Dorothy’s Blue Mountain coffee crop has suffered two hurricanes in the last few years, notably Gilbert in 1989 which wiped out 70% of fields and factories, closing down production for almost two years. The arabica bean grown in Jamaica is more fragile than the more common robusta, found in South America. The fragility means less caffeine and a finer flavour but a longer growing period before harvest – five years. There was resilience in her face as she filled the roasting machine with beans but a little sadness too, an absent husband perhaps. She is hoping to “be a bit better off” in the next few years.
Drying, sorting and fermentation take place before the beans are roasted. In fact the process seems deceptively easy once the green beans are ready. At this early stage, caffeine is at its highest and with each subsequent roasting, medium, medium dark to dark, caffeine is reduced, leaving the contradiction of stronger tasting Blue Mountain with a lower caffeine content.
With an ear to the roasting machine, Dorothy explains that one crackle means medium, two crackles for dark or strong and out they pour, little brown beads, rattling like precious gems into a perforated drum through which cool air circulates, quickly cooling them. Cool air is key to the arabica beans: the plants must remain damp and cool and up here, a bride-like veil of mist over well-drained peaks ensures optimum growing conditions.
Dorothy grinds up a handful of beans and we sit, supping from tall, elegant cups (a small universe away from the milk filled buckets of Starbuck’s) overlooking green carpeted valleys dotted with metal roofed shacks. A plate of rum cake, cinnamon buns and biscuits moves into view and I dunk cake and biscuit, an Italian breakfast habit I can’t shift, even in front of complete strangers.
Dreams of hiding away in a shack to write for a few months each year merge with a new language in taste that is Blue Mountain coffee. A connoisseur’s coffee, with layers of flavour, nutty, intense, cocoa-esque, bitter notes. Tall, strong and black, an echo of the rippling, semi-naked Jamaican we drove past earlier, hacking at a fresh coconut with his machete (or cutlass as they are called in Kingston) by the roadside .
I stroke Blackie and Scarlet as we leave, dogs that Dorothy has taken on from mountain neighbours returning home. Through the open window, a shout out to the “white girl” worries the driver more than me. “You’re not offended?” No. He explains the concept of ‘blacker’ and ‘brown’ in one of the most refreshing, unloaded conversations I have had about colour. I step out of the taxi, white girl reluctantly waving goodbye to black driver, brown beans in hand; espresso, latte and Americano all in one day.