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Kona and Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee: What Makes them Premium?

You may have noticed that we carry two varieties of whole beans that are more expensive than the rest. While a regular bag of coffee can range anywhere from $11-$20, these premium coffee varieties start at $50. Read along as we explain why these beans are pricier and more exclusive, plus what tasting notes to expect when you're treating yourself to a cup of this premium coffee.

Kona Beans

Often imitated or blended, 100% Kona Whole Beans only come from the Kona coast of Hawaii. This means you won’t find Kona coffee from Kauai or any other Hawaiian Island because only coffee grown within the geographic bounds of the Kona district can be called by that name.

History and Geography

Arriving on the island in 1817, Kona beans finally picked up their popularity in the 1980’s. Grown on the 20-mile slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii, high elevation mixed with constant cloud coverage and rich soil from surrounding volcanoes provide the perfect environment growing these beans. Kona beans are rare, and always hand harvested. Altitude also plays a role in the both the taste and quality of beans. Kona must be grown between 600 and 3,000 feet, much lower elevation than other coffee beans. 

Kona beans are surrounded by a brightly coloured cherry before harvesting.

Packing and Labeling

A coffee can only be advertised as Kona coffee if it is made with 100% Kona coffee beans. Many companies add 10% Kona beans into their blends, but a law made in 1991 allowed those using the 10% to label their coffee as 10% Kona, increasing market value.

Kona Roast

Not a protected term and can be made from any kind of coffee bean. Most likely contains 0% Kona coffee.

Kona Style

Same as Kona Roast, probably contains 0% Kona beans unless explicitly mentioned

Kona Blend

Bylaw required to contain at least 10% Kona Coffee

100% Kona Coffee

The real deal! This coffee contains only Kona beans.

 

Taste and Price

Described with a perfect smoothness and very full bodied, the Kona bean carries notes of semi-sweet chocolate and jasmine. When looking at the cost of Kona coffee beans, many people may be wondering why are they so expensive? Coffee collecting is a very labour-intensive process. Everyone involved in the supply chain is earning a living wage (this makes Hawaiian coffee have little need for Fair Trade certifications). Workers who are harvesting coffee beans in Hawaii are making a higher wage than those in places like Ethiopia or Colombia. Just harvested, with no further processing, Kona coffee beans cost roughly $8/lb. Further processing, shipping and roasting can push these beans to be anywhere from $45-$65/lb. When you're drinking a cup of 100% Kona, you know you're enjoying coffee that was harvested sustainably and responsibly.

Jamaica Blue Mountain Beans

 Geography and History

First introduced to the island of Jamaica in 1728 and has continued to be produced ever since, a much easier history than had by the Kona bean. The beans come from a small region of the Blue Mountains on the eastern side of the island and grows at an elevation of 3,000-5,000 feet. Cool mountain temperatures, volcanic soil and abundant rain give Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee its distinct    flavour. Cultivation of this speciality coffee is monitored and globally protected by the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica and only coffees from this specific region and labeled as such.

Harvesting and Packing

Much like Kona, 100% Jamaica Blue Mountain beans do not provide easy conditions for harvesting. Blue Mountain plants even take twice as long to mature as regular coffee bean plants! Each bean is handpicked and inspected before resting for 8 weeks. The beans must have a precise 11.5% moisture content rate and be 100% sun-dried in order to move along further in the process.

Only picture-perfect beans are used for Jamaica Whole Beans. Most companies would use a machine to sort the good and bad beans. These beans are hand sorted for quality with only 85% of beans being exported out. After the beans are roasted, they are then sent to the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica where they are approved. The JCIB sets rules and regulations, inspects both green and roasted beans. Much like Kona regulations, any Jamaica Blue Blend contains 10% or less of Jamaica Blue Beans.

Jamaican Blue Mountain whole beans are harvested by hand.

Taste and Price

The flavour of Jamaican Blue Mountain is why coffee lovers go to great lengths. Jamaica Blue Mountain is very smooth with a barely-there degree of bitterness. A clean, mild taste with sweet, floral aroma vibrance. Underlying notes of nuts, cocoa, spices and a slight creaminess.

Like its expensive counterpart, Jamaica Blue Mountain beans are harvested completely by hand. Keep in mind these beans are being grown on the side of a mountain at an elevation of at least 3,000 feet. Jamaica is roughly #43 when it comes to top ranking coffee producers in the world. The country is only able to grow about 4-5 million pounds a year while other top growing countries are growing 10 times that amount! Of what is grown, 80% is exported to Japan leaving only 20% to go on our store shelves. A simple supply and demand equation along with harvesting difficulties are the reason this coffee is so expensive. It should also be noted that coffee workers in Jamaica are paid a fair living wage in their country which contributes to the higher price. 

We roast our own I.XXI Kona and Jamaica Blue Mountain Whole beans in-house, which can be purchased online at our website or at our store locations. Our beans are small batch roasted in a Bellwether roaster, with clean zero-emissions technology. Also, check out our Best of Whole Beans Gift Box where you can enjoy both Kona and Jamaica Blue Mountain.

 

 

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