C is for Coffee Culture?

Sometimes the coffee at work is really this bad!

Sometimes the coffee at work is really this bad!

Before we came to Jamaica, I had heard of their world famous Blue Mountain coffee and was excited to try it.  My first cup was at a small coffee chain called Cafe Blue in a shopping mall close to the Embassy.  It was very popular spot and it was hard to find a table, but I managed to find a seat in the Starbucks-like cafe and I tried my first cup.  I was surprised at first how mild it was and a little weak too, I thought.  I’ve always drunk strong Ethiopian-style coffee and the Blue Mountain Java was pleasant but it sort of underwhelmed me.  I bought a 1lb of beans to take home anyway, so I could try it in my own kitchen and it grew on me.  I think I brewed it a little stronger than the cafe (sorry Blue Mountain connoisseurs if this is sacrilegious.)  This helped and I developed a taste for the smooth flavour and mild non-acidic finish.  But it is expensive at about $30/pound.  We switched to Jamaican high mountain coffee, which is good –if not as exceptional as Blue Mountain — but a much more reasonable price, and it makes me happy that at least I’m drinking a local product that supports the local economy…but I did ask myself why I didn’t see a real coffee culture in Jamaica?

After all, before international products were easily available as we see now,  local food and drink traditions became popular because they were affordable and that’s what you could find.  Jamaican has a long history of coffee farms, but where are the coffee drinkers?  I don’t mean to say that no one drinks coffee or there aren’t any coffee shops, but there’s a distinct lack of coffee as part of local tradition and I wondered why?

There’s few basic reasons for this that I can see:  Here at $2.50+ a cup its expensive and not an every day treat for most people.  At work, unlike all other countries we’ve lived, there’s no decent coffee available – despite the fact that coffee is one of Jamaica’s most well-known exports.  Therein lies the problem, as its famous coffee is exported for a very high price,  Very little Blue Mountain coffee is available locally, and what remains is just crazy expensive for most people.  Add to that the threats from rust disease, hurricanes and the abandonment of coffee farms in recent years, which have further limited the availability and affordability of the drink.

Why can Blue Mountain coffee demand such a high price?    Because its unique flavour comes from the rare, ideal conditions produced on the high slopes of the Blue mountains,  Its expensive because harvesting in that difficult terrain can’t be automated and coffee cherries on the same tree ripen at different times, so harvesting doesn’t happen in one visit. It an ongoing, labour-intensive process, but the result is a higher quality product.  (In some coffee-growing countries, particularly on large farms on flat ground, the farmers compromise and harvest the cherries all at once, but the mix of ripe and unripe beans affects the overall quality. ) Unique conditions, limited terrain, and high processing costs results in high quality, high demand coffee and farms export about 70% of it to get the best price – most of it goes to Japan.

So, here in Jamaica, I don’t really experience a coffee culture.  (Making coffee in my kitchen doesn’t count.)  I miss having a coffee spot at work where you can easily grab a good cappuccino and a few minutes with a colleague.  The black stuff they serve in the cafeteria doesn’t count either!  But I’m sure they’ll be cafes a-plenty in Serbia – probably serving a strong Turkish-style cup.  Hope brews eternal!


10 thoughts on “C is for Coffee Culture?

  1. Interesting information, and I think the export/local use explanation could be applied to many products in many countries. It certainly applies to items here in Mexico, and coffee is probably in that group.
    You must be off to Serbia?


    • Hi Marilyn. Yes, any time anything becomes trendy – Quinoa for example — locals who have eaten it for centuries can no longer afford it.

      We’re moving this summer. As its almost February, that’s starting to feel quite close. Then everything goes back in the box!… Hope all’s well in Mexico. Very embarrassed for US/Mexican relationship right now..


  2. Oh yes… we have the same experience and asked ourselves the same questions. Also came quickly to the same result. Sometimes we were standing in the supermarkets and asking ourselfes “Who can afford all these expensive things?” I mean, the prices are almost similar as in Switzerland, where we live currently. But- What my husband deserved in the hour, a Jamaican craftsman earned in one week.
    Our hosts were very thankful, that we shared our coffee with them. (We brought a small coffee-maker from home with us and bought the High-Mountain Coffee too.) A cup of luxury for them- a daily self-evident for us. And a moment of gratitude for our luxury life, What we do not perceive as such, as long as not look beyond the box…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Why are the coffee plantations being abandoned? I would think the price was good. Lack of labor? Hurricane wipe out mature trees? I am a lover of all things coffee. It is marvelous that you did a bit of in depth study based on love of product. We at the top of the food chain don’t always mind where our food is coming from. Thanks for the post!


  4. Pingback: As Starbucks Mulls Entry Into Jamaica, a Look at Coffee Culture (or Lack Thereof) in the Land of the Blue Mountains | Complete World News

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