A year in the life..What makes JBM, the 'legend' of coffee?

A year in the life..What makes JBM, the 'legend' of coffee?

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A year in the life..What makes JBM, the 'legend' of coffee?

Hello again,

What is it that makes Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, the 'legend', that it is?

jamaican image

THIS? a view to our South, towards Blue Mountain, Peak.

Mavis Bank coffee factory, is hidden behind the "mid-ground" mountain, on the right of the shot.

I keep finding references to JBM coffee, which include the word "controversial", as far as I know there is no controversy, just a load of profit motivated criminals, who misuse the registered trade marks, and in so doing, are eroding the good name of our coffee. With only a tiny amount of real JBM being exported to Europe and the US (you can check out the exact figures, at the CIB website: www.ciboj.org) and around 100 times that amount being sold each year, in Europe, the US, and over the internet: THERE is the real problem!

Honest, hardworking coffee lovers, like yourselves, buying a ( very expensive ) pack, of some "trash" calling itself the real JBM coffee, and ending up severely disappointed, and so, by word of mouth, the message gets passed along, and the hard earned reputation of JBM coffee is relegated to the "trash bin".

SO:- Just what is it that makes these Mountains so perfect for growing the World's finest coffee, the legendary Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee?

Do these magnificent, tree ferns help?

I doubt that anyone really knows the full answer, but we can speculate, and try to tie together all the special, and unique things, in the area. I have read, on some websites (claiming to be "authoritative" on such matters) a whole heap of absolute garbage, about growing and processing coffee: which might be applicable to Icelandic grown coffee, but bears little relevance to Jamaican grown coffee. Written by ( well meaning?? ) people who base their ideas on what they read on the Internet, without ever visiting, and spending a little time, on a REAL coffee farm: actually DOING something, other than drinking the coffee.

I still keep reading that the Silver Hill coffee pulpery/factory, is one of the 3 licensed pulperies, in Jamaica: this factory (I have visited the remains of it) closed around 18 to 20 years ago!! One guy who has done some work for me: has lived (squatting) there for over 16 years, long after it shut down.

Something I am planning to rectify: with visits to my coffee plantation: definitely not the usual sort of visit (a quick walk around the plantation, and most of the time spent trying to part you from your money, in the gift shop and cafe!!).

Come up here, in the picking season, go out and pick your own coffee beans, process them through your own hands, and take the coffee home with you: well: whilst that is the plan, obviously there is the time needed to dry the beans: so you finish the processing with already dried beans, and take them with you, I mail "your" beans to you, when they are ready: either as green beans, or roasted.

first visitorDave, my first "coffee" visitor, out there, picking his "own" beans.

Currently trying to organise a special "deal" with the local hotel (The Starlight Hotel and Spa) which is only a few hundreds yards from here (www.jamaicamarketplace.com/starlight) for visitors who prefer the comfort of a proper hotel, over "camping" in one of my spare bedrooms: at least I can "compete" on the food, on the dinner table; and my coffee is superb!!!

The Starlight Hotel jamaicaAs little more than an "idea under investigation", can only guess at a cost, in the region of US$150, for a couple of days, bed, food, beer, the take-home coffee, and the mailed coffee, all included.

The Starlight Hotel, taken from my drive.

Firstly, I think that the major single most important thing, is the local Coffee Industry Board: whilst they do nothing in the way of actually growing the coffee itself; they grade and test the coffee before allowing it to be exported. They have very precise specifications for the coffee, before it can be exported: and any coffee that fails their tests, is rejected, and not granted the all important export licence. To the best of my knowledge, there is no other coffee in the world, that undergoes such in-depth quality controls (by an independent tester: a fully self-financing, Government Agency) as our Jamaican coffee.

Their secondary function is to do everything possible to help, educate, and advise the coffee growers, on how to produce the very best coffee (the vast majority of the coffee is grown by small farmers/growers, on plots varying in size from a few acres, to just a few coffee bushes, in the back yard: they sell their cherry berries to the local factory, who then process the beans).

Coffee, like any other land plant, needs 4 things to flourish (in varying amounts, according to species, and the ecological "niche" that it occupies) Food (minerals) Water, Sunlight, and Carbon Dioxide: and a bit of TLC, also helps.

beautiful sceneryWhat coffee bush would not like to grow in such scenery?

The geology: this area is basically sedimentary rocks, with many volcanic intrusions: my plantation is atop a ridge composed of shale and mudstone, probably overlaying some sandstones, which are visible, nearby.

part of my drivePart of my drive, running along the top of the ridge, just off camera, on both sides, the land drops steeply down, to a river, on either side. My plantation is to the right of this picture.

Looking at several Internet "fact" sheets, and I would have to believe that my plantation is firmly rooted in purely volcanic rock: it takes a walk of no more than a couple of feet from my back door, to SEE, and get the actual rocks, in my hands: and with (slightly) more than a "passing" knowledge of geology, I KNOW the difference between volcanic rocks, and sedimentary rocks: this whole local area, is a mixture of shales, and mudstones, overlaying sandstone, once fully overlaid with limestone, which now only remains as the peaks of the Blue Mountain range: and there are the volcanic intrusions, into these rocks.

The mountains on either side of our valley, are limestone, with the volcanic intrusions, and sit on the shales and mudstones, and there are many springs of lovely, pure water, that exit the porous limestone, as it meets the underlying impermeable, shales: water that brews a superb cup of JBM coffee!

Have checked the "analysis" bit of the labels on the water bottled out of the nearest "Mountain": it has a high Magnesium, and Calcium (in bicarbonates) content, (200ppm) low Sodium, Chloride, and Sulphate, and virtually NO Potassium, or Nitrates.

Used this analysis, (I can hear some of you thinking "clever", and the rest: thinking, "Cheapo"!!) and fortify my chemical fertilizers, based on this "soil analysis"; adding extra Sulphur, Sodium, and Chlorine.

The commercial chemical fertilizers, are composed of a mixture of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium: I just need to add the deficiencies, in the soil!!

jamaican coffeeDidn't think you really wanted a picture of my compost heap, here!!!

As well as using the compost heap, and getting in some of the waste from the local coffee processing factory,

I get some of the "trace elements", by incinerating all our household trash (plastics, and glass, etc. apart), to extract them from the printing inks, etc, in the trash.

The ashes are sieved, and the unusable parts (tin cans, etc) are bagged up, and taken to the local collection point (there is NO trash collection out here in the wilds: carry the trash bags, over 10 miles, to the nearest collection point: and I DO IT: unlike the locals, who just dump all theirs into a deep gully, and ignite it, occasionally! It burns slowly, with an awful "stink").

I have examined some of the pebbles in our local stream, which flows down from the peak above the place, and found volcanic rocks, with minerals: one containing copper (almost certainly) and other "trace" elements: both Silver and Gold have been found (but never in "commercially viable" amounts) in several places around here: which would suggest that the soil is adequately supplied with the minerals the coffee needs. It is not by chance, that my little bit of paradise, is named Silver Hill Gap!!

jamaican mapEastern Jamaica: our place is marked with the white arrow.

The Blue Mountain National Park, marked with the black line:

much of the National Park, is below 2,000 feet, and can only grow "lowland" coffee.

Arabica coffee: has to be grown above 2,000 feet, and as a general "rule", the more slowly the beans mature and ripen, the bigger the beans get, and the better the flavour of the coffee: the temperature should be an average of around 65F, across the whole year, with the lowest temperatures, for short periods, down to the mid 50'sF, and the highest temperatures rarely achieving the mid 80'sF. Coffee only grows in the tropics, as the temperate regions frequently "stray" out of this temperature range. With all the conflicting information available over the Internet, I cannot give you "exact" figures; all I CAN say, is that this climate appears to be the "ideal" for the varieties of coffee, we grow here!

My house is at 3,523 feet, (checked on the map, by GPS, and Google Earth) and there are a few small coffee farms, a little higher up the slope, possibly as high as 4,200 feet. One thing to be aware of, when ever you read about Jamaica, is that the laws of physics in Jamaica, are unique to the Island: a foot (usually considered to be 12 inches) can vary from 8 inches to 15 inches (depending on the particular application), for example, the Starlight Hotel is virtually level with my house, but in their brochure, is at 5,000 feet! there is a nice little organic coffee farm, across the gully from here, again, almost level with my house, but it is at 4,500 feet! Across the valley, is the local village, named Section, a tad lower than my house, but is at 4,000 feet!!!

SectionSection: you can still see the washed out road, which has been under repair for over 5 years: the locals have cut their own by-pass (part of which can be seen to the right of the hill; this by-pass, cut through a coffee farm, is fine for 4x4's in the wet, and passable for cars, in the dry; it is impassable to anything larger than a car, lorries cannot negotiate the very tight bend, where it rejoins the old road).

NO coffee in Jamaica is grown at, or above 5,000 feet, as all land in this Country, above the 5,000 foot contour, is strictly conserved by the Forestry Commission, to remain in its "natural state".

Some forestry land, below the 5,000 foot contour, is leased out for coffee farming: and some of it is "captured", by the locals: but as long as the trees are not cut down, and only the undergrowth cleared for some coffee, the Forestry Commission tend to "ignore" it: even giving some of them, small trees, in pots, to plant on the land, along with the coffee.

Daylight hours: Compared with more temperate regions, we get little in the way of variation in the length of the day-lights hours, through the year: Jamaica is located at 17.5 degrees North, and at mid summer, the sun (on the tropic of Cancer, at 23.5 degrees North) is to our North: the difference in the length of the daylight hours, between mid summer, and mid winter, is about 90 minutes, at each end of the day, a total of about 3 hours, over the day: early September, and dawn is at about 5.00am, and it is fully dark just after 7.00pm.

For all practical purposes, the only real difference across the year, is that our tomatoes take a couple of weeks longer to ripen in January, than in July.

Sun and shade: Coffee likes to grow in warm, but shady places, and you will often see "shade grown ....... " on packs of good coffee; but herein lies a problem, plant loads of shade trees on the coffee plantation, and the trees are competing with the coffee for water, and the (limited) nutrients in the soil.

You could cover the coffee bushes with netting to give them some shade (very expensive, and so very easily destroyed by a storm) OR: just await the famous Blue Mountain mists, to rise up around mid to late morning, shade the coffee from the midday sun, and then fade away, to leave the coffee bushes free access to the less intense mid to late, afternoon sunshine! The mists also keep the coffee cool and damp, and the occasional light shower, keeps them watered: what could be better??Buff River Valley

The mist creeping up the Buff River valley, towards us.

The mists: are most common during the period April to December, which just happens to coincide with the main period of the ripening of the coffee berries: which leaves much of the period of January to April, with full sunshine, for the coffee bushes to put on vegetative growth, before the main flowerings: again, absolutely perfect conditions for growing coffee.

The mists are, in reality, low clouds, rather than mist: (sorry for the interruption: dogs after another rat, they got it after a good chase! and the corpse, swapped for a lump of cheese, for each of them: 3 happy dogs!!): our mists are not like the mists and fog, experienced in most places: the moist air, from the coast, moves up the valleys as the air over the land, heats up, and rises, pulling the air in from the coast; as it cools, the mists form (as you can see in the photo, above) along the ground, and in mid/late afternoon, as the air rising over the land, slows down, the mists retreat back down the valley, and can completely vanish in under an hour. Due to the lie of the land, these mists are much heavier, and more frequent, in the shorter, steeper valley, to our North (the Buff River valley: as in the photo) than in the much longer valley, to our South.

The picking season (due to the variation in ripening times for the several flowerings of the bushes, through the early part of the year) usually starts around October or November, peaks in January and February, then slows down, and usually finishes in March: the bushes are usually picked 3 times during the season. The late picking coinciding with the least of the mists, the weaker winter sun, and the lowest temperatures of the year: ripening the berries, very slowly, and I think giving the best of the coffee crop: the part I keep strictly for myself!! [my "special reserve": and I can feel the psychic feedback, of salivating taste buds!!] The commercial processors mix all the coffee, from across the whole season, together, and miss out on the very best (late picked) "special"!!

Rainfall: in the tropics, there is little in the way of any obvious "seasons" (instead of summer, winter, spring and autumn) there are just the "wet" and "dry" periods, which, up here, in these mountains, just happen to coincide with the periods when the coffee most needs the rainfall! Even in the dry periods the mountains and the mists, keep the area sufficiently well watered, to exactly suit the coffee bushes.

The main "rainy" seasons are May/June, and the peak of the hurricane/stormy season: August to October. The main "dry" season runs from December to May.

All the rainfall figures are measured in Kingston: which is only 8/10 miles away (straight line) from here, but there is a range of mountains (between 4,000 and 5,000 feet high) in between: we can have a perfect sunny day, and there are heavy rains in Kingston: the Mountains, and our valley, create our own "special" very local, climate, much cooler (by about 10 to 15F) and wetter (with all the light showers, and condensation, produced by the mists), than Kingston.

The only downside to our weather, is the hurricane season: a bad hurricane, can literally strip every single coffee berry from the whole plantation. With the peak of the hurricane season between early August, and mid October: it coincides exactly with the time when the first coffee crop, is beginning to ripen, and which should be ready to pick, from late October, onwards.

Coffee varieties:- there are two main cultivars, of Arabica coffee, grown in the area, the specific "Blue Mountain" (which is also grown in Kenya), and a relatively small amount of "Geisha", which is widely grown around the world. To the best of my knowledge, there is no one around here, who supplies a "pure" Geisha coffee, the two main cultivars are picked, and processed, mixed together.

Var "Blue Mountain" Var "Geisha" (and storm damage, blown over Banana)

The Geisha coffee bush, as you can make out from the picture, bears a lot more coffee, than the Blue mountain, the Geisha is a smaller bush (these bushes are both about 5 years old)

It is very difficult (for me, but Chris has NO problem!!) telling the varieties, apart: the leaves are slightly different, the Geisha being a little broader

Don't know what happened to the colour of my hand!!

The Geisha is to the left of the picture.

Geisha Blue Mountain

The Geisha bears the coffee berries, differently: they are more "bunched up", than the Blue Mountain, which tends to have them more evenly spread along the bearing, branch.

October 12th: and there are the odd one or two flowers on the bushes; at the same time as ripe cherries, ready to pick, and all stages of ripening berries.

A thought, purely my own, has to do with the "thickness" of the air, at altitude; all plants need to breathe, taking in Carbon Dioxide during the day, and using a little Oxygen, at night, to stay alive: the lower the altitude at which you can get all the other necessary requirements to grow "great" coffee, the easier the plants find it to "breathe", and absorb the necessary gasses from the "thicker" air.


One of those VERY rare occasions when the sun and the mist, interplay with the trees: to give effects like this!! Extremely difficult to photograph, as you are looking directly into the sun.

No matter how good your beans are, the flavour of the finished coffee, can all too easily by destroyed (or "compromised") by poor processing. I will give you the FULL details of the way we do it, up here; in a later episode.

We now have all these "perfect" cherry berries, so on with the processing: (full details in a later episode) and we end up with a whole heap of dried, green bean coffee: all sorted for size, and hand graded for quality.

A final double-check (which includes roasting a sample, and taste-testing it) and pack into wooden barrels, before delivering it to the Coffee board, along with all the required "paper-work".

The Coffee Board, picks at random, some of the delivered barrels, and extracts a sample, for testing.

The whole barrel is checked visually, and by "nose", as the sample is taken, and if no problems noted, they are sent to the testing room.

In the testing room (which I had the privilege of being shown around, and have seen all this, first-hand) the green beans are carefully checked for the quality of the sorting, the allowance is for 4% undersized beans: to accommodate the mechanical tolerances of the sorting machines: the grading allowance, is for 3% of marked beans in the sample: and the marks are limited to the tiniest of faults, too small to expect them all to be spotted during the normal hand grading, and often only visible when examined under a magnifying glass. The testers at the Coffee board, actually examine, with a magnifying glass, a randomly selected sample of the green beans.

Then a few beans, under the "colour analyser", to (scientifically, rather than "visually") check the colour of the beans.

Then the (almost) final test, due to the time it takes, only a random sample, of the samples, are tested immediately: the pesticide residue test; recently the CIB got a brand new, state-of-the-art, machine to do this, following customer (notably, the Japanese) requirements. Many more of the samples are kept in short term storage, and tested at a later time, and if it is found that residue levels are, within the tolerance, but higher than "expected", the particular supplier, is advised.

It was of great interest that, the initial results from these test, revealed that JBM, has, the lowest levels of pesticide residues, when compared to the other coffees produced within the Caribbean area: and in some cases, the levels were less than a quarter of the "other coffees".

At last, we reach the final, and MOST important test: the cupping!! A precise weight of green beans, are precisely roasted, in a special roasting machine, which gives precisely, and repeatable, roasting times and temperatures: every sample is roasted exactly the same (to my palate, when I was offered a cup, too light a roast, which did not bring out the full "depth" of the flavour) so that every sample is only tested on the quality of the beans, and not the roasting. The only "non-scientific" part of the testing, relying on the palate of one of the Coffee Boards, expert, taste-testers.

The Seal of approval, and all the correct paperwork, checked, for the batch of coffee, and the export licence is granted. The Coffee Board then check the packaging, and deliver the coffee to the port, themselves, they oversee the coffee, until it is loaded (in containers) and sealed; so that there is no way there can be any "substitution" between testing, and the coffee finally leaving Kingston harbour.

The coffee board, is the ONLY legally sanctioned coffee exporter, but, there is a provision for individuals to send small amounts (one pound via the postal service, or 11 pounds ( 5 kilos ) by courier) which are regarded as "non-commercial" exports.

Kingston Harbour: [the city centre] 7th largest natural harbour, in the world [the Eastern end of the harbour]

Photos, taken from the Pallisadoes, the outer rim of the harbour.

All JBM coffee can be guaranteed, until the ship leaves Jamaican territorial waters, the Coffee board has done everything possible to ensure the quality of the "Legend", but at that point, they lose any physical control.

They go as far as they can, checking out, and verifying the "reputation" of the importers of our coffee, and if they have any "problems" with the importer, they will not allow the coffee to be exported to them.

In the USA, they have, on retainer, a firm of specialist "trade mark" lawyers, who check for any infringements on the use of their internationally, registered trade marks, and logos: BUT: despite having done everything they possibly can (legally!! I suppose they could "engage" the Mafia, to police our coffee!!) for every pound of JBM exported to the States, about 100 pounds ends up for sale!

As far as I know, there is no other exporter of coffee, who has anything like our Coffee Board, no other Country that grows coffee, who have any of the statutory regulations, and the independent "watch-dog", to do everything possible, to guarantee the unique quality of our Blue Mountain coffee.

Well: now you know!!

My advice, if you want to be certain of getting some real JBM, is to e-mail me ( Этот e-mail адрес защищен от спам-ботов, для его просмотра у Вас должен быть включен Javascript ) and I will give you the contact address for one of our local producers, who I KNOW, only produce, and sell pure, unadulterated, JBM: international shipping costs, may add a couple of dollars to the price, but you can be sure of getting the real JBM, without taking the (high probability) "chance" of getting rubbish, instead.

In the next episode, I will give you some "guide-lines" on how to evaluate that pack of (labelled as) the real JBM, you got on the Internet, and, probably, wasted your money on.

Today's Jamaican Recipe:-

The Sunday, or holiday "special": Rice and Peas:

The "peas" are, in fact, what we would call red Kidney beans: and this dish is an absolute essential for Sunday lunch, Christmas, and any other remotely "special occasion".

Every "cook" has their own special way of cooking this dish, I can only give you the basic recipe, you will have to decide on your own "special" additives, to make it the way YOU, want it to taste!!

The basic recipe: 1/2 pound of red Kidney beans, 1 pound of rice (very well washed) and 1/2 pint of coconut milk (can be dried, and re-constituted, or made from fresh coconuts (by finely grating the flesh of the fresh coconuts, adding a little water, soaking for an hour, and draining/squeezing off the liquid)

Boil the "peas" until tender (if using dried ones; soak overnight first) rinse, drain, and leave to partially cool.

In a frying pan, gently fry a mixture of your own choice of flavouring (one of the classics, includes a few ounces of chopped, salted pork) onions, garlic, herbs, spices, sweet peppers, just about anything!

Heat up the coconut milk, and a little more water (just sufficient for the rice to absorb all the liquid, with none left over) and as soon as the coconut milk/water boils, add the rice, the contents of the frying pan, the cooked "peas", and a large (very hot, but completely whole, chilli pepper) salt (to taste) and allow to cook, as slowly as possible, and stir several times.

My personal preference, is to use a real "heavy duty" thick cast iron pot: a few seconds after the whole mix comes to a vigorous boil, turn off the heat, and allow the rice to cook in the retained heat; with, a mixture of fried: onions, garlic, some Jerk spice mix, chopped sweet peppers, and plenty of black pepper: then just before the rice has fully cooked, adding some chopped, fresh tomatoes, and some chopped Pepperoni sausage.

Makes an excellent addition to a plateful of fried bananas (pick large, but not fully ripe, bananas, slice lengthwise, and fry in shallow, but very hot, oil) and a couple of slices of boiled ham.

Using a whole Scotch bonnet pepper in the recipe, this is always left on top of the rice and peas, when it is put in the serving dish: and there is usually one idiot who will take it, and eat it, and suffer the severe consequences!! but, they never do it a second time!

Robin Plough, friend of www.coffee4dummies.com

For questions about JBM, mail to: Этот e-mail адрес защищен от спам-ботов, для его просмотра у Вас должен быть включен Javascript

See also:
A New Year on the Plantation
A Visit to Paradise
Assessing your coffee (part 1)
Assessing your coffee (part 2)
Assessing your coffee (part 3)
Economics of JBM. Part 1
Economics of JBM. Part 2
Everything you wanted to know about the Coffee Board
Growing a coffee plant at home
Growing Coffee. Part 1
Growing Coffee. Part 2
Growing Coffee. Part 3
Growing Coffee. Part 4
Growing Coffee. Part 5
Growing: Part 1
Growing: Part 2
Jamaican food (part 1)
Jamaican food (part 2)
Jamaican food (part 3)
Jamaican newsletter
Living in Paradise: Part I
Living in Paradise: Part II
Living in Paradise: Part III
Processing our coffee (part 1)
Processing our coffee (part 2)
Random thoughts on the end of the world
Random thoughts on the end of the world (II)
Special Report: Coffee Leaf Rust Fungus Part 1
Special Report: Coffee Leaf Rust Fungus Part 2
SPECIAL: Coffee borer beetle in Hawaii
Trivia and other ramblings: part 1
Trivia and other ramblings: part 2
Tropical Storm Nichole
see also

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