Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
- Josh Tuck
- Josh Tuck
“I’m sorry, how much?” The voice on the other end of the phone confirmed what I feared. “Fifty two. Five. Two.” Any doubts I had about Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee being a highly coveted coffee had officially been put to rest. At $52 per pound I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hesitate a moment, but I’d come this far, so there was no point in turning back now. With a feeling of being outside my body, I heard myself order a half-pound, whole bean, as well as a half-pound of some Guatemalan Atitlan beans. The damage for this single pound of coffee was an eye-watering thirty six dollars. What was I going to tell Danielle?
On the drive home I began to puzzle over what could possibly justify the price for this coffee, so when I arrived home I hit Wikipedia and Google for some answers. There is quite a bit of hype surrounding Blue Mountain coffee, and while it is a particularly smooth and flavorful bean, it is not unique in those respects. I discovered one factor contributing to it's mystique is the small area in Jamaica where Blue Mountain coffee is cultivated.
The Blue Mountains are a small range jutting up between Kingston and Port Antonio, the tallest peaks of which rise only to about 7,500 feet. The beans grow best in a narrow band of tropical forest between 1,500 and 3,000 feet. Another influence on price is the Coffee Industry Regulation Act and the Coffee Industry Board in Jamaica strictly controlling which coffees can be considered Blue Mountain. This means that not all of the coffee grown in the Blue Mountains is classified as Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, furthermore, there are grades within the official designation specifying which beans are the very best.
Finally, there is the allocation of the beans. A good deal are reserved for a coffee liqueur called Tia Maria, and a full 80% of the harvest is exported to Japan. It seems if something is edible and exotic, you will find it in Japan. Because of all of this, I decided to waste no time in claiming my share of Blue Mountain coffee soon after Old Crown, one of Fort Wayne’s local coffee roasters, Facebooked about the small barrel of beans they received.
I waited until the weekend to brew my first cup in my beloved AeroPress® espresso maker. My mind was racing with anticipation and I could barely focus on getting the steps right. I popped the top on the container I had sealed my treasure in, and was instantly greeted with what smelled like chocolate cake. Heavy aromas of cocoa, tobacco, toasted coconut, butter, and sugar cane filled the kitchen.
The beans themselves were of average size and had a medium-dark rosewood color and a waxy surface. After the grind, where I expected fireworks, there was instead the inviting yet uncomplicated aroma of something akin to stewed vegetables or roast carrots. It was more of a pleasant game of croquet on a summer afternoon instead of Bourbon St., during Mardi Gras, at 1:00 a.m. Slightly concerned, I stirred the grounds for 14 seconds in 150 mL of water heated to 190°; pressed for 30 seconds and added the remaining 150 mL of water. I waited a moment in the stillness of the kitchen for it to cool slightly. I couldn't wait to sample what I assumed would be a spectacular, life-changing cup of coffee.
In truth though, it didn't instantly surpass every cup of coffee I had ever had. It was terrifically smooth and rich. Sweet and organic flavors mingled and mixed perfectly, but it didn't blow me away. It had a velvety texture with a color that faded gracefully from a jewel-like amber to a deep red-brown. On my last few sips though it finally hit me; the beauty of Blue Mountain coffee is it’s subtleties.
Despite the hype surrounding it, and all the glowing words written about it, it’s not the mind-bending event you think it will be. As I brewed more cups through the week, this coffee’s unique characteristics became more obvious. It has big flavor without any of the bitterness you would find in similar South American coffees. The way in which the flavors mix is superbly balanced. African coffees tend to be very earthy with little sweetness, and those from Southeast Asia can be quite sweet but very one-dimensional. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, however, starts with a very organic flavor which I found to be delightfully similar to roasted carrot, and finishes with a subtle cocoa and sugar cane sweetness that doesn’t overpower or disappear.
As my half-pound dwindled, and I brewed my final cups, I had truly come to respect and understand Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. I see why this coffee is so coveted, and even though I have no doubt most of the publicity surrounding it is unwarranted, it is an astonishingly good bean. The next time your local roaster has Blue Mountain coffee in stock, treat yourself to whatever you can afford, and brew little mugs of luxury to start your day.