While this site is frequently preoccupied with singing the praises of the Caribbean’s humbler offerings, from saltfish and Johnny Cake to mashed plantain with a splash of hot sauce, only the most obstinate hipster would ignore that the region is synonymous with luxury living. When it comes to coffee, rum and lobster, the Caribbean frequently sets the standard.
Coffee cultivation in the Caribbean started in Martique in the 1720s, spreading to Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, islands which have the necessary cool highlands, heavy rainfall and rich soil. Compared to Central American and South American coffees, Caribbean blends are distinguished by their sweeter flavor, lower acidity, and full body.
The most famous of all is Jamaica’s Blue Mountain Coffee, a certified brand protected by the country’s coffee board. Grown in one of the Caribbean’s highest mountain ranges, the coffee commands some of the highest prices in the industry, with the majority exported to Japan.
A lesser known alternative is Puerto Rico’s Yauco Selecto blend. Although the majority of the blend is consumed on-island, at one point Puerto Rico was the sixth biggest coffee producer in the world, exporting the blend to Europe where it was a favorite of kings, queens and popes.
Yauco was originally cultivated in the southwest highlands by settlers from the French island of Corsica in the 18th century, but a hurricane in 1898 annihilated the burgeoning industry. Today, Yauco Selecto has found its niche as a high grade, gourmet coffee with production limited to a few thousand bags a year. Named one of the best coffees in the world by The Coffee Companion, Yauco has a distinctive buttery taste and depth of flavor that benefits from high altitude, high rainfall and a rich clay soil.
Also worth trying are the robust blends from Hispaniola. Santo Domingo is the Caribbean’s biggest coffee exporter, producing some smooth blends from the mountainous Jarabacoa region, while neighboring Haiti is gradually witnessing a resurgence of its once healthy coffee industry.
While branded rums such as Bacardi and Malibu have cornered the two-for-one happy hour sundowner market , the Caribbean produces some niche rums which put them to shame. Keep anything in a white or pink bottle for cocktails drunk out of plastic cups and instead investigate the aged dark rums from the Caribbean’s historic estates.
Of the popular rums, Mount Gay from Barbados best manages to retain an element of exclusivity. As the world’s oldest existing brand, dating back to 1663, Mount Gay has a deliciously smooth finish that trumps lesser blended rums.
Arguably, though, the French island of Martinique consistently produces the best rums, so good that they are protected with the same Appelation d’Origine Controle standard that the French government gives to Champagne, Roquefort and so on. Stalwarts such as Rhum Clement use a sugar cane base to yield an intensely aromatic rum.
Two other rums worth looking out for are those from the Angostura distillery in Trinidad, and Pusser’s Navy Rum from the British Virgin Islands. The former produced a limited edition bottle that holds the record for the most expensive rum, at $25,000 a bottle. The latter is a much lauded Caribbean “single malt” which is famously taken every day at 18:00 for the toast by the Royal Navy Antigua Tot Club as they pledge allegiance to the Crown.
Only those allergic to shellfish should conclude a Caribbean tour without sampling lobster. The region’s warm waters nurture the Spiny Species, which differ from the cold water Maine variety through a lack of front pincers, but the presence of succulent tail meat and long, probing antennae. Caribbean lobsters can live to 20 years old and scuttle among the reefs at depths of up to 300 feet. Above sea level, lobsters are a common sight halved and oozing garlic butter on many an impromptu grill.
The Bahamas supplies around 13 percent of the US market, according to Seafood Watch, with much of the catch diver-caught rather than farmed. Some of the best places to enjoy lobster are at Arawak Cay in Nassau, near the cruise ship pier, or at the famous Santana’s Beach bar on Little Exuma in the Out Islands. When it comes to enjoying lobster, context is everything. Other distinguished venues include the Oistins Friday Night fish fry in Barbados, and the exclusive Scilly Cay island off Anguilla, a favorite haunt of numerous celebrities.