[ News | Go - Kingston | Discover Jamaica ]

- Dr. Rebecca Tortello

LEGEND HAS it that sometime in or near the year AD 600, a goat shepherd Kaldi noticed a change in his goats' behaviour. After eating the cherry-like fruits of a particular bush, they began to run and jump, full of excitement. Curious, Kaldi decided to try out the cherry-like fruits for himself and realized that he also felt full of energy. Intrigued, Kaldi took some of the bush's fruit and branches to a nearby monastery where he shared the unusual events with the Abbot who then decided to cook the fruit and branches. After tasting the bitter liquid that resulted the Abbot threw the entire pot into the fire. Soon, however, when the cherry-like fruits started to burn, a delightful aroma filled the air and an idea occurred to the Abbot. He would investigate making a drink based on the roasted cherry-like fruit (what we now call beans) and the first version of the beverage known today to millions as coffee was born.

It is not known exactly where and when coffee was first cultivated. Some authorities say that around the year 575, Arab traders took the plant to the southern tip of the Arabian penninsula, now known as Yemen, where the cultivation of coffee began. Others believe that it was grown initially near the Red Sea in Arabia circa 675. Others say that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia circa 900. Regardless of its exact origins, it is known that coffee cultivation began in earnest in the 15th and 16th centuries when extensive planting of the trees occurred in the Yemen region of Arabia. The world's first coffee shop, Kiva Han, is believed to have opened in Constantinople in 1475.

The use of coffee beans is said to have spread from Yemen throughout the Arabian peninsula and later to Turkey.
At that time, coffee was used as a ritual drink and for its medicinal properties. It wasn't until the end of the 15th century that roasting and crushing the coffee beans before extracting them with hot water became common practice and the modern coffee drink was born.

The Venetian merchant, Pietro Della Valle brought coffee to Italy in 1645, and it soon became a favourite drink. The British started to drink coffee in 1650, thanks to another merchant, Daniel Edwards. In 1652 Edwards is also said to have been the first European to open an establishment where coffee was sold as a drink. A cup of coffee sold for a penny. In Paris coffeehouses opened in 1672, and in 1675, Franz Georg Kolschitzky, a Viennese who had lived in Turkey, opened the first coffeehouse in central Europe. To Kolschitzky also goes the honour of refining the drink by filtering out the coffee grounds, sweetening it, and adding a dash of milk.


Folklore says that in 1723 King Louis XV of France sent three coffee plants to his colony, Martinique. Two of the plants died en route and either the third plant or cuttings from it ended up in Jamaica, brought here in 1728 by former Governor, Sir Nicholas Lawes (1718-22). Lawes first planted coffee at Temple Hall, St. Andrew. Jamaica's climate was so conducive to coffee production that the coffee industry expanded rapidly from St. Andrew to the Blue Mountains and the hills of Manchester, St. Ann and Elizabeth. By 1814 there were 600 coffee plantations on the island. In the 1830s with the abolition of slavery came a shortage of labour and a decline in coffee production. The harvesting of coffee is labour intensive because the beans are handpicked when ripe, one at a time. By 1850 only 186 coffee plantations were still in operation. Close to 100 years later, in 1943, the coffee industry nearly collapsed due to labour shortages, mismanagement and a lack of organization. Overseas, concerns were also being raised as to the quality and consistency of Jamaican Coffee and valuable markets were lost. In an attempt to address these issues, the Colonial Secretary created the Coffee Industry Board in 1953. Production became more streamlined, a centralized marketing system and a rigid system of standards control were developed.


These coffee farmers are 'floating' their coffee in water.

There are two main types of Jamaican coffee ­ Jamaica Blue Mountain and Jamaica Prime.To be known as Jamaica Blue Mountain, coffee must be grown, as its name suggests in the Blue Mountains within the prescribed areas of St. Thomas, St. Andrew and Portland. Package labels indicate if coffee is a blend or 100 per cent Blue Mountain. Jamaica Prime is grown in Manchester, St. Catherine, Clarendon, St. Ann and St. Elizabeth. Jamaica Blue Mountain is cultivated between 2000 and 5000 feet above sea level, while Jamaica Prime is cultivated at slightly lower altitudes. The Coffee Industry Board's trade name for Jamaica Prime is Jamaica Mountain Choice Coffee and it is recognized as a premium quality gourmet bean in its own right.


A woman working at a coffee mill

The reaping of the beans is only the first stage of an involved operation. After reaping, coffee is pulped and washed at a pulperie and the "wet parchment" that results is dried, cured, raded and then sorted. Jamaica is one of only a few countries worldwide that allows the "wet parchment" to sit and age for a minimum of sixweeks so as to ensure consistency. Prior to export, the coffee then undergoes quality control measures including appearance checks and cup testing to ensure the cup-quality of the beans.


Jamaica's coffee farmers still sell their coffee to the government-run Coffee Industry Board. Many farmers work in cooperatives. Seventeen currently exist, only one of which is located in the Blue Mountains. There are twelve coffee pulperies; four of which are in the Blue Mountain Range. There are six authorized coffee roasters in Jamaica who have permission to market Jamaican coffee domestically and internationally. All commercial shipments are inspected by the Coffee Industry Board, which also issues certificates guaranteeing the authenticity of the coffee.

In 1988, Hurricane Gilbert's 150-mph winds damaged 70 per cent of the island's coffee fields and factories causing
production to shut down for close to two years. Today, however, production has been restored to former levels. About 75% of the coffee beans produced annually are exported as green beans (raw beans). Annual Production averages 5,500,000 lb of green beans. Annual earnings amount to approximately US$32 million for the Jamaican industry. Approximately 85% of the coffee exported goes to Japan. The other 15% goes to the UK, USA and other countries where it often sells for up to US$40 per pound.

Although, Jamaican coffee maintains its place amongst the best gourmet coffees in the world, in contrast to the United States where on average 29 million Americans drink gourmet coffee beverages every day (in New York City, alone, it is common to see a Starbucks almost every five blocks), in Jamaica coffee bars are just beginning to gain in popularity. In Kingston alone you can find "Susie's Bakery and Café" at Southdale Plaza, Coffee Industries Ltd.'s "The Coffee Mill" found in New Kingston and also at the Manley International airport and Devon House also boasts coffee bar.
A Coffee Industries Ltd. coffee bar is
slated for The Sangster International
Airport in the future.

SOURCES - Black, C.V. (1983) The History of Jamaica. England: Longman Caribbean. PIOJ (2001). The Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica. Kingston: Author.http://www.shoppingplace.com/coffee/history.html, http://www.coffeescience.org/factrend.html, http://www.bovanova.com/facts.html.


At top: Coffee (Pea Berry) Beans
packaged in this ceramic jar. Above, woman working at a coffee mill. At left, these coffee farmers are 'floating' their coffee in water.

The first 500 years in Jamaica

Coffee facts

1. Bach wrote a coffee cantata in 1732

2. The heavy tea tax imposed on the colonies in 1773, which caused the "Boston Tea Party," resulted in America switching from tea to coffee. Drinking coffee was an expression of freedom.

3. The founding fathers of the U.S., during the revolution, formed their national strategies in coffeehouses.

4. In Italy, espresso is considered so essential to daily life that the price is regulated by the government. Italy now has over 200,000 coffee bars and 'latte' is the Italian word for milk, so if you request a latte in Italy, you'll be served a glass of milk.

5. Raw coffee beans, soaked in water and spices, are chewed like candy in many parts of Africa.

6. Japan ranks Number 3 in the world for coffee consumption. Over 10,000 coffee cafes plus several thousand vending machines with both hot and cold coffee serve the needs of Tokyo alone.

7. Coffee is the most
popular beverage worldwide with over 400 billion cups consumed each year.

8. Coffee, as a world commodity, is second only to oil.

9. In 1727, as a result of seedlings smuggled from Paris, coffee plants first were cultivated in Brazil. Brazil is presently by far the world's largest producer of coffee accounting for almost 1/3 of the world's coffee production, producing over 3-1/3 billion pounds of coffee each year.

10. French writer and philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) is said to have drank 50 cups of coffee per day.


Coming July 15:
The series explores the history of rum.

Rebecca Tortello

Give Us Your Feedback | Read what others had to say

Complete List of Past Pieces
Port Royal Earthquake
Port Royal Earthquake : I Was There
June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica
Bog Walk Tube
For Your Listening Pleasure
The Road to Freedom
Birth of Independence
Hurricane of 1780
Tragedy at Kendal 1957
The Ward Theatre 1912
The Guarded City: Port Royal 1690
The Triumph of Will:1960s
The History of Our Parishes
Jamaica and the Great War
Jamaica's Grand Hotels
Celebrating Christmas Jamaica 'Style'
Disaster - The Earthquake of 1907
The Great Exhibition of 1891
The Mutiny On The Bounty & The Arrival of The First Breadfruit 1793
The Fall Of A Gentle Giant: The Collapse of Tom Cringle's Cotton Tree
Jamaica's Botanical Gardens
All Hail The State Visit Of Emperor Haile Selassie I
Jamaican Healer And War Heroine Mary Seacole
Mistresses Of The Sea: Female Pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny
The Capital City: A Historic Look At Kingston
Riots Here: Send Help At Once
A Historic Portrait of the Town Where Jamaica's Tourism Began
Devon House -The first 500 years in Jamaica
Jamaican Coffee - A beverage of distinction
Jamaican Rum - A kill-devil of a drink
Jamaica Festival - What a Bam Bam
Captivated by Jamaica - Sir Hans Sloane's Passion for Jamaica
Captivated by Jamaica Pt II - Noel Coward, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming
The Founding Of The BITU & The JLP
The Founding Of the People's National Party
Lewis Hutchinson: The Mad Master
A Pioneer, A Survivor: Dr. Cicely Williams

Henry Morgan: The Pirate King

Claude McKay: Jamaica's First Poet Laureate
Frazier versus Foreman on the Sunshine Island 1973
The Magical Spiderman: Anancy
The Case Of The Shark Papers
Katherine Dunham - Matriarch of Modern Dance
Money - The Roots of Jamaican Currency
Simon Bolivar: El Liberatador
Old Time Tellin's: A Closer Look At Jamaican Proverbs
Recollections of World War II
Place Names - A Window to Jamaica's History & Character: Wnat's In A Name?
The History Of Spanish Town
A Cultural Explication Of Empire: Lady Nugent's Journal
The History Of Falmouth: Boom Town Of The 19th Century
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists- Prof. Louis Grant 1913 - 1993 Part I
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists-Part II
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Jews In Jamaica
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Chinese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Lebanese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Indians
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Irish
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Africans
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Germans
Colourful Characters - Jamaican Birds
The Stamp Of History: The Jamaican Postal Service
The People Who Came - The English
Old-time Jamaican weddings
In this place dwelt Horatio Nelson
Printing in Jamaica
Museums in Jamaica
Gibraltar Camp: A Refuge From War
The history of the Salvation Army in Jamaica CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS
Somewhere beyond the sea
A fascination with football
Jamaican Horse racing History
A Time to Live...Jamaican Birth Rituals
A Time to Die Death rituals
Deadly superstitions

Feedback To the Series

"I have found your articles on the Pieces of the Past most entertaining and interesting to read. For me as a historian these pieces come at a time when Jamaicans need to reconnect themselves with their past and the Gleaner's efforts through this medium is quite commendable.

I have found especially today's article on the 1780 hurricane to be quite of interest to me as I am currently involved in bringing to light the role of natural disasters in the development of Jamaica's history, culture, society, economy and politics and the article on the "Hurricane of 1780" has greatly aided in this direction. Keep up the good work and I look forward to more interesting and historically significant pieces from this series." - Kerry-Ann

The First 500 years in Jamaica

We're taking you for a stroll down memory lane for the next six months. Along this journey,we will relive several events which
significantly impacted on the social, political and economic development of Jamaica. As we travel share your experience with us...

Send your comments to:

Pieces of the Past,
The Gleaner Company Ltd.,
7 North Street, Kingston;

E - mail us:

Fax 922-6223.

A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted July2, 2002
Copyright 2001-2 . Produced by Go-Jamaica.com