Despite being a tea drinker, when you’re given the opportunity to visit Jamaica and taste one of the finest coffees in the world — directly from the place where it’s grow — you don’t say no.
I got such a fill for the history and beauty of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains that my coffee cup would be overflowing, figuratively. When Nicholas Lawes, a former governor of Jamaica, brought the first coffee plants to the country in 1728, their cultivation started in a field near a parish in Kingston before eventually being extended to these mountains. Thanks to its cool and misty climate and rich soil, this mountain range sources the beans that become a prime java export.
As a single origin coffee, Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee comes with hefty stipulations resulting in prime costs. Only coffee grown in a legally defined range of the Blue Mountains – starting from 2,000 feet to about 5,000 feet above sea level – gets the stamp of authenticity: a globally protected certification mark. Only completely red cherry-colored beans are handpicked. From there, the beans have to pass inspection codes set by The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica on everything from coloring to sizing before getting a stamp of approval.
Seeing The Blue Mountains
In finding the buzz, curious and coffee-drinking travelers coming to Jamaica can visit the Blue Mountains. It’s best to book a space with a tour company, as your ride up the mountains and admission to working coffee plantations are often covered. As you will see, getting there is an interesting uphill journey. Regularly, the car trip involves traversing winding and unmarked roads, although views of lush green vegetation, mountain shade and blue sky help put you at ease.
I calmed my initial nerves by keeping my eyes focused on my side window (and putting trust in my driver’s competence. No worries, Mon). The ride is scenic, a mix of fauna with breaks of light coming in. Around some of the turns, I spot bits and pieces of man-made materials. Small communities like Irish Town line this route. Homes and shanties are placed in between where I’m made to stay alert so I don’t miss anything.
We keep going upward until we arrive at one coffee plantation that’s open to public. Craighton Estate Coffee Plantation is a simple property consists of a 200+-year-old Georgian style residence once used for housing Jamaica’s dignitaries. Today, it serves as the welcoming space for a working coffee farm.
Bought by the Ueshima Coffee Company (UCC) in 1981, most of the coffee grown here heads to Japan. The Japanese market is a major importer of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, above European and U.S. drinkers, as their government invested in Jamaica’s coffee production in the seventies and eighties to re-percolate its infrastructure.
On the porch of this house, guests are greeted with a sit-down lesson on “Coffee 101” and its place in Jamaica.
And, yes, you get a cup of coffee.
Our guide, Alton Bedward, told how well traveled coffee has been over time and over the world. Interestingly, Jamaica first exported beans in 1737. In focusing on Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, Bedward shared insights on what makes this beverage so delectable, such as the fact it’s packed with antioxidants, and is low in both acidity and in caffeine levels.
“Drinking Blue Mountain coffee is like massaging the heart,” Bedward said, in that having a cup is locally described as though it’s like drinking to your health.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is part of the Arabica species. From the steaming cup in my hands I notice a floral aroma, and when I take a sip a creamy light yet full-bodied flavor. There is little to no lingering aftertaste, as well as a touch of sweetness that makes it clear why so many people crave it. My group is offered some coffee-infused honey – a Craighton concoction – which I instantly grab and pour into my cup.
Planting And Harvesting
Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee plants require a lot of care. Starting off as seedlings, Bedward explained that it takes about nine to eleven months in nursery beds for a coffee plant to be ready to be re-planted in the ground. Then it’s about three to five year wait to produce beans. Harvesting season runs from September through the end of January. After being picked, the beans go through a wet processing method of being washed and pulped, and then are sun-dried — the traditional way of removing moisture.
While keeping long-term coffee growing methods, modern eco-friendly ones are becoming more common. As shade is a Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee plant’s best friend, Bedward said Jamaica’s department of forestry is encouraging the planting of mahogany trees to give some ground cover and introduce healthy nitrogen into the ground through their roots. At Craighton, local manure is used as fertilizer and coffee plants are cut back every five years to help them rejuvenate throughout their lifespan.
Visitors to the Craighton Estate Coffee Plantation can walk on an easy paved uphill path from the property to a gazebo that provides great panoramic views. Led by Bedward, my eyes are kept busy as I scan over my left and right shoulders in an attempt to avoid stumbling over the rough terrain. My reward for my hard work comes when we reach the gazebo. Inside, I literally move in a 360-degree motion, seeing coffee plants, mountains and palm trees on all sides and understanding why this spot was chosen.
Back at the estate, visitors are asked if they would like to purchase sealed bags of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee to bring home. It’s smart to purchase directly at the farm, as not only does the producer see more of the money, but you’ll get a cheaper price than compared with supermarkets and airport shops. While at first I asked for two, the lingering memories of my earlier cup of java promptly lead me to retract my statement.
“I’ll take eight.”
Have you tried Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee? Please share your experience in the comments below.
By Michele Herrmann