Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Beans: A Gripping Story

Known for balanced acidity and a lack of bitterness, Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee beans are recognized as some of the best in the world. They’re appreciated by people with sensitive stomachs, but also hugely popular in Japan, who receives 70 to 80 percent of Blue Mountain Coffee bean exports each year.

Known for balanced acidity and a lack of bitterness, Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee beans are recognized as some of the best in the world. They’re appreciated by people with sensitive stomachs, but also hugely popular in Japan, who receives 70 to 80 percent of Blue Mountain Coffee bean exports each year.

Today we’re going to explore what’s so special about Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee beans. We’ll look at the history, harvesting practices and flavor profile, but also get into how to buy these amazing beans without getting cheated.

What Is Blue Mountain Coffee?

Blue Mountain coffee beans are of the Arabica variety and grown on the slopes of the Blue Mountains in the eastern part of Jamaica. You can find them on coffee plantations in the regions of Saint Andrew, Saint Thomas, Portland and Saint Mary, who share the Blue Mountains.

The actual harvesting area is situated between Kingston (south) and Port Antonio (north). Though the Blue Mountains reach an elevation of 7,402 feet (2,256 meters) above sea level, coffee beans that carry the official “Blue Mountain Coffee” certification can only be grown from 3,000 to 5,500 feet (910 to 1,700 meters).

Coffee beans grown below 3,000 feet (910 meters) are labeled either Jamaican Supreme or Jamaican Low Mountain Coffee. When grown above 5,500 feet (1,700 meters) it’s called Jamaican High Mountain Coffee.

The climate and soil of the Blue Mountains are ideally suited for growing quality coffee beans, though since they don’t grow on flat land, farming them is more difficult. This, of course, is part of the allure.

History of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Beans

King Louis XV of France.

Unfortunately, the history of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee beans is stained by years of slavery, much like coffee grown in other parts of the world.

Birthed From One Seed

Coffee tree seedlings.

In 1723, during the time of King Louis XV of France, a ship set out for the Caribbean with three Arabica coffee plants. Only one survived the journey to the French colony of Martinique. Five years passed before it was planted in the rich soils of Saint Andrew, Jamaica in 1728 by a former governor named Nicholas Lawes.

In the years that followed, coffee production flourished. By 1814 there were more than 600 active coffee plantations in Jamaica. It’s pretty amazing to think that one of the most loved coffees in the world was birthed from a single seed.

Slaves harvesting cocoa.

The downside of course is what else can be birthed from a single seed … the enslavement of men and women. As the agricultural industry grew in Jamaica, particularly in regards to sugar cane, the conditions and treatment of enslaved workers declined.

The Sam Sharpe Rebellion

Slaves harvesting sugar cane.

Then, on December 25th, 1831 the Sam Sharp Rebellion began. He was an enslaved Baptist deacon who led an 11 day uprising with a goal of gaining more freedoms and a wage that equaled half of the going rate of what a farmhand should be paid.

Also referred to as the Baptist War, the uprising was the largest of its kind in the British West Indies. As one would expect, a bunch of people died during the revolt. The British held an inquiry into the matter, which began to pave the way for the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

Slavery was officially “ended” in Jamaica on August 1st, 1834. However, tensions between blacks and whites continued in subsequent years.

How Is Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Harvested?

Jamaica’s Blue Mountains.

Though the soil is fertile, the geographic features of the Blue Mountains present some real challenges for coffee farmers. Maneuvering large machinery through the mountains isn’t realistic, so most of the work has to be done by hand.

Picking must happen in stages to ensure only ripe coffee cherries are picked, so the farmers have to return to the same trees time and again. Then, containers of coffee beans have to be carried to central points where vehicles can move them to a location for processing.

It’s backbreaking work, to say the least.

How Is Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Processed?

A coffee pulping machine.

Once farmers have painstakingly handpicked the coffee cherries from the mountainside, the processing can begin. Blue Mountain coffee cherries are emptied into a vat of water to filter out ones that are damaged. The damaged ones float to the top, where they can be removed.

Afterward, the product that remains is run through a pulper, which will remove the outer flesh, separating it from what we like to call the coffee bean.

At this stage, the green coffee beans are referred to as “parchment” because of a thin paper like layer that covers the outside. So, they are laid out on cement slabs to dry for eight to ten weeks or so.

Once dry, the parchment has to be removed from the green colored coffee bean inside. So, the beans get run through a machine that gets rid of it. A separate layer called silverskin also gets removed.

Now for the hard part, each Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee bean has to be inspected and sorted by hand. The beans get separated by their size and shape. Any peaberry coffee beans are also identified and separated out during the sorting process.

Finally, the sorted beans are packed into Aspen wood barrels and taken to the coffee industry board for inspection.

Blue Mountain Coffee Classifications

Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee barrels.

Coffee beans get run through screens that determine their size and shape. For regular coffee beans the sheets have round holes.

In Jamaica, Blue Mountain Number One passes through size 17/18, while Blue Mountain Number Two passes through size 16 screens.

Peaberry beans are different in shape, so a size 10 screen with oblong holes is used.

For all of these categories, there’s a two percent tolerance for defects and a four percent allowance for beans of a smaller size.

Why Are Blue Mountain Coffee Beans So Expensive?

I think you can see why Blue Mountain coffee costs what it does. Not only are the coffee cherries grown on the side of a mountain, but they’re also handpicked and processed by hand as well.

If you’ve ever gardened or hiked up a mountain, you can imagine the challenge it would be to farm and harvest multiple acres of Blue Mountain coffee beans.

This is why I’m a big advocate for paying coffee farmers a fair amount of money for their product. It’s simply not fair to pay them pennies so we can enjoy fancy coffee in the comfort of our air conditioned homes.

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Honestly, I can completely understand why Sam Sharp led his rebellion. Growing coffee is hard work!

Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Flavor Profile

Enjoying the aroma of Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee.

Describing the flavor of coffee beans is often done with more poetry than accuracy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered descriptors like “cream soda” and “chocolate brownie” in use on coffee roaster websites.

Just like the wine industry has standardized terms for describing wine, the Specialty Coffee Association and World Coffee Research have come up with the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel, which is based on the outstanding World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon.

So, while I could tell you that Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee tastes like Grandma’s homemade brownies topped with an orange cream sauce, I’ll refrain.

Instead, I’ll share that this coffee is well balanced and full bodied, with a mildly acidic, creamy mouthfeel and very little bitterness. It’s slightly sweet and has notes of cocoa, brown spices, light florals and citrus.

How to Buy Blue Mountain Coffee Beans Online

Shopping online for Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee beans.

In order for a bag of coffee beans to be labeled as “Jamaica Blue Mountain,” it has to be of single origin. If you search around, you’ll quickly find lots of Blue Mountain blends, which is completely different. A blend might only have 10% Blue Mountain beans.

How to Know It’s the Real Deal

Real of fake?

Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is an internationally recognized trademark and requires a certification for use.

For coffee beans to be certified, they should carry the official Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Seal. However, it’s easy enough to fake, so look for other pieces of information like import licenses and trademark user license agreements.

As long as you know what to look for, you should be good to go. Let’s take a closer look at these certifications to help put your mind at ease.

Coffee Industry Regulation Act

The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica (CIBOJ) was established in 1950 by way of the 1948 Coffee Industry Regulatory Act. They were responsible for looking after the treatment of those working in Jamaica’s coffee industry.

In addition, the CIBOJ handled licensing, quality standards, export certification and advisory roles for those in the coffee industry.

However, in 2018 the CIBOJ was replaced by the Jamaica Commodity Regulatory Authority, who basically does the same thing.

Many importers of official Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee beans show off their Jamaica Commodity Regulatory Authority Certificate of Origin right on their websites. When you see those, you should be safe.

How to Brew Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee

Brewing Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee.

With any coffee bean, it’s important to experiment with different brewing methods until you find the best match for your palate.

Coffee tastes surprisingly different when prepared in a French press in comparison with a pour over dripper like the Hario V60 or a Chemex. The same goes for moka pots, drip coffee makers and automatic espresso machines.

At the end of the day, how a coffee presents itself to each person’s palate is highly subjective and personal. So, go with what suits your taste.

Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee FAQ

Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is grown in the eastern part of Jamaica. It’s cultivated on coffee plantations in Saint Andrew, Saint Thomas, Portland and Saint Mary, each of which are in the Blue Mountains.

In addition to being rare, Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is appreciated for its low acidity and lack of bitterness, while presenting amazing cocoa, brown spice, floral and citrus flavors.

First, you want to verify that the coffee beans you are looking at are not labeled as a blend.

Next, you want to confirm the presence of the Blue Mountain Coffee seal of certification. Since it can be faked, you are also wise to purchase from those displaying their Jamaica Commodity Regulatory Authority Certificate of Origin.

Yes, Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is famous for being low in acidity. Those with stomach issues will appreciate this coffee.

When you see a coffee labeled as having Rainforest Alliance Certification, it means that the product was grown and processed while respecting social, economic and environmental principles.

Japanese culture has a great admiration and respect for balance, quality and purity. Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is famous for being well balanced, high in quality and clean in the cup.

 

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