Jamaica

Jamaica, a great place to visit, but what about the coffee? The world's best or most over-rated? I can say for sure that it is not the world's best coffee, and no serious coffee taster would ever attempt that argument. It has potential to be a decent, mild coffee, if harvested and processed well, and if promptly and carefully transported. We found that the post-harvest processing is rarely done well, that the humidity of the climate challenges the stability of the green bean, and it rarely realizes its potential in the cup. On top of that, a lot of coffee sold as Jamaican is not true Jamacia Blue Mountain, or is blended. If you pay $15 per Lb. for Jamaica coffee, it cannot be true Blue Mountain. It is either the lower-grown Jamaica High Mountain, or most likely a blend that contains a small percentage of JBM.

The history of coffee in Jamaica is epic. In 1728, Sir Nicholas Lawes, then Governor of Jamaica, imported coffee into Jamaica from Martinique. The country was ideal for this cultivation and nine years after its introduction 83,000 lbs. of coffee was exported. Between 1728 and 1768, the coffee industry developed largely in the foothills of St. Andrew, but gradually the cultivation extended into the Blue Mountains. Since then, the industry has experienced many rises and falls, with some farmers abandoning coffee for livestock and other crops. In order to save the industry, legislation was passed in 1891 "to provide instructions in the art of cultivation and curing coffee by sending to certain districts, competent instructors." Efforts were made to increase the production of coffee and to establish a Central Coffee Work for processing and grading. This effort to improve quality, however, was not very successful. Until 1943 it was unacceptable to the Canadian market, which at the time was the largest buyer of Jamaican coffee. In 1944 the government established a Central Coffee Clearing House where all coffee for export had to be delivered to the Clearing House where it was cleaned and graded. Improvement in the quality of Jamaica's coffee export was underway. In June 1950 the Coffee Industry Board was established to officially raise and maintain the quality of coffee exported.

The Blue Mountain region is in the Eastern part of the island, and only coffee grown within can be called JBM. Jamaica High Mountain refers to coffee grown outside the true region. Wallenford (recently sold after a period in receivership) and Mavis Bank are the two most prominent names, Old Tavern is a third. Moy Hall is a co-op created from one of the older farms, and one of the 4 certified sources along with the above-mentioned in 1951. But these are not farms, they are coffee mills that purchase coffee from the surround JBM small farms and mills it. I am concerned that Wallenford is milled at sea-level in Kingston --not a good practice (of course, if the cup is good i will buy it regardless of my biases).

Mavis Bank is milled and stored at altitude. They have really improved the output with better quality preparation. But remember, the cup is mild, mild, mild. If you are new to roasting and determined to roast JBM, try the smallest amount in an order, along with a really good Central (a Guatemalan for example), a really good Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, a really good auction lot Kenya, a premium small-farm Colombian. In the larger scheme of things, a very good JBM cups simply as a clean, mild cup, soft but uninspiring next to these muscular coffees with pronounced cup character.

Here are some older roasting tips I had noted for Jamaican Coffee: Like other island origins, even the best, highest-grown Jamaican coffees lack the very high elevations of an origin such as Kenya or Guatemala or Colombia. This leads to a lower bean density in the cell structure, and a different roast treatment. You should roast this coffee with a lower initial temperature during the warmup stage, until the coffee is yellow/light-brown in color. Our drum roasters like the Behmor or HotTop have fairly low initial temperatures already. You can really kill JBM with a high initial temperature and a short roast time. You should use an initial environment temperature of less than 350 F, and gently bring in up after 4 minutes or so, shooting for a total roast time of no less than 11 minutes. On the air roast side, an air popper or the Freshroast is a bit fast, so use 20% less coffee to allow more air flow and an even warm-up of the coffee through the yellowing stages.

No coffees are currently available from this origin. The review is our most recent offering, provided for reference.
Jamaica Blue Mountain-Mavis Bank
Appearance0 d/300gr, 18 Screen
GradeCertified Blue Mountain
Processing
RegionBlue Mountain
Varietal(s)
Roast I usually recommend staying out of 2nd crack with the Jamaican coffees, and indeed I like this one when roasted to the light City stage and rested 2 days. But we had great cups from this particular lot when roasted to Full City with a just a hint of 2nd crack.
Something good is going on at the Mavis Bank Mill. They invested in all new equipment, and the coffee samples are showing up looking good. The problem is, some lots are better than others, and the Jamaican crop is really not a year-round offering (although someone will happily sell you Jamaican at any time of the year). Coffee cannot be stored in Jamaica for a very long time without being damaged by the heat and humidity. So it is important to buy from a carefully cupped lot (the first arrivals are not always the better ones) and then get it shipped promptly out of Jamaica to a milder climate. Beware of imposters; Jamaica High Mountain is not Jamaica Blue Mountain, and many coffees are actually blends that contain little Jamaican. It's fun to roast Blue Mountain and find out what this highly touted coffee is all about when it is fresh ... and why it ranks among the better Mexican coffees in terms of cup quality. True Blue Mountain is an unusual coffee; it has good body, and some very interesting mild nutty flavors with herbal notes that remind me sometimes of chamomile, sometimes of spice. There are only 4 trade names that can legally call their product Blue Mountain coffee: Wallenford, Mavis Bank, Old Tavern and one other I can never remember. True Blue Mountain is actually grown at higher altitudes than most other island coffees, and much of Mavis Bank's farms are at 5000 feet. Nonetheless, it has the soft cup profile. But remember, this is an "island profile" coffee; smooth, mild, balanced ...and oh so so so expensive. Don't expect huge fireworks in the cup - the character of Jamaican coffee is about it's mild balance and subtlety in flavor. I think this lot of Jamaican is the best I have ever had in terms of up quality and preparation of the green coffee. Personally, I will not consider offering any other Jamaican coffee, like Wallenford. I have seen too many insect-damaged coffees from that source, and cabbage-like flavors in the cupping samples. Anyway, there was a lot of damage to the trees, dirt farm roads and mills in the last hurricane season (not Katrina though.) This has affected the volume of the output, and price, but not the quality from Mavis Bank. When this lot arrived, I was happily surprised with the cup. I had some floral aromatics, sweetness in the wet aroma. Roasted to a lighter City stage it has more top end in the cup but the Full City (a few snaps of 2nd crack in the air roaster) had a nice aftertaste, sweet, a little rootbeer, aromatic wood, and that floral sweet hint longered. Now it is mild, because it is an island coffee. Still the subtle positive qualities in this lot made it heads and tails above any other true JBM samples I have looked at! Over-roasted Jamaican ends up like all other coffees; carbony, but Full City + can actually be quite nice!