Within the Blue Mountain mist, a brief history of Jamaican coffee

Blue Mountain Coffee is one of the most desired coffees in the world. Let’s take a look at how this exquisite Arabica coffee became the acclaimed coffee that it is now. If you want to taste this superb coffee or if you are in love with it you can find it here.

It all began in 1728 when Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica, brought the first six Arabica Typica plants from Martinique. Initially, he cultivated them in a field near Kingston, before finally moving to the highlands of the island. Jamaica was ideal for this crop, which is why nine years after its introduction, 37,000 kg of coffee beans were being exported worldwide. However, the real boom began in the second half of the 18th century, when coffee plantations spread from the Saint Andrew area to the Blue Mountains. By 1800, 686 plantations were in operation, and in 1814 Jamaica’s annual production was around 15 million kg.

After this production growth, the industry began to experience a slow decline. The main reason was the lack of manpower, although other factors also played a role. Slavery was abolished in 1807, but the emancipation of slaves on the island did not happen until 1838. Although some efforts were made to recruit former slaves as private workers, coffee production struggled to compete with other industries. When combined with poor soil management, as well as the loss of the favorable trading conditions that Britain had previously extended to its colonies, coffee production declined.

Around the 1850s, there were only about 180 plantations left and the production had dropped to 1,500,000 kg. Even though by the end of the 19th century, Jamaica produced around 4,500,000 kg of coffee, serious quality problems began to appear. 

Many farmers abandoned the coffee industry for livestock and other crop types. To save the industry, a law was created in 1891 to “give instructions in the art of growing and curing coffee by sending competent instructors to certain districts”. Efforts were made to increase coffee production and establish a coffee entity in charge of processing and classification. However, this effort to improve quality was not very successful. Until the first half of the 20th century, it was unacceptable to the Canadian market, which at that time was the largest buyer of Jamaican coffee.

In 1950, the country faced this situation and had to reinvent itself, and give a new approach to its coffee beans: quality. Thanks to this, they created the Jamaica Coffee Industry Board (CIB) now known as JACRA, which is specifically in charge of ensuring quality, regulating production, and encouraging coffee marketing. From this moment on, the varieties of the Blue Mountain region slowly and steadily gained a reputation until they came to be considered among the best coffees in the world.

The CIB assures, since then, the quality of Jamaican coffee; becoming the famous and renowned Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee the axis of this new approach. Only coffees grown between 900 and 1500 m in the parishes of Saint Andrew, Saint Thomas, Portland, and Saint Mary can be called “Jamaica Blue Mountain”.

Those planted between 450 and 900 m in other regions of the Jamaican island are called “Jamaica High Mountain”, and anything below this is known as “Jamaica Supreme” or “Jamaica Low Mountain”. The CIB assures that not just any farm can sell coffee under this designation of origin.

Therefore, before being exported or sold to third parties, the Jamaican coffee farmers must take their coffee to the CIB for them to evaluate the coffee and, finally, if it meets all the quality requirements, have the seal that guarantees that their harvest qualifies as  Blue Mountain Coffee.

Unlike the rest of the island, the Blue Mountains experience a microclimate of significantly cooler temperatures, as well as rain. The Jamaican Blue Mountains are shrouded in mist and it is in this unique humid environment that this type of coffee is grown. These are the perfect ingredients for coffee trees to grow. The largest mountain range in Jamaica has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


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