The other day, I joined my parents and my aunt on a day trip into the Blue Mountains to visit Craighton Estate, a 200 year old great house and coffee plantation. The property was built in the early 1800s by George Craighton and was linked to many notable figures in Jamaican history before being purchased in 1981 by the Ueshima Coffee Company.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is considered to be some of the finest coffee in the world. Blue Mountain coffee is known for its mild flavour and lack of bitterness. The beans are also used as the flavor base for Tia Maria, a coffee liqueur.
Most of the plants in Jamaica produce Arabica beans, although about 30% of the country’s yield comes from hybrid varieties. Jamaica produces around 7,000 tons of coffee annually, which amounts to less than 1% of the world’s total coffee production. Nearly 80% of Jamaica’s coffee is exported to Japan, where it commands astronomical prices (hence the Ueshima Coffee Company’s interest – UCC is the largest coffee importer in Japan).
The name “Blue Mountain Coffee” is a globally protected certification mark (much like ‘Champagne’); only the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica can certify beans with the label. To be considered ‘Jamaican Blue Mountain’ coffee, the plants have to grow between 910 m/3,000 ft and 1,700 m/5,500 ft of elevation. Coffee grown between 460 m and 910 m is called Jamaica High Mountain, and coffee grown below 460 m is called Jamaica Supreme or Jamaica Low Mountain. All land in Jamaica above 1,700 m is a forest preserve, so no coffee is grown there.
Coffee from Craighton Estate is Rainforest Alliance certified, which adds extra value to their crop. Among many strict, third-party audited requirements, they are required to have more than 30 shade-baring trees of at least 12 varieties per acre, and must avoid using pesticides and herbicides if they want to maintain their certification. While this reduces their total yield, they have found that their plants produce better quality beans, which contributes to a finer end produce (and commands a higher price tag).