An informative look into a less common, yet highly sought after, coffee origin.
BY ALEXA ROMANO
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo by Marc Babin for Unsplash
Have you ever had or served coffee from Jamaica? Perhaps you have not heard about Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee-producing region, and you’re unfamiliar with its characteristics—or both. Today we’re going to debunk some myths about what others have to say about Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee and describe the unique features that make Blue Mountain coffee the rarity that it is.
The folks behind Sailor’s Brew Coffee in Pasadena, Calif., were in search of top-tier coffee when they discovered Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee. Founder Trevon Sailor (he/him) researched and reached out to people who had experience with the coffee before purchasing some from an exporter. Below are some facts and myth-busting about Jamaica Blue Mountain informed by Trevon’s experience.
What is Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee?
Haiti brought coffee to Jamaica in 1728. The coffee was grown in the middle section of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain range, which covers the entire eastern third of the island. Rising to approximately 7,400 feet, one of the highest mountain peaks in the Caribbean, the Blue Mountains provide prime conditions for growing unique coffee. The best-grown Blue Mountain coffee beans are famous for their mild distinct flavor and minimal bitterness or acidity. Trevon notes “a smooth, slightly sweet, well-balanced, full-bodied, and mild acidic taste when you drink a properly brewed cup of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee.”
Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is certified by the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA), and all Blue Mountain coffee must go through JACRA for quality control. Green coffee is rigorously inspected before it is exported. Once the requirements have been met and the board is satisfied, the coffee receives the Blue Mountain seal of approval. As a result of high regulation, anyone looking to buy Blue Mountain coffee should make sure it has a JACRA certification; the JACRA website provides links to places where you can buy authentic Blue Mountain coffee.
As the result of its rigorous certification standard, many regard Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee as some of the best coffee in the world. Highlighting its scarcity and exclusivity is the fact that it is the only coffee in the world to be packed in iconic 30 kg or 70 kg wooden barrels instead of bags.
Blue Mountain coffee: A luxury and rarity
In addition to the rigid certification standards that make Blue Mountain intriguing and highly desired, it has developed a reputation for being one of the most expensive and coveted coffees internationally.
Jamaica Blue Mountain produces low yields of coffee
Jamaica produces a very small amount of coffee. The Blue Mountain region is roughly 6,000 hectares—about the size of one large estate in one of the high-volume coffee-growing nations. Sailor’s Brew notes that in 2019, the Blue Mountain region produced just over 400,000 pounds of coffee, while in the same year, Colombia produced over 400 million pounds.
Growing coffee takes twice as long in Jamaica
Despite the improved processes and successes in cultivating Blue Mountain coffee in modern days, Jamaican coffee still is harder to grow than coffee in other producing nations. Trevon says, “Jamaican coffee farmers grow the coffee trees for approximately 10 months before planting them in the ground, which is about twice as long as in other places in the world. Once planted in the ground, the coffee tree needs another three to five years of proper care and growth before it matures and begins to yield the coveted cherries.”
Blue Mountain coffee requires labor-intensive processing
Blue Mountain coffee is processed in a precise way. Growers with decades of experience look over each bean to determine quality. The fact that the coffee is hand-sorted is another reason why it takes so long to produce. According to Paul Gallegos of Cutbow Coffee, “The processing of Blue Mountain coffee is top-notch and clean.” Paul says that “Blue Mountain coffee grains were a pleasure to roast because they are perfectly sorted and beautifully uniform in size and shape and density.”
Japan imports the most Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee
The reputation of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, as well as its distinctive taste, has attracted the Japanese coffee market. Japan buys approximately 70% to 80% of the exported amount. Because of the minuscule amount of Blue Mountain coffee produced, Japan’s dominant buying patterns result in a scarcity of authentic Blue Mountain coffee circulating in the rest of the world.
Blue Mountain Coffee is unusually pricey
When demand is high for a product that is in low abundance, prices of course spike. In this case, 16-ounce retail bags of Blue Mountain coffee are valued at between $50 and $120, about five times or more per pound than most other coffees. Sailor’s Brew Coffee, for example, offers Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee at $20 for 4 ounces or $70 for 16 ounces.
Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is a unique rarity, an expensive luxury, and a desired commodity in the world of coffee. However, some might know that it is often criticized for its flavor inconsistencies or unpleasant tastes. Sailor’s Brew Coffee delights in serving Blue Mountain coffee for its many wonderful characteristics, but they know people who have had bad experiences with it.
According to Trevon, these people fall into three categories: First are people who were tricked into thinking they were buying 100% Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, when in fact they bought a blend. Second are people who deliberately purchased a Jamaica Blue Mountain blend. Not all blends are created equal, and unfortunately, many people’s tastes buds and pocketbooks have fallen victim to unsatisfactory blends. Third are people who just did not like the taste for their own reasons. Taste is subjective, and in the case of Blue Mountain, these opinions can vary from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Criticism notwithstanding, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is still a unique, valued, and desired offering. Weather conditions, geography, history, certifications, and processing methods work together in harmony to create an unforgettable cup. As Paul of Cutbow Coffee assures us, “What makes Blue Mountain so special is its refined elegance. When everything is done right, the coffee is sublime.”
Alexa Romano (she/her) is a recent graduate from Stanford University with an MA and BA in Cultural and Social Anthropology with a double minor in Ethics in Society and Photography. Her research investigates the coffee commodity chain and investigates the mystified, obscured, and ethical/ unethical relations that tether producer societies to consumer societies with a particular focus on Costa Rican smallholder producers. In addition to freelance writing, Alexa is a HIIT instructor with a wellness tech company. Currently, she is learning barista skills at Ritual Coffee in San Francisco. See Alexa’s work here.