Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee (Product Review)

Having just finished finals, I’ve once again come to appreciate the greatness that is coffee. And what better way to appreciate the greatness of coffee than by trying out some of the best beans possible? In this article, we review Jamaica’s own 100% Blue Mountain Peaberry coffee. It is worth noting that of the world’s best (read as “most expensive”) coffees that you, the reader, could actually purchase, Blue Mountain ranks as #3 on the list.

Worlds Top 5 Most Expensive Obtainable Coffees
Kopi Luwak = $120/lb (yes, it’s real, I’m stunned.)
Hacienda La Esmeralda (Reserva de la Señora) = $107/lb (good luck getting it at auction prices)
Blue Mountain = $39/lb (what I’m drinking right now)
Kona = $29/lb (a fine cuppa, I’ll have to write a review on it sometime)
Los Planes – $16.66/lb (fallen from $40/lb, never tried it)

Of course, if you do a quick Google search, you’ll find an article listing the 10 (or 11) best/most expensive coffees cut and pasted into every publication imaginable (I found it via Forbes) for the last 4 or 5 years. Well, things change. St. Helena’s plantation was destroyed by invasive weeds, El Injerto seems to have vanished from production and retail, along with Fazenda Santa Ines, Starbucks Rwanda, etc… I’ve hunted down the top 5, linked the most recently available purchase price page, and now that I’ve done my homework, it appears Blue Mountain is #3.

Now the reader may be thinking “Fantastic, but what does this have to do with Steampunk?” If you have to ask, you’re either new to the genre, or a godless tea-drinking heathen!

"Girl Genius" even did a subplot about it.

Coffee represents the very ESSENCE of Steampunk. The best coffee machines are made of brass and copper boilers, with lots of random valves, gauges, and pointy bits.

WANT!

Sometimes the coffee itself is made via shooting boiling hot steam through the delicious lovely lovely beans into a drink that keeps the mad scientist working from late night to early morning. You can’t do mad science on tea, much less malt liquor. You need liquid ambrosia with the jolt of a thousand “jiggawatts” behind it.

Coffee!... COFFEE NOW!!

Now, the way your average coffee company works is by buying various beans from around the world, usually from large, stable farms that can provide a similar quality product every year, on time. They have a blender, or team of blenders, who figures out the rough proportions needed to achieve a certain flavor for the lowest possible production cost, add various chemicals when needed, and then freeze-dry, vacuum-seal the bags for warehousing where it might get sold and consumed in up to about six months to a year. Normally, the stuff you buy at a grocery store has been pre-ground, and even if it’s not, it is a blend of various beans, because if one farm supplier falls short, the rest can be made up with the other beans year to year, and the brand-name can live on through dictatorial regime changes, and so forth.

Win!

But there are a few companies out there who do it the hard way. And by “the hard way” I mean they put more effort into producing the perfect bean than I’ve ever put into anything in my entire life. By being #3 on the list, that makes Jamaica’s contribution to Steampunk even more significant than the Bob Marley Steambot!

We have the technology, we can rebuild him!

Blue Mountain Peaberry Coffee has an insane production process. They start by limiting their growing range to only one range of mountains, The Blue Mountains in Jamaica, and only on one face of those mountains. As if this geologic limitation weren’t enough, only the band between 3,000 and 5,500 feet is allowed. Within the confines of that area, and only within the confines of that area, is it allowed.

Most grocery-store coffees are harvested before the bean fully ripens, thus increasing production and decreasing maintenance time to grow. It’s the same reason you see green Bell Peppers cheaper than Yellow and Red ones. The red are the most ripe in both peppers and beans. Only completely red berries are picked, then examined by hand for insect damage, incomplete formation, defects, etc. The beans are then placed into water where the floating beans are removed, because floating beans are evil and must be destroyed. Sometimes, though, a few evil beans slip through. That’s why they do the whole process over again before it even reaches the factory, and then again after it reaches the factory. As you can well guess, most of the beans are lost in this processes.

After peeling and washing, the beans are inspected for a very special kind of bean, the peaberry, which is a round-bean that hasn’t separated into two flat halves because only one of the two seeds in the coffee cherry gets fertilized. Because this is an accident of nature, less than 5% of all coffee berries harvested are peaberries. Why are peaberries so special? Because they roast better. A rounder berry will roast more evenly because of the economy of surface area, and will roll around the roaster more easily. They have a higher density to them, and because of their rarity and higher demand, more care is put into their selection than any other bean.

Now rewind a bit and remember the selection process that eliminates the vast majority of the peaberries that get harvested. So what’s left are a bunch of nearly perfect, very wet coffee beans. One would think at this point, they’d be ready to bag and sell, but apparently they have to sun-dry on slabs of concrete for about a week in order to equalize the moisture levels to the surrounding area. The whole time, more and more beans are removed from the slabs because they either don’t look or feel right (or some critter makes off with them).

After that, the beans have to rest in a special bag in a special place, where various biological things happen to age the bean for about 3 months. Afterward, the beans are hulled. The husks get saved to roast the beans with. That’s right, their “firewood” costs more per pound than most of us make per hour. What, you expected them to use something as vulgar as a tree?

...stupid tree...

After all that comes the polishing, the sorting, and the grading. This is where they decide what beans are actually peaberries or not, and even more beans meet their sad fate outside the production line as quality standards are once again enforced to eliminate any bad beans. The entire process at the factory, and even some of the collecting stations, is overseen by the fifth-generation plantation owner. Then, because you can’t make barrels out of coffee bean husks, they use aspen-wood barrels to cart the beans to the government inspection office, to avoid counterfeiting and to be licensed as 100% Blue Mountain Coffee. Because in Jamaica, they take coffee seriously.

The Jamaican Coffee Inspection Bureau

What is left is roughly 2% or less than what they started with. Think about that for a moment. Whatever job you do, if your boss decided that only 1 out of every 50 things you did was worth the end result, either you’d be paid a helluva lot less, or your production costs would go through the roof. Why would anyone go to this much trouble? To produce what experts regularly and roundly claim is the third best coffee in the entire world. For years, I’ve dreamt of tasting this, and finally, after my parents took a trip to Jamaica, they brought me back a pound of it.

With such a long wait and an incredible history and process, one can probably imagine that my expectations for it were rather high. After carefully grinding my beans, spooning just the right amount into the wire-mesh cage and waiting an agonizing fifteen minutes for it to brew, I poured myself a cup. As I took my first sip, what I expected was something like this…

Seriously, if you're not reading Girl Genius, you need to start.

In truth, it was a bit of a letdown. Not as big a letdown as the Clash of the Titans remake, but definitely the story behind the bean is more impressive than the taste. I’m no world famous coffee critique–yet, ahem–so please excuse my layman’s terminology. The coffee had a light, faint aroma, compared to, say, Folgers or Kona (how many of you just winced at those two being used in the same sentence?). The texture of the coffee is quite silky, and the taste is both woody and smooth, yet ever so slightly bitter. It’s kind of what I’d expect liquid cedar to taste like if such a thing existed.

It does, but tastes like Pine, for some reason.

And to be honest, it makes for a damned good cup of coffee. But so does Farmer’s Brothers, and all they claim is to be “consistently good” for what amounts to about a dollar a cup. Perhaps my pallet isn’t sophisticated enough to appreciate it, or maybe the beans I got were an off-season, or it could be that I should have used a French-press instead of a drip…or it could just be that just because something costs about $40 a pound, doesn’t mean it’s going to taste like it.

Yellowcake also has a disappointing taste at $40/lb.

Overall, I give it a 230 out of 300psi on the Steam-O-Meter. It’s good, to be sure, and I have an immense amount of respect for the incredible standards of quality these beans are put through. I sincerely wish that more people put that kind of effort into quality control of their product… but the diminishing returns are obvious. It seemed actually less flavorful than Kona, and about on par with Farmer’s Brothers. It’s good enough to be green, but not good enough to be supergreen.

Don't you wish everything had a Steam-O-Meter?

Advertisements

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://thesteampunkforge.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/jamaican-blue-mountain-coffee-product-review/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Many believe that it is the best coffee in the world. Surely it is from the best crops in Jamaica.

    • Indeed, hence my concern that either my pallet was not sophisticated enough to truly appreciate the taste, that I had used the wrong equipment to brew it, or that I perhaps had an off-season bag. Certainly the sheer level of craftsmanship alone in their processes though makes it an admirable thing of beauty.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: