Cool and misty with high rainfall, the Blue Mountain region possesses nutrient-rich soil and an ideal climate for coffee production. In the afternoons, a mist envelopes the slopes of the Blue Mountains and moderates the temperature and humidity, slowing the ripening process. Over two rainy seasons, the beans in the Blue Mountains mature at a slower rate than anywhere else, and they develop a depth of acidity, aroma and sweetness that lends the coffee its highly-favored flavor.
The Blue Mountain’s Arabica typica trees are unique to the island, requiring special and skilled care. “Attempts to replicate Blue Mountain coffee,” one former chief executive of the island’s Coffee Industry Board said in an interview, “will fail, because it is impossible to get anywhere else [the region’s] unique combination of topography, sunshine, temperature, rainfall, cloud cover and soil type.”
How is Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee harvested and processed?
The harvesting periods of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee are unlike any other coffee grown in the world. Over roughly 10 months, the extended coffee growing season and high rainfall of the Blue Mountains facilitate a slower, deeper maturation and are a key factor in the development of this luxury product.
Generally, Jamaica’s precipitation is characterized by a bimodal pattern, with a critically important early rainy season occurring from April to June and peaking around May. In the late summer and early fall, the Blue Mountains experience a second and more prominent rainy period, usually between August and November with a peak in October.
Flowering on coffee shrubs usually begins in February and March, and the island’s early rains are needed for the continued development of the berries during this time. Key, early rains also provide extra protection for seedlings before the onset of the dry summer months. The second rainy period facilitates the continued intense ripening of coffee berries for reaping, which generally takes place between September and early winter. In all, the growing season for Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is nearly twice the length of Arabica beans grown anywhere else.
Most significantly, the long growing season of the Blue Mountains yields two harvesting periods for Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee: While coffee cherries are ready to be harvested in the fall months, the second rainy period allows for an additional reaping in early winter.
After harvesting, Blue Mountain coffee is organized into boxes—the standard unit of measurement for coffee in Jamaica—which hold approximately 60 pounds of ripe, unprocessed coffee cherries. These cherries then undergo several stages of processing before they can be sorted and classified as Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. They are pulped and washed to remove outer and middle layers of skin, and then they are dried to meet a desired moisture content before a final cleaning and debriding.
In all, a 60 pound box of unprocessed cherries yields approximately 10 pounds of green coffee bean, which can be classified, sold, exported and roasted as Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
Which coffee beans earn the Blue Mountain certification, and how are they classified?
The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica (CIB), a subsidiary of the Jamaican Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA), meticulously oversees the classification, rating and official certification of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. While these beans are protected under the World Trade Organization’s Geographic Indicator (GI) label, only Jamaica’s CIB possesses the authority to officially trademark Blue Mountain coffee.
The CIB has been the historical gatekeeper of Jamaican coffee since the 1940s, when the agency was created by the Jamaican government to monitor and sell the island’s coffee. While the agency was once a large grower and processor of Blue Mountain coffee themselves, the body’s role has narrowed to serve principally as a regulator over the past few decades, overseeing the national certification, trademarking, storage and export of green Blue Mountain coffee in Jamaica.