On a trip to Jamaica a few years back I decided to detour just north of Kingston, near Hardwar Gap in the Blue Mountains, where an old Rastaman was reputed to grow the best coffee on Earth. Jamaican Blue Mountain is one of the world’s most sought-after specialty coffees, selling for as much as $54 a pound in New York City and $10 a cup in Tokyo. But it’s hard to find even in Jamaica, since the vast majority of the crop is commercially grown, machine roasted, and then exported. Only a few backwoods growers still roast the old-fashioned way, selling their harvest to locals and passersby.
“All de days of me life, I’m farming it an’ preparing it de way my grandfather did, straight from de 17th century. No machinery, no chemicals; everyt’ing got to be by hand and natural.” Even the grinding method is rudimentary; Hampton poured the beans into a hollowed-out log, then crushed them with a mortar. When he came over with a steaming cup, I lifted it and experienced a tremendous wave of round, mellow flavor. This was some amazing coffee.
“It’s de mist that let de bean take its own time,” he said. In the high, humid environment, it takes up to ten months for his beans to mature, as opposed to five or six in lower, sunnier climes. According to Dennis, the cloud cover produces a denser, more flavorful arabica bean. He and his extended family still pick the ripe coffee by hand, lay the beans on bamboo racks to dry, and then roast them over a wood fire.