High up in Jamaica’s Blue Mountain range is a treasure. No, it's not money, gold, jewels, or anything like that! But instead, the treasure is coffee beans. A coffee bean that is one of the most expensive in the world; Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee beans. But what are these beans exactly, and why are they just so darn expensive? Oh, and are there decaf coffee beans?
Just how expensive are we talking?
Blue mountain coffee is among if not the most expensive coffee beans one can get their hands on. Bags can go for about 42 pounds/ 58$ USD per pound. Most of the beans are up for export, about 80% of which is exported to Japan. This is significant because the Japanese coffee scene in Japan is often known for its strong attention to detail and procuring only the finest and most artisanal beans and other materials. But why is Jamaica Blue Mountain so expensive?
The “goldilocks zone” of fine coffee
Around this beautiful globe of ours, there are places that are just truly perfect for coffee. Jamaica’s Blue Mountains range are such a spot. The longest mountain range in Jamaica, these vaulting heights check all the boxes of obscenely good Arabica coffee beans.
For Arabica coffee beans to thrive they ideally need to grow at elevations high above sea level. They love rich, porous, volcanic soil that provides vitamins, minerals, and nutrients and also allows for proper water drainage. They love tropical regions but a cooler day to day weather pattern is preferable for Arabica beans. They need a hot sun, but one generally obscured by lots of cloud coverage. Arabica coffee beans also need lots and lots of rain. Some biodiversity doesn't hurt, too! Jamaica’s Blue Mountains have all of the above.
But that is not all, Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee can legally and officially only come from a very minute area within the mountain range. Only coffee cultivated within the four parishes of Portland, Saint Thomas, Saint Andrew, and Saint Mary can even begin the long road to becoming Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee beans.
But besides geography, Jamaica Blue Mountain has another valuable element, the human element. Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee beans are cultivated by people, they are cared for, grown, and even harvested by hand. They are inspected by the human eye dozens of times from the moment they are picked.
Only the ripest coffee cherries are picked by hand, inspected, and if free of any defects, they will move on to the next step which has them floated in water for a few days. After being floated the beans are brought to one of several special depots for the next step, pulping the wet and soaked beans. The end result is a coffee bean that still has its wet parchment or the last layer of skin before the green coffee bean is exposed. The beans are then dried on drying racks for about a week. Now the beans earn a deserved rest. A rest which has them bagged and kept in a special warehouse for ten weeks. This allows the beans to build in complexity. Next, the beans are husked and polished. Now, they will be inspected by the Coffee Industry Board. This will place them in grades by size ranging from Grade I to Grade III and the Peaberry.
A quick note on Peaberry; Peaberry is a somewhat rare mutation that happens inside the coffee cherry. Instead of two beans developing inside the cherry, only one does so the result is a unique rugby ball-shaped bean. Peaberry most commonly occurs with Jamaica Blue Mountain beans and Tanzanian coffee beans.
Once graded the beans move on to yet another inspection. This time, a taste test and a final inspection by hand. Then, they are packed into wooden Aspen wood barrels and ready to go before the Jamaica Coffee Industry Board. If the beans pass this final step in this exhaustive and rigorous gauntlet, they receive a stamp of approval and are ready for sale.
Blue Mountain beans
So, to sum up, why Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is so expensive, the beans grow in the perfect conditions. They grow in a very minute and designated area in Jamaica. They are highly labour intensive and only use the most impeccable beans. The beans undergo time and labour-consuming tests and inspections. They can only be considered true Jamaica Blue Mountain when they are inspected by an official government agency.
But how about the taste? Is it worth the money? If you are seeking a refined, sweet, creamy, brightly acidic with little to no bitterness, and a complex and chocolatey series of flavours, then yes! Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee beans are for you. But for these pricy beans maybe start saving up now and treat yourself to a bag of these beans, because they're truly pricey! But some good news is that there does happen to be some decaf coffee beans hailing from Jamaica's Blue Mountains. So you can enjoy the smooth and tropical taste of these beans without the same level of caffeine. Just make sure you snag a bag without breaking the bank!