Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Celebrating Jamaican coffee

Published:Sunday | February 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Baldwin Son & Company Coffee Mill

Apart from its pristine tropical beauty, Jamaica is home to some of the world's finest coffee. Our focus today is the Baldwin Son & Co coffee mill.

Coffee production began in Jamaica in 1728 when the then governor of Jamaica, Sir Nicholas Lawes, brought approximately eight coffee seedlings from Martinique.

Governor Lawes planted those seedlings at Temple Hall in St Andrew, one of his many properties. At about the same time, an unnamed gentleman from Vere in Clarendon also imported a number of berries, also from Martinique.

By the early 1800s, there was a rapid expansion of the local coffee industry. This was due, in part, to the influx of refugees from Haiti during the Haitian Revolution. The Haitians brought with them their experience and expertise in coffee production.

This rapid expansion was, however, short-lived, chiefly due to poor land preparation and agronomic practices which resulted in severe landslides and the loss of the productive soils.


Large-scale abandonment


Things got worse after emancipation as the enslaved persons deserted their plantations, resulting in large-scale abandonment of coffee farms with some being rented or sold to small farmers. This resulted in coffee becoming a small-scale peasant crop as opposed to the plantation crop it previously was.

This Baldwin Son & Company coffee mill, or grinder, as it is more commonly known in Jamaica, was imported from Europe particularly Germany - and later the United States, and was used in the more affluent Jamaican homes to grind coffee beans. This particular coffee mill was produced by Baldwin Son & Company of Stourport-on-Severn, which is a town and civil parish in the Wyre Forest District of North Worcestershire, England. This company was an iron foundry and specialised in manufacturing cast iron and tinned and enamelled holloware.

These grinders were made of wood, brass, and iron, and feature a conical-shaped cup through which the beans would be fed into the grinder. The crank would then be turned and the internal mechanisms would grind the coffee beans, which would then be collected into the drawer at the bottom of the grinder.

Did You Know?

Shepherds discovered coffee in Ethiopia circa 800 A.D. Legend has it that 9th-century goat-herders noticed the effect caffeine had on their goats, who appeared to 'dance' after eating coffee berries. A local monk then made a drink with coffee berries and found that it kept him awake at night. Thus, the original cup of coffee was born.

- Information compiled by Sharifa Balfour, assistant curator, National Museum Jamaica Institute of Jamaica.