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The history of Jamaican coffee begins half a world away in France in 1723 when King Louis XV sent three coffee plants to the French colony of Martinique, some 1200 miles to the SW of Jamaica. Five years later in 1728 the governor of Jamaica, Sir Nicholas Lawes, received one coffee plant as a gift from the Governor of Martinique. The plant took root with vigor and only nine years later, in 1737, coffee exportation began with an initial shipment of 83,000 lbs. The Jamaican coffee industry was born.

Coffee plants thrive in the naturally potash, nitrogen and phosphoric acid rich soil of Jamaica. Coffee trees prefer high altitudes and are perfectly suited for the mountain slopes that are otherwise unsuitable for the other agricultural endeavors such as sugar cane, banana, cocoa and citrus, none of which, interestingly, are native to the island yet vital to the economy of Jamaica.

Coffee is grown in all parts of the island and at all elevations, however, the finest Jamaican coffee comes from an area on the eastern side of the island, just north of Kingston in the Blue Mountains known, appropriately enough, as the Blue Mountain Region. Coffee grown outside the Blue Mountain Region is referred to as Jamaican High Mountain, which is comparable in body and balance but tends to be a bit more acidic to the refined tastes of the connoisseur. Lower grown coffees are referred to as Blue Mountain Valley coffees, they are medium bodied, delicate to bland in flavor and rather rich in acid.

Many Jamaican coffee brands claim their product is Jamaican Blue Mountain but in fact may be a Jamaican High Mountain or even a Blue Mountain Valley variety and is only milled within the boundaries of the Blue Mountain Region.

True Jamaican Blue Mountain coffees are full-bodied, moderately acidy and richly complex, though occasionally marred by a slight mustiness, which is characteristic of many Caribbean coffees.

The Jamaican coffee market has had its share of setbacks from worker shortages around the turn of the 20th century to the complete shut down of production for two years due to hurricane devastation in 1988. Early in the exportation of Jamaican coffee, Canada was the largest consumer with over 60% of all coffee exports bound for this country. In 1943 the Canadian government declared the quality of Jamaican coffee unacceptable and stopped all importation.

In 1944 the Jamaican government established the Central Coffee Clearing House, where all coffee bound for export was cleaned, inspected and graded, in an attempt to raise the standard of Jamaican coffee. In 1950 the Jamaican coffee growers established their own governing body, the Jamaican Coffee Industry Board, to improve and maintain the quality and reputation of Jamaican coffee.

The JCIB successfully accomplished its goal through setting and enforcing standards for growing, harvesting, processing and marketing of its product. Today, Jamaican coffee is known for its high-quality. Annual production of Jamaican coffee stands around 6,600,000 lbs. of which about 85% is exported to Japan. The remaining 15% is distributed mostly between the U.S. and the U.K. gourmet specialty markets where it can fetch up to US$40/lb.

 

 
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