Did you know that due the strict specifications on exactly where Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee can be grown, the total annual export of these coffee beans ranges from between only 400 and 1,000 metric tons per year.
This might seem like a lot of coffee, but it really isn’t, especially in comparison with some of the world’s biggest coffee exporters. The amount of coffee that comes out of Jamaica per year is less than 0.04% of the amount of coffee that comes out of Brazil, which is the world’s foremost coffee-producing country, each year.
What’s more, each year, about 80% of all Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee ends up getting purchased by Japan, leaving only 20% of the supply left over for everyone else in the world.
How is Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee different?
If you’ve been slowly dipping your toe into the murky waters of artisanal coffee, then you’ve probably heard the words “Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee” floating around coffee shops, grocery stores, and coffee enthusiast websites. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is widely prized around the world for its extraordinary flavor profile and quality, and its exorbitant prices definitely reflect that.
So, how can you differentiate its flavor from other varieties of coffee? We’ll be discussing all that and more in this article!
Although Jamaica is associated with quality coffee production nowadays, the coffee plant is not actually native to Jamaica. Most researchers believe that coffee was originally cultivated and consumed in the area that is now Ethiopia, and spread across the world through Muslim trade routes during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By the eighteenth century, coffee had reached Europe, where it became a popular drink among aristocrats and common folk alike.
In 1723, King Louis XV of France sent three coffee plants overseas from Europe to the French colony of Martinique, another island in the Caribbean Sea located about 1,100 miles away from Jamaica. Five years later, in 1728, the governor of Martinique gifted another coffee plant to Sir Nicholas Lawes, who was the governor of Jamaica at the time. By 1737, the very first Jamaican coffee plantation had been established, and the Jamaican coffee export industry was born. Many scholars believe Sir Nicholas Lawes’ one coffee plant, gifted to him by the governor of Martinique, to be the ancestor of all the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee that exists today.
Why the name Jamaica Blue Mountain?
Contrary to popular belief, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee isn’t actually a species of coffee bean in and of itself. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee generally belongs to the Arabica Typica species, which is the most commonly grown and consumed coffee variety on the planet. Good-quality Arabica beans are prized for their subtle, slightly sweet taste, with a rich flavor profile consisting of complex notes of sugar, fruit, wine, and cocoa. The words “Jamaican Blue Mountain” refer to the geographic area that all Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is grown in.
As their name suggests, all Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans are grown along the Blue Mountain ridge, which runs across the eastern portion of the island of Jamaica itself. These are the tallest mountains in Jamaica, with the highest point, Blue Mountain Peak, reaching 7,402 feet above sea level. This high altitude is very important for the cultivation of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans.
However, it’s not enough for true Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans just to be grown along the Blue Mountains. There are only four parishes, or subdivisions of counties, that are allowed to grow true, certified Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee:
- St. Andrew
- St. Mary
- St. Thomas
Many of the residents of these parishes are Jamaican Maroons, or descendants of escaped African slaves who established their own, free communities in the mountainous area surrounding the Blue Mountains.
Finally, it’s also not quite enough for true Jamaican Blue Mountain coffees just to be grown along the Blue Mountains and in the four official parishes — all Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee plants must also be grown within a very specific altitude range to receive a certification. Even if a coffee plant is grown along the Blue Mountains, in one of the four official parishes, if it wasn’t grown between the altitudes of 3,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level, it cannot officially be classified as a Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee plant. (On a side note, if you want to grow your own coffee plant check out this post)
Why is it grown in the Blue Mountains?
The Blue Mountains’ volcanic soil is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, which nurture the roots of delicate Arabica plants to their fullest quality. The altitude of the Blue Mountain ridge is also absolutely perfect for Arabica plants, which thrive when grown between about 4,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level. Finally, the specific climate of the Jamaican Blue Mountain ridge is absolutely crucial for quality coffee production.
These specifications may seem ridiculously strict, but there’s a reason the origins of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee plants are regulated as closely as they are — these strict specifications yield some of the highest-quality coffee in the world. The geographic areas that produce Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee are perfectly situated to produce the most extraordinary coffee quality on the planet.
Arabica plants do especially well when they receive between 40 and 60 inches of rain per year, and this rain needs to be distributed evenly, falling regularly each month. The Jamaican Blue Mountains receive the perfect amount of regular rainfall for Arabica plants, and, as an added bonus, the cloud cover that envelops the mountain ridge helps protect the coffee plants’ delicate leaves from overexposure to sunlight.
Jamaica Coffee Regulations
Obviously, the regulatory process that controls the growth, cultivation, and certification of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is very strict and very rigid. In 1950, the Jamaican government established the Jamaican Coffee Industry Board (JCIB), whose sole purpose is to maintain the quality of exported Jamaican coffee, ensuring that no matter what country or region you come from, the Jamaican coffee that you consume meets the highest of quality standards. In 2018, the JCIB was absorbed into an amalgamation of other Jamaican commodity quality control boards to form the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA).
Don’t fret, this merger doesn’t change the strict quality standards of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee production, so you can rest assured that your Jamaican coffee is as high of a quality as ever. This strict regulatory work is part of what makes Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee so expensive.
Every single barrel of green coffee (coffee beans that haven’t been roasted yet) that leaves Jamaica must be rigorously inspected by JACRA to ensure that it meets the highest of quality standards. JACRA also does extensive work on regulating the growth, harvesting, processing, and marketing of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, so that the entire coffee-making process, from the planting of the seeds to the roasting of the beans is quality assured.
What does it taste like?
It’s very difficult to accurately describe the subtle, yet complex flavors of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee to those who haven’t tasted it before, but many coffee connoisseurs say that the coffee that comes from the Jamaican Blue Mountains is extraordinarily smooth, clean, and mild, but without tasting dull or bland.
The flavor profile of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is very complex, with subtle floral, nutty, chocolatey, spicy, and creamy notes, as well as just the perfect balance of sweetness and bitterness. Although all of these different notes and flavors might seem like they would clash, something about their proportions makes them work in harmony, creating an overall flavor profile that cannot be found in any other variety of coffee bean.
How much does Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee actually cost?
A one-pound bag of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, which is equivalent to about 50 or 60 cups of coffee, from such places as Volcanica Coffee might cost you anywhere between $50 and $60. You can also get Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee in the form of individual single-serve K-Cups from Amazon. A pack of 72 Jamaican Blue Mountain K-Cups costs a whopping $124.
If you go poking around on the internet, you may stumble across retailers that claim to offer Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee for less than $10 or $20 per pound. Although this may seem like a great deal, don’t be fooled. It’s highly unlikely that Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee will ever be that cheap, and if a retailer is claiming that they can sell it to you for those low prices, their coffee probably isn’t the real deal.
Every single bag of real Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee comes with a seal of authenticity bestowed by the JACRA. Without that seal of authenticity, you can be sure that the coffee you’re looking to purchase is a cheap knockoff, or a blend that contains a very small percentage of actual Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
Because of its incredibly high prices, very few people can actually afford to purchase and drink Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee even once, let alone regularly. However, if you’re a true coffee fanatic with a passion for the most delicious, nuanced, and complex coffee out there, you might want to put trying a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee on your bucket list!