History of Jamaican Coffee

The Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains

Jamaica’s coffee history started in the 18th Century when Governor Sir Nicholas Lawes planted coffee in his estate at Temple Hall in the hills of St. Andrew in 1728. Since two-thirds of Jamaica is made up of hilly lands, it was not suitable for sugarcane cultivation. Hence coffee planting and cultivation was supported by the House of Assembly as an economic measure. Soon, Jamaica became the biggest producer of coffee, with a production of 34 million pounds in 1814, the largest production ever by the island nation, though this production level has never been achieved again.

Britain’s war with America during 1812-1814 led to the devastation of Jamaica’s coffee industry since British products were boycotted by other European nations from 1806 to 1814, which left the growers with no market to sell their coffee. Another significant event that led to the fall of the coffee industry was the end of slavery in the British Caribbean. This led to the abandonment of many of the plantations or parceling of land to smaller plots for sale or lease to peasant farmers. The quality of the coffee deteriorated. In 1948, the Coffee Industry Board (CIB) was established to develop quality standards for cultivation and processing as well as to buy, process, grade and export all coffee in the island. The coffee industry was deregulated in 1983 in order to increase coffee production, allowing farmers producing at least 10,000 boxes of cherry coffee to export their own product.

Clifton Mount Estate

Clifton Mount Estate

Jamaica is known for its Jamaica Blue Mountain (JBM) coffee, the certification of which is strictly controlled by the CIB. This designation is given only to coffee produced from a prescribed geographic region of the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Rising to about 2,300 meters (7,500 ft.), the Blue Mountains are some of the highest mountains in the Caribbean and located between Kingston to the south and Port Antonio to the north in the Parishes of St. Andrew, St. Thomas and Portland. This region is attributed with cool and misty climate with high rainfall and rich soil, making it ideal for coffee growing. The JBM coffee claims a high price in the specialty coffee market, which is attributed to its smooth taste with mild flavor and lack of bitterness.

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