If you ask any coffee drinker what is the best coffee in the world, many would reply “Jamaica Blue Mountain” coffee. And most would provide this answer without ever having actually tried the coffee – given its expense. Here we explain the reasons for the pervasive opinion that Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee deserves the top ranking among premium coffees.
Before delving into the history and lore of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, we need to review the main types of coffee, which are predominantly either Robusta or Arabica varieties. The difference stems from the type of coffee plant. Robusta coffees are easier to cultivate – and its production exceeds that of Arabica coffees — but are less flavorful and less consistent in quality. Accordingly, Robusta coffees are considerably less expensive. Most national coffee blends available through retailers and supermarkets are Robusta coffees. Arabica coffees, on the other hand, are well known for consistent quality, bold flavor, and intense aroma. Premium coffees marketed as single origin coffees – Kenyan, Costa Rican, Sumatran, for example – are almost universally of the Arabica variety. Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is an Arabica coffee.
Coffee found its way to Jamaica in 1728 when Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica, imported Arabica seedlings from the island of Martinique. The new home was a natural and coffee production expanded. Unfortunately, Jamaica coffee productions also has its origins – as with other plantation crops – with the abhorrent practice of slavery.
This extraordinary coffee is grown in the majestic Blue Mountain range in Jamaica reaching approximately 7,402 feet at the highest peak. The Blue Mountains dominate the eastern third of Jamaica, located between Kingston to the south and Port Maria to the north. The upper reaches of the mountains are preserved as forest while the lower slopes are dedicated to coffee production. An incredible mix of rich soil, cool and misty conditions, high rainfall and good soil drainage yields a very high quality coffee. The foggy conditions are believed to slow the growth of the coffee, thereby producing a more dense (and flavorful) bean.
Only coffee cultivated in this mountainous range is permitted to hold the Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee label, which is a globally protected certification mark under the administration of the Jamaica Coffee Industry Board. Coffee grown at elevations between 3,000 and 5,500 feet has been traditionally known as Jamaica Blue Mountain. Coffee grown at elevations between 1,500 and 3,000 feet (910 m) is called Jamaica High Mountain, and coffee grown below 1,500-foot (460 m) elevation is called Jamaica Supreme or Jamaica Low Mountain.
Following a post-war increase in production that threatened to ruin the quality reputation of Jamaican coffee, the colonial British government instituted the Jamaica Coffee Industry Board in 1950 to maintain and standardize the quality and consistency of Jamaican coffee in a world class manner. Upon achieving independence, the new Jamaican government continued to invest in coffee cultivation. Jamaican coffee is hand picked and supervised at every stage of pulping, drying, hulling, sorting and grading according to the Board’s regulations. All Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is wet-processed. Every export shipment is “cup quality” tested by certified tasters on the Coffee Industry Board staff. All shipments of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee must be approved and certified by the Board
What should one expect from a cup of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee? Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is known for its sweet, rich flavor and a remarkable lack of bitterness. Often considered the most balanced and complete cup of coffee. Combined with its refined taste, the intense aroma adds to its allure as the world’s best coffee. Some critics, though, claim that production increases – fueled by foreign investors – have led to Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee being no better than other premium Caribbean coffees. Nonetheless, after two centuries of production, its fame and price is still upheld by coffee connoisseurs around the world.
The only way to know whether Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is really worth the extra price, which is generally between three and four times more expensive than other premium coffees, is to try it yourself. Perhaps, a subtle suggestion or hint for your next birthday or a holiday gift will provide you the opportunity.
About the Author
Joe Jefferson is the resident coffee expert at World Trader Coffee, which is proud to offer online both regular and peaberry varieties of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee as well as a wide selection of gift packages of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee.