Sunday, July 6, 2014

Jamaica's Coffee Plantations

Hello everyone! I’m writing to you from Jamaica’s capital, Kingston! When my family goes on vacation we try to see how the locals live, eat exotic food and experience the rich culture of the city we’re in. This trip to Jamaica has been no different for us. One of things on my bucket list has always been to see a coffee plantation and learn how coffee is grown. My mom and I took an adventure to Jamaica’s Blue Mountains to taste and learn about some of the world’s best coffee.

After an hour-long car ride up north through the most winding and narrow roads I have ever been on, we finally reached the Craighton Estates in the Blue Mountains. Here we were met by a young tour guide who told us all about Ueshima Coffee Company, owned by a Japanese businessman. I was surprised to learn that 8% of coffee grown in Jamaica is exported to Japan. Even more surprising was that 90% of the coffee grown on the Blue Mountains is exported to Japan, totalling to 10,000 lbs of coffee a year.

Coffee originated in the Horn of Africa, an area with the perfect weather conditions to grow the coffee cherry. Coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia, when a man found his goats nibbling on red cherries. He quickly noticed that his goats were restless and wouldn’t sleep at night. He took these cherries to a Monk, who discarded them immediately and ordered them to be burnt. When the cherries were thrown into the fire, they released the most wonderful scent and the Monk knew they had discovered something truly unique.

Coffee grew in popularity in the Middle East, and the first country to begin roasting it was Yemen. Because coffee was mainly consumed in Middle Eastern countries by Islamic people, it was thought to be an unholy and devilish drink for Christians. They were banned from drinking it until the Pope blessed it and deemed it fit for Christians. Even after the Pope’s blessing, women were still not allowed to drink coffee for many years.  

There are 2 main types of coffee – Arabica and Robusta. It is said that Arabica is a higher quality and that Robusta is more resilient in its growth, thus a lower quality. Jamaica’s mountains grow some of the world’s highest quality Arabica coffee. This is because of the altitude, location, and cooler temperature in the mountains. The soil is also more nutritious here because the area is approximately 30-40 million years older than the rest of the country. Another important factor in coffee growth is the trade winds, which neutralize and slow down the growth of Arabica in the Blue Mountains. Because it takes longer for the Arabica beans to mature, they have a greater amount of glucose in them, thus explaining why Blue Mountain coffee is naturally sweeter and does not have a bitter after taste.  

The harvesters on Blue Mountains have a rigorous 
method of picking the best coffee beans. In September, the coffee cherries are picked once they have turned red and are fully ripened. They put all of the cherries into a bowl of water – the good cherries float and the defected ones sink. Then, they open the cherry and take out the pulp and beans. Most cherries contain 2 beans inside them. After the beans are picked, the coffee is cured and then graded into 8 different classes. It takes between 3 to 6 months for people to handpick and eliminate the defective beans. Once they have gathered the highest quality beans, they check the beans’ density, then the roast it, ground it, brew it and taste it before it goes to the market.

After we learned about coffee history, Jamaica’s role in the industry and the method of picking we finally got to taste the world famous coffee. As I mentioned before, Blue Mountain coffee is sweet because of the natural glucose it contains. I was pleased to learn that compared to other coffee, Blue Mountain coffee is found to have higher amounts of antioxidants, is proven to enhance mental awareness and only has 1/3 of the amount of caffeine compared to competitors. It is also proven to not have negative affects on the nervous and cardiac system.

We had just begun our hike up the mountain and into the coffee plantation when we were told that the field had just been sprayed with chemicals. I was really disappointed that we couldn’t hike all the way up, but then our tour guide took us up through a different route and we got to see coffee cherries! They were still green because they hadn’t fully ripened yet. It was so amazing to learn about the whole process from start to finish and to taste some of the world’s best coffee. We of course did not leave empty handed and ended up buying coffee to bring home! I can’t wait to brew it and remember this amazing day!

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