottomless cup refills. At breakfast at Hacienda Don Jose, our favorite oceanside restaurant in the Condado section of San Juan, they brought me a cup, almost like a demitasse, of really good but not very much coffee. Even at a Burger King, the coffee (not nearly as good as that at Hacienda Don Jose) came in a little 6-oz. cup. And no refills!

So, I was overjoyed to find a Starbucks just one block from where we were staying. A Starbucks! I never thought I’d be glad to see one! I ran in and ordered a venti , dark roast – an odd request in a Spanish-speaking country. No, make that dos venti, two dark roasts. All they had during that Christmas season was the special Holiday Blend. Okay, okay, Holiday Blend, it is.

Sitting outside at the street-side tables, watching the morning traffic, I enjoyed Starbucks coffee as never before.