On the first full day of our #VisitJamaica Bucket List press trip, we checked off item Number 1: tasting Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. And we went directly to the Blue Mountains to try it.
About half an hour or so from Kingston, Jamaica’s Blue Mountains provides what these coffee plants need to thrive: misty and cool climate, shady areas, and rich soil. Coffee plants were introduced to Jamaica in 1728, but they were originally placed in a parish field in Kingston. Eventually, these plants were brought to the mountains where they’re still raised and harvested today.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee can carry a hefty price tag, yet the reasoning behind it is a good one. Only coffee grown in a legally defined range of the Blue Mountains – starting from 2,000 feet to 5,000 above sea level – gets the stamp of authenticity: a globally protected certification mark.
It’s also a single origin coffee. Just completely red cherry-colored beans are picked, every by hand. Beans then also have to pass inspection codes set by The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica on everything from their coloring to sizing and go through various inspection tests before getting a stamp of approval.
When visiting Jamaica, travelers and coffee drinkers can head to The Blue Mountains. From my experience, I would say that it’s best to research and book a tour directly through sites like Expedia or Viator or other tour companies. When you get to the Blue Mountains, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Through a tour, your ride and your admission to a working coffee plantation is covered, of course, but you definitely want a local to handle the driving.
Getting there is an interesting uphill journey. The ride involves going up winding and unmarked roads but relax by taking in lush green vegetation, mountain shade and blue-sky views from your side window (get one). Small working communities like Irish Town are found along the route, and I spotted simple homes and even shops scattered in between long stretches of fauna.
One coffee plantation up here that’s open to public is Craighton Estate Coffee Plantation. The property consists of an over 200-year-old Georgian style residence once for housing Jamaica’s dignitaries that is now the welcoming area on this farm.
Bought by the Ueshima Coffee Company (UCC) in 1981, much of the coffee grown here is exported to Japan. The Japanese market is a major importer of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, above European and U.S. drinkers, due to their government investing in Jamaica’s coffee production in the eighties to re-percolate it.
On the porch of this house, guests are greeted with a sit-down lesson on “Coffee 101” and its place in Jamaica.
And, yes, you get a cup of coffee.
Our guide, Alton Bedward, told how well traveled coffee has been over time and over the world (Jamaica first exported beans in 1737). In focusing on Blue Mountain coffee, Bedward shared insights on what makes this beverage so delectable. It is packed with antioxidants, and is low in both acidity and in caffeine levels. “Drinking Blue Mountain coffee is like getting a heart massage,” Bedward said, in that having a cup is locally described as though it’s like drinking to your health.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee has a floral aroma and creamy light yet full-bodied flavor. There is little or no lingering aftertaste. “It’s also got a little sweetness,” said Bedward. I got to add a little more sweetness to my cup through adding in a coffee-infused honey made at Craighton.
After our “coffee talk,” we went to see the property. Harvesting season runs from September through the end of January. After being picked, the beans go through a wet processing method of being washed and pulped and then are sundried (the traditional way of removing moisture) at certain facilities.
While keeping long-term coffee growing methods, modern eco-friendly ones are now more included. As shade is a coffee plant’s best friend, Bedward said Jamaica’s department of forestry is encouraging the planting of mahogany trees to give some ground cover and introduce healthy nitrogen into the ground through their roots. At Craighton, local manure is used as fertilizer and coffee plants are cut back every five years to help them rejuvenate throughout their lifespan.
Visitors to the Craighton Estate Coffee Plantation can walk on an easy paved uphill path from the property to a gazebo that has great panoramic views. While on your way up and back down, you might spot some beans growing too.
Before leaving, visitors are offered the opportunity to buy bags of coffee. I was advised to do so because I would probably pay more in a store and definitely much more at the airport. So I left with two at first, then changed my mind to get four and then settled on a sure six of them to bring home.