By Lisa Baertlein and Marcy Nicholson
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nestle SA's <NESN.S> Nespresso says it will become the first company to sell Cuban coffee in the United States in more than 50 years, as relations between the Cold War adversaries smooth.
The U.S. State Department in April added coffee and other products to its list of eligible imports produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs.
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That regulatory change cleared the way for Nespresso to begin U.S. sales this autumn of Cafecito de Cuba, an espresso roast for its home brewers, the company said on Monday.
Nespresso purchased the coffee in Europe via Cuban state export companies. It will process and package the beans, grown by small-holder farmers, in Europe.
Nespresso USA secured necessary licensing from the U.S. Department of the Treasury to ship single-use brewer pods containing the Cuban coffee from Europe to the United States.
Initially available in limited quantities, Cafecito de Cuba aims to deliver on Nespresso's mission to deliver "exclusive, unique coffee experiences," said Guillaume Le Cunff, Nespresso USA president.
Nespresso also is partnering with TechnoServe, a Washington-based nonprofit, to support independent coffee farmers on the Caribbean island.
"We want consumers in the U.S. to experience this incredible coffee and to enjoy it now and for years to come," said Le Cunff, who aims to forge long-term relationships with Cuban producers.
Cuba harvests about 100,000 60-kg bags of arabica coffee annually, according to the International Coffee Organization. While that is about five times the annual production of Jamaica, it is just a fraction of this year's expected 13.5 million-bag harvest from Colombia, the world's biggest grower of high-quality washed arabica coffee.
Nespresso's flagship espresso maker dominates the market in Europe, where such drinks are preferred, but trails Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' <GMCR.O> Keurig system in the United States.
Nespresso competes with many global brands for sought-after beans. Rivals include Starbucks Corp <SBUX.O>, which told Reuters it has "no plans to import coffee from Cuba at this time."
The United States imposed trade restrictions on Cuba in 1960, after the government of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro seized private land, nationalized scores of private companies and imposed heavy taxes on U.S. imports. President John F. Kennedy issued a permanent embargo in 1962.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro stunned the world in December 2014 by abruptly announcing that the countries would move to restore diplomatic relations.
(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles, Marcy Nicholson in New York and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Sandra Maler and Steve Orlofsky)