The Coronavirus and its impact on modern life continues to be *the* story in 2020. Elsewhere in these pages we've looked at how the global pandemic has changed things at cafes large and small, in places all around the world, from Florida to Berlin to Seoul. Today we're checking in on how the impact of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, in an interview with international coffee competitor and cafe owner Abner Roldán, a coffee professional with a thriving coffee bar, Café Comunión, located in Santurce.
This interview was conducted digitally and has been lightly edited and condensed.
Hey Abner! As a first question, for our new readers please introduce yourself and tell us about Cafe Comunion. When did you open? What do you do there?
My name is Abner Josué Roldán Rivera, and I am from Santurce, Puerto Rico. Before working in coffee, I used to be a high school teacher. Although I loved teaching, I had a particular interest in coffee and coffee shops. In 2010 I started working as a part-time barista, and I had my shifts after I finished my work at the school. A couple of years later, I won a couple of national barista championships, left my teaching job, and started working full time as a barista.
Three years ago, my wife Karla Quiñones and I opened Café Comunión, a multi-roaster coffee shop in the middle of Santurce, Puerto Rico. We both are baristas and coffee educators. Karla also works for Sustainable Harvest.
So—what has your personal experience at Cafe Comunion been like with Coronavirus? Did you close the shop? Have you changed protocol for customers and guests?
We have been in lockdown in Puerto Rico since March 15th. We decided to keep Café Comunión open with carry-out orders and deliveries in the neighborhood. Other coffee shops from the area closed, but we knew that the lockdown wasn't going to last only two weeks, and it would be not good for us to be indefinitely closed.
In May, the government changed the rules for restaurants, and we were able to open 25% of the salon area. We had to put signs in the entrance, tables, and walls ordering customers to wear a mask, to keep distance, to allow us to take their temperature and to be in the shop for a maximum of thirty minutes.
What have some other protocols been like at other cafes in San Juan?
We have been to other coffee shops in San Juan, and we have felt safe inside. Most of the cafes and restaurants are following the safety protocols. It's been a hard job, but I know that coffee shops are not allowing customers without masks.
I know tourism has been a major issue for containing coronavirus in Puerto Rico, which had led to beach closures and bans on alcohol sales. Talk to me about this issue from your perspective. Have you personally seen “anti-mask tourists” visiting?
We are an island, so COVID-19 came to Puerto Rico through the airport. The people have asked the government to close or limit the airport traffic until the pandemic is controlled, but it has been fully operating during all this time.
To make things worse, airline tickets to Puerto Rico dropped to $20, and many people came to the island after that. There were photos and videos of tourists hanging out like there was no lockdown, but we were lucky not to have any issue with a no-mask tourist.
How has coronavirus impacted some of your coffee producing partners? Talk to us about that from a production side.
Puerto Rico's coffee industry was getting better after years of hurricanes and droughts, but COVID-19 took it back. There's a lack of pickers because of the restrictions imposed by the government. Also, since many coffee shops have closed or are operating partially, coffee sales have dropped dramatically. Many of the small coffee producers have found a new market selling their product online. If you all have a chance, buy Puerto Rican coffee.
Is there anything you'd like our readers to know about the situation in PR right now?
Events like the pandemic remind us about our social and political reality of being a colony of the government of the United States of America, and the disadvantages and crisis that are provoked by this. The lack of interest of the President to help us and the exuberant corruption of our government have motivated us to be stronger and to reinvent ourselves and our businesses.
I hope you all can visit Puerto Rico once the pandemic ends. This is a beautiful island with awesome people and great coffee.