Fri | Feb 15, 2019

Single-estate premium coffee label elusive

Published:Friday | February 8, 2019 | 11:53 AM
Hervin Willis, senior director, JACRA coffee division.
Hervin Willis, senior director, JACRA coffee division.

The ‘single estate’ marker, though much sought after as a premium coffee label, is a designation carried by only a few operators in Jamaica, says Hervine Willis, senior director of the coffee division at the year-old Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority, JACRA.

The designation, as its label implies, is given to products made from beans grown on a single coffee estate.

Among the most well known locally is Clifton Mount, a farm owned by the Sharp family, which sells its premium green beans to local hotels and wholesale importers in Japan.

“Single-estate coffee means that all the coffee being presented is from a particular estate, such as Clifton Mount, which is above New Castle in the Blue Mountains,” said Willis.

“The thing is, in the Blue Mountains there are different microclimates, which impart slightly different cup flavours, aromatics and other characteristics to the coffee. Persons may want to make that distinction. Right now, there have been persons who have applied [for single-estate designation] and the different criteria are being looked at,” he said.

Jason Sharp, director of Clifton Mount, says some in the market prefer to purchase single estate “because the product is traceable.

“It has a story and a specific taste profile,” he said.

There are around 5,000 coffee farms in Jamaica, according to Norman Grant, who currently heads the coffee exporters association and manages one of Jamaica’s largest coffee operations, the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory (MBCF). A more accurate count should emerge from the registration exercise currently under way by JACRA, he said.

There is no clear picture of the number of coffee operations with the designation, but coffee officials affirm that there are only a few. Others have been seeking the designation, but they will have to wait until JACRA, which became operational a year ago, develops a licensing system.

“Persons have come to us saying they want to mark their coffee as having grown in a certain location … but as it stands now, there is no estate licence currently in place,” said Willis.

“What is being done is development of an estate portfolio, with different criteria being looked at,” he said.

Few farms would qualify

Separately, another JACRA officer said only a few farms would likely qualify as ‘single estate’ producers under the licensing programme, because most of the sector buys beans from several sources.

“If and when the policy does come in force, these people would easily qualify: Gold Cup, Greenwich Farm, Jamaica Coffee Corporation, Baron Hall, Sherwin Forest, Clydesdale, UCC and Clifton Mount. These process beans from their farms,” the person said.

Sharpe says Clifton Mount is registered with the Coffee Board, one of several commodities agencies that were merged to form JACRA.

Another brand that claims the designation is the Twyman family-run Old Tavern Coffee Estate, also in the Blue Mountains. Old Tavern’s coffee is grown, processed and packed at an altitude of 4,000 feet. The Twymans also handle their own marketing.

Most of the work is carried out by hand in small batches, and beans are roasted in the owners’ kitchen, according to a blurb online at jamaicatravelandculture.com.

Mavis Bank, which owns the 300-acre Andover farm in Mount Airy, St Andrew, will use it to develop a MBCF estate coffee over time, Grant said.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com