One thing is clear: Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is the most sought after coffee in the world. But the value of the island’s beloved export has not always correlated to a market that reaps the benefits of Blue Mountain coffee’s exclusivity—or celebrates the generations of farmers who steward its extraordinary cultivation.
The Jamaican coffee industry is among the oldest coffee economies in the world, beginning nearly 300 years ago. And with its long history have come inevitable setbacks in establishing fair standards for its many participants.
Small farms and coffee trees have aged. Major players have kept smallholders away from the coffee’s profitability, and most of all, dominant island processors have kept production low and markets concentrated. As a result—while Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee remains the most prized cup for luxury consumers around the world—few major specialty roasters, buyers and traders have established permanent roots on the island.
The good news is that Jamaican coffee growers are ready to turn over a new leaf. The island’s coffee industry is a vibrant, storied economy made up of the world’s most dedicated and passionate coffee farmers, and it’s led by well-governed, world-respected and strict industry standards that ensure the bean’s renowned quality.
Integrated commercial production that prizes valued, trusting and well-paying relationships with outgrowers while championing updated agricultural techniques is the way forward on the island. Growers like Blue Mountain Best are leading the way, particularly through farm syndication.
Around the world, farm syndication for luxury coffee has championed sustainability, direct trade and global investment in exclusive regions, and Blue Mountain Best is spearheading the use of this model in Jamaica—bringing global partnerships and direct trade relationships to the Blue Mountains for our community partners, customers and luxury coffee consumers.
How is the Jamaican coffee industry organized? And what are its weaknesses?
Like many coffee economies in specialty regions, the Jamaican coffee industry is organized around small farms and coffee estates, processing companies, certification boards, and traders, who sell the island’s unroasted coffee to networks of roasters and coffee companies around the world.
A distinguishing feature of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee—as well as a determining factor in its exclusivity—is the dominating presence of small farmers. The vast majority of coffee producers in Jamaica are family growers who manage only a few acres of land. Out of nearly 8,200 coffee farmers in Jamaica, roughly 6,000 of them grow in the Blue Mountains, all located in just 14,000 acres of land designated to grow certified Blue Mountain coffee.
Unique to the island, as well, is the Coffee Industry Board (CIB) of Jamaica, a subsidiary of the Jamaican Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA) who rates, inspects, classifies and officially certifies Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
Between these two parties are processors, an often controlling set of companies who act as an intermediary between networks of outgrowers and the luxury coffee companies who buy Jamaican coffee. Most processors act as traders, and, over the industry’s history, have established defining and sometimes harmful market dynamics.
Because the majority of Blue Mountain farmers do not have the capability to process their own coffee, most rely on the island’s coffee processors to do so. These processors often buy beans from small farmers in informal arrangements that pay low prices and deny growers the investment to update their farms. Over time, this inequitable relationship has kept production in the Blue Mountains low, and most farmers have felt they’ve had to navigate production with little help and few services to upkeep their farms.