Considered coffee caviar, Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee has an origin story worthy of its pedigree. In 1723, King Louis XV sent three coffee plants to the French colony of Martinique, a lush, fertile island 1,900 kilometres southwest of Jamaica. Five years later in 1728, Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica, received one of those coffee plants as a gift. It was planted in the Blue Mountains and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Blue Mountain was chosen for its fertile terrain. The single origin Arabica coffee plants are arranged on terraces, like vines in a vineyard, and watered with spring water. Harvest takes place over a much longer time then in other coffee growing regions. The men and women in charge of picking the coffee cherries are called, somewhat ominously, “reapers” in Jamaica.
The harvest takes place over many months, from January to June, since the farms are located between 2,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level, shaded by banana trees. The higher altitudes produce a denser bean, which translates into a richer cup of coffee. Combined with the famous protective mist, unusual volcanic soil and changing weather conditions, the cherries take longer to mature and result in a complex coffee cup profile. The higher the altitude, the longer the ripening takes, and the later in the crop the reaping takes place. Often, the reapers have to go back to the same trees time and time again, because the cherries on a single tree don’t all ripen at the same time.
Currently, Jamaica produces between just 4 and 5 million pounds a year. By way of comparison, Panama produces about 13 million pounds, and the Dominican Republic produces over 118 million pounds. In other words, Blue Mountain coffee is pretty difficult to find, especially if you consider that 80 per cent of production ends up in Japan!
The coffee cherries are dried on large slabs called barbecues. This is an artisan process that requires careful monitoring by hand as the beans are regularly turned. Drying can take as long as 5 days depending on the weather conditions. The beans are dried until the moisture level is perfect. The beans are then rested to develop the unique flavour profile and husked to remove the outer shell and reveal the characteristic green bean.
The beans are graded according to size: Grade I, Grade II, Grade III and Peaberry beans. Unlike most countries, all Blue Mountain beans are sorted by hand and only 85% is judged fit for export.
Polished and sorted, the beans also are graded by hand. Caffè Corsini sends expert coffee tasters to Jamaica every harvest to sample the beans are ensure they meet their strict standardised tests regarding taste, body, and colour. The green Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee beans are then loaded into barrels made from Aspen wood and taken to the Jamaica Coffee Industry Board for quality inspection before being exported to Arezzo, Italy.
The green Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee beans are treated with respect and careful roasting by Caffè Corsini’s Roastmaster for a light medium roast to reveal the delicate creamy features of Jamaica Blue Mountain, then rapidly packed in individual sealed capsules that form an oxygen and moisture-free environment and preserves the coffee’s flavour. You don’t need to keep the capsules wrapped up in the box. They’ll happily sit on your counter unwrapped for months and still produce a perfect espresso.
The journey from farmer to cup is long, but we are rewarded for our patience as, like a fine cheese or wine, Jamaica’s Blue Mountain espresso is complex and delicious.