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Jamaica assures U.S. of Blue Mt. supply.

Jamaica assures U.S. of Blue Mt. supply

On a recent journey to Jamaica, Erna Knutsen of knutsen Coffees Ltd. visited the hurricane-damaged Blue Mountain growing region, and conferred with growers and members of the Jamaican Coffee Industry Board about supplies of this rare and famous coffee. Knutsen, who has imported Blue Mountain Jamaica coffee into the U.S. for 18 years, is the longest standing authentic American source of the 150 pound barrels of green beans.

Although hurricane Gilbert devastated large parts of Jamaica 18 months ago, tearing off roofs, downing power lines and ripping up trees all over the island, immediate efforts were made to save the island's coffee crop. Hundreds of barrels waiting for export were destroyed, and processing facilities in Kingston and in the mountains were knocked out. Even though power was out and roads were blocked, growers concentrated on salvaging the harvest, which came to only slightly more than half of the previous year's crop. They then worked n saving the trees which had been stripped of their foliage. Severe pruning of the stem was the only answer, and even then, some trees died months later.

Careful cultivation managed to save most of the trees, and within a year new shoots had flowered, producing another crop about half the size of the pre-hurricane years. Because of the intese efforts by growers, aided by the Jamaican Coffee Industry Board, and with the help of a large loan from the Japanese who consume about 90 percent of the Blue Mountain crop each year, excellent flowering was observed at Wallenford, Mavis Bank, Moy Hall, and other estates. The 1990-910 crop promises a bumper year.

Prior to the hurricane, Jamica produced in excess of four million pounds of coffee per year. Gilbert destroyed more than 60 percent of that crop (88-89), and resulted in an 89-90 crop very little larger. In addition, stressed plants produced fewer and smaller cherries, and so a smaller than usual percentage of the coffees from the delinated Blue Mountain Region were judged in the cup to be of Blue Mountain quality. This year, however, due to the immediate pruning and replanting which took place, along with the intensive attention paid to the threes during the recovery period, there is every reason to expect that the next crop, which is now flowering, will be an excellent one.

Blue Mountain Coffee is unique in the world for several reasons. The designation is available only to coffees grown at altitudes up to 6,000 feet in the Blue Mountain district, north of Kingston. Unlike most Central American countries, Jamaica has not substituted the higher yielding Catturra or Catui varieties, but grows almost exclusively Arabica Typica coffee. In fact, several growers told Knutsen that this probably helped to mitigate the hurricane damage, as the Typica trees survived better and recovered faster than the more recent hybrids, with their larger leaf area.

Blue Mountain coffee is picked by hand on steep hillsides throughout the harvest season, mostly by women, who start work at the first light. Each plantation owner arranges to have the cffee cherry collected by truck in the afternoon of the day on which it is picked, and it is immediately delivered to the plant for processing. all Blue Mountain coffee is wet processed, and is spread on acres of concrete "barbecues" for sun drying. When the weather is inclement for long periods, mechanical dryers supplement the process to assure the highest quality.

After drying, the coffee is stored in parchment to develop its flavor, then mechanically hulled and polished, before being sorted electronically for size and defects. Had sorting by specially trained women finishes the selection of the finest and most expensive coffee in the world.

But this is not the final step. All Jamaican coffee for export is submitted to the Jamaican Coffee Industry Board's panel of quality control experts for grading and approval. When grown and processed on a single estate, such as Keble Munn's Mabis Bank, or sold to the Coffee Board as cherry for processing and eventual sale, all coffee is submitted to the same impartial expert panel, chaired by David Evans, whose experience dates back to the 50's. Only coffee which meets their exacting standards of cup quality is certified as Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee.

Worldwide demand for this fine coffee has been increasing, and supply, due to the aftereffects of the hurricane, is still short. Knutsen was assured by officials of the Board that traditional customers will be treated with special consideration during this period of shortage, on order that the reputation and distribution of this superb coffee may be protected.

Knutsen met with John Pickersgill, manager of the Jamaican Coffee Industry Board, as well as wth board member Ronnie Thwaites and chairman Keble Munn, where she was assured that this quality coffee will continue to be available to the U.S.
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Title Annotation:Blue Mountain coffee after hurricane
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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