Life here in Santo Domingo is good. No, it is great. A and I begin our day with coffee, a blend from here on the island. Every afternoon, we have rum o’clock as we watch the sun set. And while we choose not to partake, evenings often include the smell of high quality cigars floating in the air.
For tourists who come to the Dominican Republic, these three things are as much of a draw as the blue water, warm weather, and welcoming people. And with good reason, as this small country produces some of the highest quality coffee, rum, and tobacco in the world. So let’s take a few minutes to talk a bit about them, how to experience them, and why.
The day begins with coffee. Our Airbnb on Santo Domingo’s Malecon – the oceanfront – includes a stovetop bialetti, a metal coffee (espresso, actually) maker. And our local grocery store Sirena carries several varieties of pre-ground Dominican coffee. Not knowing much on our first day, we grab Cafe Santo Domingo, a white bag with red lettering. It is cheap, only a few dollars, so we figure we can always swap for something else if we don’t like it. Well, it is lovely. Rich, deep, and completely satisfying. Of course, grocery stores carry more expensive single origin Dominican varietals, as well, and for only $8-10. (Before we leave the country we make sure to load up on these to bring home as gifts.)
What about days we don’t stay at home? Coffee shops are all over in this city, and we don’t run into a single Starbucks. Coffee here is served in small portions. There is no venti monstrosity. Rather, order a cafecito, a small cup that is just enough to satisfy. You can order the normal latte or americano, or opt for cafe con leche – espresso with hot milk. In some places, the mochaccino is a thing, basically a latte with a layer of chocolate.
While we have coffee at home more often than not, we find a local place we end up loving, and find ourselves visiting four times in two weeks: the Greenhouse. Located next to the university and owned by lovely expats from Ohio, it is spectacular, inexpensive (a mochaccino runs just a few dollars), has good wifi, and functions as a second home for many students. Those are reasons enough to visit regularly.
While the Dominican Republic isn’t huge on the world coffee stage, it isn’t for lack of quality, but rather a lack of exposure and development of the market. I believe it will be mentioned alongside Guatemala and other Latin nations soon, and I’m excited to be able to get such good stuff at reasonable prices to bring home as gifts.
Like coffee, Dominican rum isn’t as well known as that from other island nations, though not for any lapse in quality. The country has two main brands: Brugal and Barcelo. In our first grocery shopping trip, we choose a high-end (but still mass produced) Barcelo rum, more due to its looking prettier from a label standpoint than its Brugal competitor. $5 for 350ml, and we have the beginnings of what will become our favorite island tradition: rum o’clock. Each evening around 530pm, as the sun is beginning to set, A and I meet on the patio, putting down our work, and have a rum mixed with guava juice. When the Barcelo finishes, we move to Brugal XV – a truly stunning rum we are even able to just sip over ice.
There is a secret to Dominican rum that we weren’t aware of: it is hard to open. For those of you who intend to buy a bottle, whether here or in the DR, here is what you have to do. Step one: open the top. Step two: hold upside down over your glass. Step three: use the flat of your hand to whack the bottom of the bottle hard. This pops the seal and allows it to start flowing. (Note: on a good bottle, you’ll need to do this each time, although with less force than the first.)
Of course, rum drinks can also be enjoyed out. Dominican pina coladas are heavy on the coconut (and made with real coconut milk), which I find refreshing. Mojitos, rum punches, and any number of cocktails await if this is something you enjoy. For a good atmosphere and view (and only about $4-6 per cocktail), try Adrian Tropical on the Malecon. Or any number of places in the Colonial Zone, especially on Parque Colon, the main square across from the cathedral.
If you are in the Colonial Zone, you can also pop into the small, free Museum of Rum. Over just a couple rooms, this little place tells the story of how rum is made, and its importance to the country. It is worth a few minutes’ stop.
Did you know that the Dominican Republic produces more high-quality cigars than any other country? I didn’t, either, until I came. Cigars are weird for me; I love the smell but can’t tolerate the taste. So walking into a cigar bar, a cigar shop, or a cigar factory is a pleasant experience, though I choose only to purchase some to bring home for friends. Cigars here run the gamut, ranging from $1 or so for a cheaper offering to $8-10 for a hand-rolled gem that would cost three times that in the States. The most expensive cigar I see is about $105 for a single one.
I visit three different cigar shops before settling on some to bring home. In each shop, staff spoke English, which makes sense given the Americans wanting to make purchases here. (Cuban cigars are also available, but when in the Dominican Republic, I opt for local.) I make sure to get individually wrapped and sealed cigars, and add a storage bag that will help keep them fresh for a few months at least.
Brands are all over the place, and to be honest, I don’t even remember what I purchased, other than it being hand-rolled in that particular shop. (The $8-10 variety.) Some are flavored, some are shorter or longer, some are in bulk. I don’t know enough to know better, so I trust both the shop staff and knowledgeable-appearing fellow patrons. (As some of my friends have had a chance to try them since this article was written, I can add here that the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.)
When speaking of Dominican culture, and Dominican contributions to the world, it is impossible to not talk about coffee, rum, and cigars. And when visiting the Dominican Republic, you should go out of your way to experience these things, even if only tangentially. And if your day can include at least one of them, well then it was probably another wonderful day in paradise.
Like it? Pin it!