Jamaican coffee’s hidden value

Jamaican coffee

John Russell Storey of Cofi-Com describes the value of Jamaica’s smallholder producers and the value of shade cover in the Caribbean island nation.

When people think of the island country of Jamaica, thoughts immediately turn to a love of reggae and the Jamaican bobsled team, made famous in the 1994 movie Cool Runnings about four Jamaican athletes who formed a bobsled dream to fulfill their dreams of competing in the Winter Olympics. 

John Russell Storey is the Marketing Manager of Trade at Cofi-Com

While the Jamaicans did become worthy Olympians, the country of roughly 2.8 million people is also a worthy coffee producer, and a country Cofi-Com has been supporting and sourcing from for many years.

Late August every year, with a flurry of airline bills and a vast amount of documentation, our annual delivery of Jamaica Blue Mountain arrives. 

Twenty 15-kilogram wooden barrels tightly wrapped on a pallet are carefully examined before biosecurity approval. Once cleared, a barrel is carefully opened and 300 grams of coffee is taken for a cupping sample. This year’s selection took a bit of work. We cupped at least four different farms before selecting Nomlas Farmz. The delight of genuine Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is the grading. Grade one is exactly that: even, consistently sized, deep blue green beans with a noticeable weight. Roasting is a delight with beans cracking in unison, and the finish is a golden mahogany. 

Nomlas Farmz is one of those beautiful and exemplary-run coffee farms, located in the Clydesdale region of St Andrew Parish.

Donald Salmon owns this farm and is the President of the Jamaica Coffee Growers Association. His farm is spread over more than 372 hectares and has a higher yield per hectare compared to most other Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee farms. 

Donald produces some of the best coffee grown at 1706 metres above sea level. At this altitude, farms have almost continuous cloud cover that gives the coffee the best possible conditions for a long, slow ripening. Needless to say, picking can be a wet, muddy, and slippery process. 

Jamaican coffee
Shade cover on the Nomlas Farmz helps with long, slow ripening of coffee cherries.

Although the coffee grows on very steep slopes, there is continuous focus on avoiding erosion by maintaining a good variety of tree and plant growth. Shade cover from the trees additionally helps with wind and extreme temperature protection. The deep, nutrient-rich soil on the Nomlas Farmz has been classified as “slightly acid to neutral” and is part of the reason for the coffee’s low acidity. Good soil drainage is also a feature on the farm thanks to the steep gradients.

After harvest, the Nomlas Farmz pulps and dries the coffee on racks for 12 days before resting the coffee for 96 days. The parchment is then taken to a processing facility for hulling and grading. After an official inspection to classify the coffee for the Jamaica Coffee Growers Association mark, the coffee is barrelled and ready for its trip from Barbados via Heathrow to Sydney. 

Back at CofiCom’s Huntingwood’s office, cupping Donald’s coffee is a treat. It’s beautifully balanced and elegant in the cup. It isn’t a coffee that leaps out the cup with wild, intense notes. It’s a slow build. To us, it’s aromatic with notes of liquorice, dark cocoa nibs, apricot, ripe cherry, honey, and a hint of citrus. 

Working with smaller, quality-focused farmers such as Donald means the premium paid for this specialty coffee goes directly back to the farm. The recognition of the individual farm is also extremely positive. For many small growers, getting their crop singled out is difficult as their coffee is mixed with other farms’ before being exported. All their hard work and effort becomes anonymous. 

In the movie Cool Runnings, Jamaican bobsledder Yul Brenner considers why the team feels so out of place at the Winter Olympics, to which he says “we’re different. People are always afraid of what’s different”. In this case, I can tell you that Nomlas Farmz’s coffee is different, but there’s certainly nothing to fear. It’s just what makes it special. 

This article appears in the October 2019 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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