Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee – Where To Buy It, And How To Avoid Being Ripped Off
If you like your coffee smooth, you’re going to love Blue Mountain coffee.
It’s a bean with a worldwide reputation for excellence, and a price tag to match.
But is it all hype, or does this mystical bean live up to its expectations?
And if you get hold of some, what should you do with it? Of course you should drink it, but how is it best enjoyed?
And, are you falling trap to the 'blue mountain scam' that 4/5 people who buy it online fall victim to, without ever knowing?
JAMAICAN BLUE MOUNTAIN COFFEE - What You Need To Know
Why The Fancy Name?
Jamaica’s Blue mountains are the longest range on the island. Follow the footpath to the highest peak, and you can see both the north and south coasts. It’s a beautiful spot, warm and humid, and perfect for cultivating Arabica Typica beans.
Coffee was first grown in Jamaica in 1728 when the Governor planted the first crop. Just eight seedlings were brought from Martinique, but coffee soon became a major industry for the island. Today, almost all the plants on the island are the offspring of those original seedlings.
To call itself Blue Mountain, the beans must have been grown within the parishes of Portland, St Andrew, St Mary or St Thomas and at altitudes of between three and five and half thousand feet.
Coffee beans grown at this sort of altitude are hard and dense, literally packed with those incredible flavours we’re all addicted to.
Flavour characteristics - what does blue mountain taste like?
- Mild, polished flavour.
- Smooth but vibrant acidity.
- Clean taste with very little bitterness.
- Aroma: Sweet herbs and florals, with overtones of nuts.
It’s the smooth, clean taste that has given Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee a worldwide reputation for excellence. Although Jamaica grows just 0.1% of the world’s coffee, it’s crop commands the highest prices.
Almost all Jamaican coffee is exported, with over 80% being snapped up by the Japanese. The rest of the world must haggle over the remaining, deliciously smooth beans.
It’s the island’s tropical climate that gives coffee the sunshine and water that it needs to bloom. This perfect combination isn’t found in many places in the world, which is what makes Blue Mountain such a delicacy.
Interestingly, the soil in Jamaica at Blue Mountain altitude is quite poor quality. It may be that the adversity somehow improves the flavour, as it does for wine; some of the best grapes are grown in vineyards with poor soils.
It’s an internationally protected brand
Jamaica has preserved Blue Mountain’s identity by giving it a globally protected certification mark, awarded by the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica.
If it doesn’t have that mark? It’s not the real deal. (We’ll tell you more about how to make sure your beans are genuine, later).
Coffee is grown at various elevations in Jamaica. You may also come across Jamaica High Mountain; beans grown between 1500 and 3000 feet, and Jamaica Low Mountain, or Jamaica Supreme which is cultivated at the lower altitudes.
Nothing is grown above Blue Mountain; the land above that altitude is forest reserve and left to preserve the natural beauty of the island.
But there’s no protection for blends
It’s worth noting that there aren’t any internationally recognised criteria for calling something a Blue Mountain blend. If you grab a pack of coffee labelled with that, it may contain less than 10% true Jamaican genius so always check the packaging.
Blue Mountain does work well in blends, either with the other Jamaican coffees to lower the price or with something higher in acidity to round out the flavour profile.
If you want to truly refine your Blue Mountain experience then you might want to look at single estate coffees. These are beans sourced from just one of the island’s plantations, and although there isn’t much difference in location or growing conditions, each has some subtle differences.
- Clifton Mount is the oldest plantation still in operation in Jamaica. Sea Island is smooth with mild acidity and a pleasant, chocolaty aftertaste.
- Gold Cup has an exceptionally balanced flavour and provides a really clean cup.
- Flamstead Estate coffee is grown at 3,300 ft and provides a coffee with an aroma that is described by reviewers as ‘incredible’.
- Greenwich Estate coffee is hand-picked, pulped and parchment fermented to give it an incredibly rounded flavour and great mouth-feel.
Blue Mountain today
Back in 2012, the Jamaican coffee industry was facing hard times.
The Japanese market, the largest for Blue Mountain, was in decline, and the island had a problem with crop-devouring beetles.
They needed a new market.
Fortunately for Jamaica, that’s about when people like us got interested in really great coffee.
With a new market, the industry flourished again. In 2016 farmers were paid a record amount for their crop by Jamaica’s Minister of Agriculture, mostly due to the quality of the beans they were producing.
Coffee is a major industry for Jamaica. Many firms offer coffee holidays - a chance to enjoy the tropical climate and breath-taking scenery of Jamaica and to see the beans growing in the mists atop the Blue Mountains.
The heights are a destination in their own right, as a national park, and many travellers split a fortnight in Jamaica between the beach and the mountains.
BEWARE - How to spot Fake Blue Mountain
Because Blue Mountain commands a premium price, dishonest coffee sellers may use the name to sell other products. Even in Jamaica itself, unwitting tourists bring home bags of beans that are not what they say they are. So how do you know what you’re buying is the real deal?
Check the packaging
Jamaican Blue Mountain is grown, roasted and packaged on the island. If you’re holding a pre-packaged bag of Blue Mountain that says it was packed in Europe or the USA, the chances are it’s not what it says it is.
Blue Mountain Blends
If you buy a blend containing these sacred beans, be aware that there’s no minimum amount of Blue Mountain that has to be included; it could be as low as 10%.
Look for the seal
The coffee board stamp is shown on all genuine Blue Mountain beans. It’s a blue circle, inside is an image of a mountain, an island map, a barrel and coffee beans. If you’re going shopping, familiarise yourself with it so you’ll know if the seal you’re looking at is all it should be.
Buy from someone you trust
Your best bet for finding the genuine article is to buy from a real coffee expert. Artisan roasters and grinders that are passionate about their products are less likely to try and rip you off.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Anyone who has real Blue Mountain will be proud of that fact. It’s not easy to come by, so there will be a paperwork trail. They shouldn’t be offended if you ask to see some documentation, in fact they’ll probably make you a brew and tell you how this deal came to be.
How to brew Blue Mountain
If you’ve got hold of some of the sacred bean, you want to do it justice. If you’re roasting the coffee yourself, there’s advice further down the page. But if you’re ready to brew here’s the best way to approach Blue Mountain.
You should only brew Blue Mountain when the thrush knocks, and the setting sun with the last light of Durin's Day…no, wait. That’s something else. Brewing a coffee this prestigious does demand your full attention, though.
- Keep your coffee fresh – store it in a vacuum container (not in the fridge) until you’re ready to use it.
- Grind it as close to using it as you can, preferably at home.
- Use an immersion technique to bring out the best of the flavours. Drip, French press or percolator will all do this bean justice.
- Use filtered water that has been boiled, then cooled for 30-45 seconds.
Immersion techniques such as French press or percolator get every scrap of flavour out of your (freshly ground) coffee.
These methods allow the hot (but not boiling) water do its job of penetrating the grind and pulling out all the flavour and the oil that gives coffee its great mouth-feel.
Yes, immersion takes a little time and patience, but if you’ve gone to the trouble of sourcing some Blue Mountain you’re not just going to put it in a drip machine and leave it, are you?
If you’re a real fan of espresso, then look for Jamaican Peaberry. These are beans that have grown to fill the whole cherry, rather than splitting into two. Because they’re larger and even more dense, they make a better choice for espresso roasts.
Where to buy Blue Mountain
As we discussed before, the important thing with Blue Mountain is to make sure that you’re getting the real deal.
Although you will find Blue Mountain available on eBay and Amazon, it’s not a route we’d recommend you take when buying your beans. If you do choose to spend your money this way, read the item descriptions carefully and contact the sellers for more information.
If you're in the US or CA, Volcanica coffee sells 100% certified Blue Mountain - and roast only once you order. Check them out here.
Readers in the UK can order online from Jamaica Coffee Trading, who proudly display their certification mark and offer free delivery.
If you want to go hardcore and quest for your own, the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica gives contact details for certified dealers on the island.
We know, we’re preaching to the converted. But if you’re going to be investing your hard-earned cash in some serious beans then you want that coffee as fresh as possible.
If you can, roast them at home. If you haven’t discovered the arcane art of home roasting yet, then buy them roasted as recently as possible – again your artisan coffee shop will deliver that in a way that off-the-shelf coffee just can’t.
Watch this video of Fish from Thundercoffee showing the care he pays to roasting Blue Mountain for his customers.
You don’t want to over-roast Blue Mountain. Medium to Medium-Dark is the most you want to toast those beans. Don’t add bitterness to something that is so incredibly smooth.
If you’ve never had Blue Mountain, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. You might hear people say that other coffee varieties are just as good at a fraction of the price.
Papua New Guinea’s Arabica (which come from the same stock as Jamaican) or Australian Skybury are just some examples. And those are great brews, they really are.
But at least once in your life, you should treat yourself to the standard that all other Arabicas are held to, and brew yourself a cup of pure Jamaican Blue Mountain smoothness.