When I think of Jamaica, what comes to mind are thoughts of Bob Marley, the Caribbean sea, and of course, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. If you haven't heard of it before, it's one of the most expensive coffees in the world, but does it live up to the hype?
This article will cover the basics of this coffee phenomenon and get to the bottom of why people keep flocking to this particular coffee bean. Read on to learn more.
What is Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee?
This specialty coffee is grown in a highly specific
Given that Jamaica's island is relatively small and the Blue Mountain range on the island even smaller, there are very few locations suitable to grow these beans.
In fact, this coffee only grows in four places on the island:
- The parishes of Portland
- St. Andrew
- St. Mary
- St. Thomas.
You won't find this coffee at your local grocery store. Only 6000 hectares in total grow at this high altitude in the blue mountains. To put this in perspective, a single industrial-sized coffee plantation in countries like Colombia maybe this large.
Unlike a large coffee plantation, Jamaica blue mountain coffee farms are tiny, with many less than 4 hectares in size. The large coffee estates on the island may be up to 70 hectares in the area. In total, there are 15000 of these small farms and estates.
A Sip of History
Jamaica was not the first Caribbean island to begin growing coffee beans.
Coffee production in the Caribbean first started with the island of Java, which was colonized by the Dutch.
The French then began growing coffee in the Caribbean in 1723 when the French king Louis XV sent three coffee plants to the island of Martinique, which was a French colony at the time.
Five years later, in 1728, the Governor of Martinique sent one coffee plant to the Governor of Jamaica as a gift. He had it planted on his own property, in what is now known as the St. Andrews Parish. From that single Arabica coffee plant, the Jamaican coffee industry was born.
Over the next ten years, the coffee industry on the island boomed. Coffee seeds poured into Jamaica, and an influx of refugees from Haiti brought their knowledge and experience of coffee plantations to help the island grow its coffee industry. However, this boom was only short-lived.
The Birth of the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica
Jamaican coffee didn't always have such an excellent reputation. Unfortunately, unsustainable agriculture practices led to poor soil conditions, which stunted the growth of the industry.
Only a few small coffee farms remained, and they barely made enough money to continue. In the 1940s, Jamaican coffee's quality was so low that the Canadian government refused to import it. Questions began to swirl around the future of blue mountain coffee.
A change needed to happen. The search for a solution led to the creation of the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica.
This organization developed regulations and standards to help increase the quality of coffee grown on the island.
While it took a few decades before this board's effect was seen internationally, the change was remarkable.
Implementing such strict and specific regulatory guidelines and meticulous care and attention went into cultivating a high-quality product. Because of these regulations, it's nearly impossible to mass-produce Jamaican blue mountain coffee.
To be called blue mountain coffee and receive the industry board's official seal, farmers need to be ready to meet high standards. The beans are hand-picked, manually inspected for imperfections, and roasted with care.
Only after three professionals taste the coffee and give it their approval is it officially certified. The Jamaican coffee industry is truly a success story when it comes to changing the industry around.
It is now known as one of the world's best coffees and has been called the "champagne" of coffee. And yes, you can get it in The United States and Canada now.
The World's Best Single-Origin Coffee
First, let's start with what single-origin coffee means. The simplified answer is that single-origin means that we can trace a coffee back to a single source, such as a single producer, a single crop, or a single region.
The most important part about Blue Mountain coffee is that it's a single-origin coffee because it only grows in a country's select area on specific estates and farms.
All blue mountain coffee comes from only four Parishes on the island.
Not only is blue mountain coffee a single-origin coffee, but it also might be the world's best single-origin variety.
While personal preference always plays a role in determining favorites, this coffee's pure quality is less debatable. It has to meet the highest standards to be certified, and its flavor truly speaks for itself.
The blue mountains' conditions deserve much of the credit for the exquisite taste of blue mountain coffee. These beans are grown at a high altitude in the mountains. However, the unique environment and conditions combined with this high elevation lead to these beans' high quality.
They definitely get enough water: The island's tropical humidity means these coffee farms are often covered in a cold cloud of mist. The mineral-rich volcanic soil is another crucial factor in the quality of this brand.
Because of the cold temperatures, it takes a bean ten months to ripen. That's roughly double the growing time of your average coffee bean. When the beans finally ripen, they are hand-picked at peak ripeness.
While most industrial roasters use a machine to separate good beans from the bad, that method doesn't work for blue mountain coffee. The beans are hand-sorted and inspected for imperfections such as being too big, too small, or having defects.
Why is Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee so Expensive?
If you're wondering how expensive this coffee is, you're in for an eye-opener. For a 16oz bag of these beans, you need to shell out about USD$60.
Even though it has a steep price, people all over the world are buying it.
The Japanese are particularly fond of this coffee; they make up 80% of its export. But why so expensive? In short, people love it!
There are a couple of factors that lead to a high price tag.
- The first is that these beans need to go through a certification process to get the official seal of approval to be called Blue Mountain coffee because of the strict regulations.
- To meet the Jamaican coffee board's high standards and be certified with the official seal, all of the beans are hand-harvested. Inspectors sort the coffee after processing to remove any sub-quality beans.
- The second is that the blue mountains' unique conditions and volcanic soil lend themselves well to grow fantastic coffee beans.
What Does it Taste Like?
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is a very smooth and mild coffee. If you search for a bean with a fresh and vibrant acidity without any bitterness, this is it. This blue mountain Jamaica coffee is known for
- Hints of chocolate
- A slightly nutty tone
- Bright floral notes
It is so rich that people often describe it as creamy
I'd go for a medium or medium-dark roast. This roast elevates the flavor of the bean without compromising its best qualities.
However, if you're a big fan of light roast or dark roast, you can find a bag of blue mountain coffee roasted to your liking, or you may be able to find green coffee beans to roast them yourself.
Blue Mountain Coffee Imposters
Don't get tricked into buying a cheap version of blue mountain coffee. If you see it advertised at a lower price, it may be part of the blend. These blinds won't have nearly the same taste like the real product.
Luckily for you, because of the stringent certification process blue mountain coffee has to go through. The coffee industry board must formally approve the beans to dawn the official blue mountain coffee seal.
It is an internationally protected brand, so if you find the official certification seal, you know you're getting the real thing.
Where to Buy Blue Mountain Coffees?
You can buy blue mountain coffee, either green or as a roast. You also have the option to either accept it pre-ground or as a whole bean if you prefer to grind it yourself (I'd highly recommend the latter).
When you're looking to purchase real blue mountain coffee, keep in mind that it needs to have the Jamaican board's official seal.
While you can search for blue mountain beans online, you need to do your due diligence to make sure they are legitimate.
The very best way to buy blue mountain coffees is to purchase directly from one of the plantations.
Don't be afraid to ask questions when purchasing one of these coffees - you want to make sure you get the real thing. Most estates or larger retailers have contact information on their websites, so you can email any questions you may have.
The Clifton Mount Estate, Wallenford Estate, Flamstead Estate, and Greenwich Estate are all well-known plantations.
Their farms sit at an elevation of 5000 feet, making them one of the premier brands. This estate sells certified Peaberry as well as regular 100% certified blue mountain coffee.
Clifton Mount Estate Certified Coffees
The Clifton Mount Estate is the oldest plantation still in operation in Jamaica.
Volcanica - Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee
Volcanica sources it's Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans from Catherine's Peak, a part of the Clifton Mount Estate, one of the oldest coffee plantations in Jamaica. Clifton Mount has produced the highest quality coffee beans since the 1790's.
These beans are certified by the Jamaican Agricultural Department, meeting their standards for pure, Authentic taste. The beans are also Rainforest Alliance Certified for environmental sustainability.
Cafe Blue - Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee
Cafe Blue sources it's Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffees from the Clifton Mount Estate. Their Grade 1 handpicked beans, grown at 4300 feet, have a citrus and chocolate flavor profile that is great for those who love the nuance of dark chocolate coffee.
This coffee is sustainably produced and is Rainforest Alliance Certified, and the company ensures fair working conditions for their farmers.
Wallenford Estate Certified Coffees
The Wallenford estate is another famous plantation and is the largest cultivator with 5000 acres of farms on the island. A philanthropist bought the estate. They give back to the local communities by helping schools purchase the internet, computers, and tablets for students.
Wallenford Estate - 100% Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee
This coffee comes directly from Wallenford. The Wallenford Coffee Company is proud of their ethical and fair treatment record when it comes to their technical support, coffee farm staff and their families. Their coffee is Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E) Practices Certified.
It's easy to see how passionate these estates are in what they do and their pride in their brand. Yes, it's expensive, but the amount of time and hard work that goes into handcrafting these coffees to perfection is well worth the price.
How Should You Prepare it?
If you love espresso, look for a Peaberry variety. The Peaberry coffee cherry forms a whole bean on the cherry inside instead of the usual two half-beans.
This means it takes longer to roast and creates a more robust flavor profile for an espresso. If you're on the search for that perfect 2 oz brew, be ready to splurge on a bag of Peaberry.
Because blue mountain coffee is expensive, I would recommend purchasing a bag of whole bean coffee. If you have a grinder, you can be sure you'll have freshly ground beans each time you want a cup of this brew.
My recommendation is to brew these beans as an immersion or drip. The French press is one of the most popular methods to do this.
Note: Use coarsely ground beans and filtered water
(You don't want to risk tap water getting in the way of that pure blue mountain taste).
Then, you can brew it in your French press as you normally would. A brewing time of 4 minutes seems to be perfect for these beans.
You can also use the popular Moka pot preparation. It uses a similar method of the French press to get all the flavor, oils, and tasting notes out of the grounds.
Hopefully, you've learned something new about one of the world's most expensive coffees. It didn't always have an excellent reputation, but now it's genuinely one of the premier coffee brands.
The unique growing environment of rich volcanic soil, cold misty air, and high elevations give this brew its incredible reputation.
It is hand-picked at perfect ripeness and manually inspected for any defects before it is roasted. If you haven't had the chance to try it yet, there's no better time than now!