Known for its bright acidity and lack of bitterness, authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is one of the rarest and most expensive coffees on the market.
One reason it is so highly regarded is because of its scarcity. Jamaica’s mountainous terrain makes it challenging to grow coffee, and it can take up to five years for a tree to produce cherries.
Despite the increasing mechanisation of coffee farms around the world, the cherries also continue to be picked and sorted by hand, adding further to their value.
This prolonged production time means the country only produces around 14 million lbs of coffee a year. However, the demand for Blue Mountain is extremely high, with Japan claiming around 80% of it each year. As a result, bags can often be valued between $50 and $120.
But is it worth it?
What is Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee?
Blue Mountain is a classification of coffee grown in the mountain range that crowns the island of Jamaica. It can be found between the southern city of Kingston and Port Antonio.
Notably, coffee is not native to Jamaica. It was first introduced to the region in 1728, when Governor Sir Nicholas Lawes bought plants from Hispaniola, now known as Haiti.
At least 70% of Blue Mountain crops are a derivative of the Brazilian variety, Typica. The rest is made up of hybrid varieties of Caturra and Geisha, both of which have the potential to yield high-quality crops.
The region’s cool climate, high rainfall, and mineral-rich soil, makes it an ideal location to grow specialty coffee. Traditionally, only coffee grown at elevations between 910m (3,000 ft) and 1,700m (5,500 ft) can be labelled as authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain.
By the 1800s, close to 700 coffee plantations were operating. The Blue Mountain growing region now covers over 20,000 acres and produces around 0.1% of the world’s coffee.
The coffee cherries are harvested by hand and then go through the washed processing method. This involves placing the cherries in large holding tanks where they are inspected.
Any over fermented, green, or defective cherries are discarded, and the rest are washed to remove the mucilage.
The beans, which are still covered in their parchment, are laid on large concrete slabs to dry out. This can take as long as five days, depending on the weather.
The beans are inspected by hand many times to ensure only the finest ones are exported.
Once the beans are dry, they are placed in hand-crafted Aspen wood barrels and sent to the local coffee industry board for a final inspection. This is to ensure the coffee meets the Blue Mountain certification standards.
A total of 80% of all Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is exported to Japan. This combination of high demand and low production levels has made it one of the most expensive coffees on the market.
What are the characteristics of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee?
Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is often described as refined and mild, with a pleasant sweetness that “verges on creamy”. It can also be bright and vibrant, with a smooth acidity, a clean taste, and silky mouthfeel.
There is virtually no bitterness, and its aroma is a profusion of floral notes and sweet herbal and nutty overtones.
Those who are familiar with the White Russian cocktail may have already tasted the flavours of Blue Mountain coffee. The beans are also often used to produce the dark coffee liqueur called Tia Maria.
This overall balance and complexity in flavour that results in an easy-to-drink cup of coffee has helped make Blue Mountain one of the most famous types of coffees in the world.
Is authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee worth the hype?
While genuine Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee can easily compete with some of the highest quality coffees, its greatest threat is counterfeit beans flooding the market.
Fake Blue Mountain beans have become such a problem that local authorities have intervened to track down those who sell them. The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica has set up a task force to implement a series of raids and preventative measures to prevent counterfeit sales.
With the market so overwhelmed by fake products, Blue Mountain’s reputation for outstanding levels of quality has taken a hit.
This is because those who invested in counterfeit products have been bitterly disappointed with the level of quality, as it was not to the level they expected.
An article by Hayman Coffee titled Buyers Beware: Fake Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee states that it is not just customers who are losing out due to the increase of counterfeit beans. Production has fallen dramatically over recent years due to a series of hurricanes and the outbreak of disease.
This counterfeit coffee is often sold at a much lower price, which makes it more readily available than authentic Blue Mountain coffee. This takes critically important sales away from hard-working farmers and producers behind genuine Blue Mountain Coffee.
As a result, the Jamaica Coffee Board recommends that roasters only use reputable sellers, and avoid buying beans that are offered with deals or discounts. These are often indicators that it is not a genuine product.
This increase in counterfeit coffee has made many within the specialty coffee sector question whether the high price of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee holds the same value it once did.
Roasters can help educate consumers about counterfeit beans by clearly stating origins on coffee packaging. Furthermore, they can communicate what to look for when buying authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, such as looking for the certification that is always provided.
At MTPak Coffee, we work alongside roasters who take pride in their craft and are driven by quality. We have a wealth of information on our Education Centre that can help guide roasters and coffee shop owners towards more sustainable practices and ethical choices when it comes to sourcing green beans and packaging coffee.
We offer a choice of 100% compostable or recyclable packaging options such as kraft paper or rice paper. Both options are natural, biodegradable and compostable.
Additional choices include PLA and LDPE coffee bags, and all of our packaging options can be fully customised to suit your business and help educate customers.