Great question this week about origin sourcing: “do you guys ever do single origin specialty like Jamaican Blue Mountain?”
For those unfamiliar, Blue Mountain coffee originates in its namesake mountains between Kingston and Port Antonio. It is so famous that a governmental Coffee Industry Board regulates any and all lots that use its name. Beyond geographic requirements, authorized Blue Mountain must grow between 910 and 1700m. These altitudes combine with very rich soil, cool temperatures, and high rainfall to facilitate some of the best possible growing conditions in the entire Caribbean. When roasted well, it is a great coffee. It has a remarkably mild flavour with very low acidity. It lacks bitterness and is loaded with earthy and nutty notes.
For all this praise, you are likely wondering why it is not frequently on our offer sheet. Well, there are a couple reasons but the main obstacle is price. Given its global fame and relative scarcity, it sells at a premium. I just reached out to one of our green suppliers and they quoted me 29.00 per pound for Blue Mountain from Clydesdale Estate. Given that coffee loses about 2% weight in transit and another 13-15% during roasting, for actual roasted coffee the cost would be around 35.00 per pound. This, of course, without including labour, roasting, or packaging expenses. It would be challenging to move sufficient stock at such high price points before the green quality starts deteriorating.
The other key reason is our roasting philosophy. As I endlessly repeat in these emails, good roasting relies on a personal and well-articulated approach. While we do not use the techniques of Nordic approaches, they certainly have a valuable role in specialty coffee. Equally, while we aim for development, we shy away from any of the notes created by dark roasts. Not because these are abhorrent but because we want to showcase the terroir of origin over the flavours created by the roasting process itself. To get those beautiful low acid and earth notes, Blue Mountain benefits from heavy development. Accordingly, we would either due a disservice to origin or have to change our roasting approach – neither option is ideal.
Down the line, I would love to bring in a very expensive coffee from a ninety-plus auction and do a small run. Maybe even have gold knives on the bags? In the meantime, I instead try to focus our green program around producers like Katia Duke. Does San Isidro produce the world’s best coffee? Honestly, no. Its acids could be better structured, it could have greater depth in sweetness and would benefit from more cup complexity. But is it tasty? Of course! It is loaded with chocolate and has a really nice thick body. It is sugary and creamy like a cake and features the unique terroir notes of San Isidro. I guess my real point here is this: the more farmers like Katia Duke are paid premiums for their labour and expertise, the better the coffee becomes. If we stop isolating regions like Blue Mountain or varietals like geisha as the ‘valuable’ coffees, we can properly subsidize and celebrate the hard work of all producers across countries and regions.
tl;dr: For those Blue Mountain fans, try our Sumatra. It is weird but delicate. Has deep earthy flavour but also is juicy and sweet. The kicker: it is not a million dollars.