Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee - Why Does it Taste So Good?
Rising 7,402 feet above the sea, Blue Mountain Peak is the highest spot in Jamaica, and the fifth highest mountain in the Caribbean. The mists and lush vegetation give the peak and the surrounding Blue Mountains a greenish blue tinge. These mountains rise up above Kingston and dominate the eastern part of Jamaica. It is in these mountains, within an area legally proscribed by the Jamaican government, that the world’s best, and best known, single origin coffee grows.
In the world of wine terroir rules. But in the world of coffee few coffee drinkers have tasted any estate or single origin coffee. The vast majority of coffee consumed is blended from commodity grade coffee. A lucky few have tried Jamaican Blue Mountain or Hawaiian Kona coffee and know that the coffee’s origin makes a difference.
So what makes Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee so great? There are many factors, but it is important to be sure you are getting an authentic, unblended, Blue Mountain coffee. 100% Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is exported by the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica. They ensure what is called Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee actually comes from the legally designated growing area. The Board's professionals also inspect each barrel for quality, checking the bean size and color. Experienced professional tasters roast small samples and “cup” the coffee to ensure it was properly processed and has the aroma and taste that define Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee.
But it is the unique location and microclimate that makes the coffee great. The area where Blue Mountain coffee is grown is high in the mountains. The mountains are 85% forest, which provides shade in which to grow the coffee. The altitude, forest cover and climate provide the conditions for growing the best coffee in the world.
All Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is grown from the Arabica species of coffee. Almost all is from the Arabica Typica subspecies of coffee. Many of these trees are descendants from the original trees Governor Lawes imported from Martinique, where coffee was first introduced into the Caribbean. There are some new varietals that planters are starting to experiment with, but Arabica Typica is far and away the most planted coffee tree.
Elevation is critical. To be certified Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee it must be cultivated at an elevation between 1,800 and 5,500 feet (the higher elevations are all national forests now). It is well established that altitude makes a significant difference in the quality of coffee, with higher altitudes producing a denser bean, which translates into a richer cup of coffee.
The climate in the Jamaica Blue Mountains is cooler than the rest of Jamaica. The Jamaica Blue Mountains are located on the Eastern end of Jamaica, exposing them to the moisture laden North East Trade Winds. These hit the coast and rise up into the mountains, generating significant cloud cover and mist as they hit the cooler air of the higher elevations. The reduced sunlight due to the cloud cover slows down the development of the coffee cherry. The long maturation has a very positive effect on the aroma and taste of the coffee produced from these trees.
Jamaica has some of the richest and most productive soil in the Caribbean, but not in the Blue Mountains. The soil there is derived from both metamorphic and igneous rocks and is quite porous and prone to leaching. It is low in many nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen. The coffee trees grow slowly and the production is lower than in other coffee producing areas of Jamaica and the world. Exactly what factors in the soil contribute to the exceptional taste of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee are not known exactly, but perhaps a certain amount of stress contributes to better coffee. After all, the best wines come from vines grown in difficult conditions as well.
All these factors combine to create a very rich, smooth, cup of coffee that is exceptionally well-balanced and is generally low in acidity. But, as one might expect, there are differences in the Jamaica Blue Mountain coffees from different producers. J. Martinez & Company is privileged to offer three distinct 100% Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffees, each from a different estate and, while they share the main characteristics of the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, they each have their own distinct flavor profile.