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Why Is Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee So Expensive?

Jamaican coffee

Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is one of the world’s most exotic and rare beans available. Grown on the hillside of the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, you will find a hefty price tag attached to the bag if you want to sample this coffee.

There is a rhyme to the reason as to why this coffee is so expensive, though. In the article below, we will discuss why these beans are so costly; Plus, how you can pick out the real deal from the fakers. We will also share details on the flavor, aroma, and how the beans are grown.

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Why Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Is So Expensive

Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is some of the rarest in the world. As the beans are so scarce, yet so in demand, they produce a high price. Samples of Jamaican Blue Mountain beans are known to go for as much as $12 to $15 just to try it.

Grown on the high hillsides of the Blue Mountains on the eastern coast of the island, coffee plants that produce coffee beans are not easily cultivated or harvested.

blue mountains jamaica
Image Credit: Peggy_Marco, Pixabay

Location

Coffee grows best at high elevations. Coffea farms that plant at over 3,000 feet often harvest the world’s most distinguished and highly celebrated coffee beans. It’s no wonder the green beans from Jamaica’s Blue Mountains are some of the best.

Although the Blue Mountains rise to 7,500 feet, the beans need to be planted at approximately 5,900 feet to be considered a coffee of the origin. The elevation requirements also narrow the land available for planting. Currently, coffee is grown only in St. Andrew, St. Mary, St. Thomas, and the Parishes of Portland.

Combined, the four areas of land are less than 1,500 acres. To look at it another way, the amount of coffee this landmass can produce is equal to about 0.1% of what Columbia produces. Needless to say, space is limited. The elevation, along with the volcanic soil, regular rainfall, and shading cloud cover, makes coffee in these regions some of the best.

Hard to Grow and Produce

It is not just the soil composition and environmental conditions of the high altitude that causes the high price, however. Growing and harvesting on the steep slopes of the mountain also make it difficult for workers. Cultivating coffee beans at that height slows production as extra care must be taken.

More importantly, every coffee bean grown in the Jamaican Blue Mountains is picked by hand. The use of machines at that altitude creates a lot of logistical issues, but that is not the whole reason. Each bean is picked by hand to ensure the quality of the beans. Each one is inspected to make sure it meets the standards of the origin.

Jamaica blue mountain during harvest
Image Credit: Jamaica blue mountain during harvest, Paul Dober, Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0 Unported

Bean Density

A characteristic of good coffee is the hardness of the beans. They are denser than the average, and often more difficult to grind. Some people may mistake this for staleness, but it’s not the case. Apart from being a bit rougher on your coffee grinder, hard, dense beans are considered some of the best.

Solid coffee beans have more natural sugar making them taste sweeter and creamier. This happens when they are grown at higher elevations where the temperatures are cooler. The lack of warmth allows coffee plants to grow more slowly. In turn, the bean is allowed more time to absorb the sweetness from the fruit.

Density is not to be confused with brittleness, however. Brittleness occurs during the roasting process. It makes make coffee more acidic, bitter, and off-tasting.

Where It’s Going

It is important to note that 80% of Blue Mountain Coffee is designated for Japan and the United States; with Japan getting the vast majority. This leaves only 20% of the already rare coffee going to the rest of the world. Jamaica’s Blue Mountains only exports approximately 400 metric tons of coffee every year. This is a very small amount. Using Columbia again as an example, they produce the same amount of coffee every three hours as the Blue Mountains produce in a year.

a sack of blue mountain coffee beans
Image Credit: Peggy_Marco, Pixabay

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Jamaican Blue Mountain Flavor and Aroma

The flavor and aroma of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee are very unique. Although equality of any coffee is often in the eye of the drinker, some beans have staple characteristics that make them unique to the Blue Mountains of Jamacia. Coffee from this region, for example, is known to reach all the senses.

These rare beans have a delicate mouthfeel that is also rich and bold. Most drinkers report a sweet and smooth taste with herbal hints and floral after notes. There is little acidity or bitter aftertaste, as well. Others find it to have a slight chocolate taste with a stronger nutty flavor.

Some coffee drinkers find it to be more on the mild side while others find it bolder. It’s also often noted that the experience can change from one cup to the next. Although how it is brewed and consumed plays a big role, the overall taste changes giving the drinker a different experience each time.

blue mountain coffee
Image Credit: xql051016, Pixabay

Blue Mountain Fakers

Unfortunately, the price of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee brings with it a temptation to profit. A lot of beans are passed off as Blue Mountain grade or from the Blue Mountain region, yet they are not authentic. To ensure you are purchasing the real thing, it’s important to inspect the label of your beans.

Here are some phrases you want to avoid:

Blue Moutain Blends

Typically, packages that indicate their beans are a “Blue Mountain blend” are often a mix of beans from different origins. It’s possible for 99% of the coffee to be non-authentic with only 1% (or less) being the real Jamaican Blue Mountain. As the term “blend” can have several meanings, it allows less scrupulous companies to give the impression of the real thing.

Jamaican High Mountain

This is like the last one. It’s a play on words that can make coffee drinkers assume they are purchasing Blue Mountain coffee. In truth, Jamaican High Mountain beans can very well come from the Blue Mountains, but it’s usually grown much lower in elevation.

Jamaican Blue Mountain Style

This commonly used packaging phrase usually means a mix of the two labeling faux pas above. The coffee could be a mix of beans with the majority coming from lower-lying areas, or it could be beans from someplace else altogether.

If you are unsure if your beans are authentic, the best thing to do is look for a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) seal. Coffee grown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica is given this seal by the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica to indicate its authenticity.

How Blue Mountain Coffee Is Grown

Coffee beans are grown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica between Kingston and Port Antonio. The highest in the Caribbean, the peaks reach 7,500 feet in elevation. Farmers in this region grow their crops on the steep slopes and hillsides of the mountain.

As mentioned, growing coffee at such a high altitude makes the beans hard while the steepness of the land makes cultivation a slow and time-consuming process. On the upside, the nitrogen-rich volcanic earth makes for excellent growing conditions.

The landscape also makes the process of planting and harvesting the coffee slow, but it is not the only reason for the time delay. Farmers are simply in no rush.

Care and quality are not in competition with speed. As previously mentioned, each coffee bean is picked by hand. They are also sorted by hand slowly to make sure any irregular seeds are being discarded.

Jamaican Blue Moutain coffee is harvested and produced in the same order as your typical coffee. The beans are gathered, the pulp of the fruit is removed, and they are dried. The beans are then roasted and sent out into the world.

Where this coffee differs is not in the procedure, but within the details of each step, which we will discuss next.

The Process

Jamaican farmers in the Blue Mountains practice a slow and methodical procedure for producing coffee that differs from how your typical beans are produced. One such step we already mentioned; They pick and sort their beans completely by hand.

Depulping

Coffee beans start as seeds from the fruit of the Coffea plant. After the fruit is harvested, the “pulp” is removed leaving just the seed or bean behind. Most coffee producers remove the pulp the day following the harvest. Jamaican Blue Moutain farmers go through the depulping process the same day the seeds are picked.

Coffee from this region is wet washed. Also known as wet processing, the flesh of the fruit is mechanically removed from the beans. The remaining “green” beans are then rinsed with water (or washed) to ensure no remaining pulp is left behind.

Drying

The optimal amount of moisture for green coffee beans is between 10% and 12%. The more moisture the beans contain, the more bacteria has a chance to grow potentially spoiling the coffee. This is why drying the beans after removing the fruit is so important.

There are several ways for green beans to be dried. Jamaican Blue Mountain beans, however, go through 100% sun drying. This leaves them with an average of 11.5% moisture. The beans are also rested for eight weeks in a controlled environment after drying.

Hulling

Before Blue Mountain beans are sent out to be roasted, they are also hulled. Doing so removes the thin paper-like skin from the outside of the bean. Leaving the hull, or pergamino, can affect the taste. This is done per order, so beans arrive at their destination as fresh as possible. Additionally, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is one of the only beans in the world to be transported in wooden barrels instead of bags.

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Final Thoughts

Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is rare and expensive, but well worth it if you can try it. The difficult growing conditions, along with the care taken to ensure each batch lives up to its reputation, has given its price a boost, but for good reason. The growing conditions plus the scarcity of the beans make it harder to come by, so a higher price is expected.

If you want to try this novel brew, just make sure you are getting the real thing. Double-check the wording on the packing. Not only will it state fully that it’s Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, but you will also find a Protected Designation of Origin seal.

We hope this article helped shed light on why this brew is so costly, along with some appreciation of the procedure that brings forth such a fine brew.

Read More: Why Is Kona Coffee So Expensive?


Featured Image Credit: Light7X8, Shutterstock

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Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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