If you’ve been slowly dipping your toe into the murky waters of artisanal coffee, then you’ve probably heard the words “Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee” floating around coffee shops, grocery stores, and coffee enthusiast websites.
Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is widely prized around the world for its extraordinary flavor profile and quality, and its exorbitant prices definitely reflect that.
To fully understand why this coffee continues to be one of the most expensive and sought-after coffees in the world we must look further into its history and how it all started.
How did Coffee Come to Jamaica?
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, Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee isn’t actually a species of coffee bean in and of itself. Jamaica 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 Jamaica 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 Jamaica 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.
It’s also not quite enough for true Jamaica Blue Mountain coffees just to be grown along the Blue Mountains and in the four official parishes — all Jamaica 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 Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee plant. (On a side note, if you want to grow your own coffee plant check out this post)
And that’s it, a brief introduction on the history of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. So next time you are in Jamaica or looking to buy some their coffee online you will have a better understanding of its history, how it got its name and why it is one of the most prized coffees in the world.