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The Associated Press May 3, 2011, 5:53PM ET

Cuba puts peas in the coffee again

Cubans' morning joe will be a little more bitter and a little less potent as the island returns to mixing coffee with roasted peas in a cost-saving move.

The blend is being distributed beginning this month for domestic consumption, the Interior Commerce Ministry said Tuesday in an announcement published by Communist Party newspaper Granma. The change apparently will not affect coffee for export, for sale in pricier stores or in establishments catering to tourists.

The message also said authorities are eliminating the coffee ration for Cubans ages 0 to 6. Up until now, coffee had been allocated by number of people in a household as a way to support families.

The measure was first brought up in December by President Raul Castro, who said Cuba was paying $47 million a year on imports to meet local coffee consumption in the java-loving nation.

Like rum and cigars, coffee is an iconic product in Cuba. In the early 1960s, annual production reached 60,000 tons and Cuba was a net exporter. But last month, state-run coffee company Cubacafe director Antonio Aleman said that while the country has spent $9.5 million to modernize production in the past five years, meager harvests are falling short of annual demand of 18,000 tons of beans.

Prodigious consumers of highly sweetened java, Cubans are no strangers to coffee cut with peas, which was long the norm. When they started getting the pure stuff in 2005, some even complained that it tasted funny.

"I like it better with peas," street sweeper Juan Hernandez Pedroso said as he sat on a curb Tuesday, taking a break during the afternoon Havana heat. "I don't know, maybe it's because it's what I'm used to."

Fans and foes alike agree that there's no mistaking the difference.

Coffee with peas isn't as foamy when it boils, and the end result is a strong-tasting, less caffeinated brew, said Froilan Valido, an unemployed gas bill collector.

"It's much, much more bitter than pure coffee, which is smoother," Valido said. "But many people here are accustomed to it. The habit makes the monk."

Local cafes were still selling supplies of pure coffee Tuesday, and it was not clear exactly when the pea blend would be on shelves. The ministry did not specify what ratio officials have in mind for the mixture.

Tuesday's announcement in Granma noted that the price of coffee rose 69 percent in the last year from $1,740 to $2,904 per ton, while peas are going for just $390 a ton.

"Faced with this economic reality, it has been determined to fix a price of 4 pesos ($0.17) for a 115-gram (4-ounce) bag of mixed coffee to support the amounts that will continue to be delivered as normal to the people," it read.

That's a price cut; the same bag used to cost 5 pesos.

"I prefer natural coffee," Jose Hernandez said as he waited his turn at a popular coffee counter. "But we all understand that it's a necessity. Hopefully it's temporary."

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