When Haiti was called Santo Domingo it was a prosperous colony of the French that exported rice, cocoa, cotton, and coffee. And after our independence in 1804, we continued exporting our commodities despite the political oppression and instability of the 19th Century. The United States occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 when the economy suffered and as a result of clashes with protestors President Roosevelt withdrew the U.S. and we had democratic elections resulting in several weak governments that ended in the Revolution of 1946. Since then Haiti has gone through periods of democracy, military rule, and dictatorships. But our agricultural exports have always largely gone to the U.S.
Coffee is a very old tradition that is shared from generation to generation in Haitian families. I started drinking coffee when I was three or four years old. My older cousin used to add a little water to mine because it was too strong for kids my age. And yet, every time I drank it, my parents were always delighted. By the way, I remember my mom always telling me that coffee makes kids happier and smarter. That’s why, even today, I don’t start a single day without my coffee.
In rural areas, generally, our parents perform morning worship with a beaker of water and a beaker of coffee to pray and thank nature for its benefits. We also throw coffee at the foot of the trees to venerate our loas (supernatural deities to whom our African ancestors (Guineas) entrusted their worries). These mystical entities gave them the ability and passage to achieve certain things and brought them messages from the other world. Spiritually, there is no gonbo (heterogeneous food composed of coconut, bread, grilled corn, popcorn, crab, red beans, okra, cassava, peanuts, coffee, and rice) in our house without coffee.
We distribute coffee on the eve of funerals and in cemeteries on November first or after requiem masses to quench the thirst or the hellish sufferings of our deceased. It’s a real remedy against fatigue, chronic anemia, and also the emotional shocks of a person after receiving bad news. And it’s not necessary to consume it in excess.
Thus, the majority of the traditional inhabitants remain attached to their customs when it comes to the consumption of black coffee. Few use a coffee maker and many prefer the powdered coffee beans grown in our lands. We believe everything is better because we consume local, natural ingredients. So drinking coffee at home is usually to satisfy our hunger or to feel good about ourselves. Many Haitians consume it with sugar and accompany bread and sometimes add milk.
To finish, coffee shops are not very common in our country. There are some in the big city, but they are not numerous and not very frequented, even though they may represent social meeting places and romantic places, but not necessarily a place to enjoy, bond, and promote our traditions. However, most of our coffee shops are in the street and in the open air. My Grandmother is an example, she used to sell coffee and latte on the side of the road when I was a kid. As a result, my family are big coffee drinkers and I continue to enjoy coffee on a daily basis.