Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
With exciting and delectable new cocktails, mixed with the rich flavour of Strawberry Hill's dark roasted beans, Island Coffees Bar is positioning coffee as the new social drink. And it's catching on.
After several months of testing, Island Coffees Bar, located at Island Village in Ocho Rios, has introduced a range of cold coffee beverages that have found favour with many.
Island Sweetness, Troy's Trouble, Ital Blue and Minty Mocha, are just some of the cocktails now being enjoyed by Jamaicans and visitors at the bar.
Jonathan Surtees and wife Paula are responsible for marketing the Strawberry Hill brand of coffee and for operating the Island Coffees Bar. They told Food that using the dark roast coffee, as opposed to medium roast, has given the cocktails a preferred flavour.
"I draw the dark roast because of the market we're trying to get, which is Europeans, and those guys prefer much stronger flavour as opposed to the Eastern border United States, Chinese and Japanese markets," Surtees explained.
"So it's different in the sense that you can use it for espresso or just filter or Chemex."
One of the things in having one's own brand of coffee is knowing how to get people to enjoy it.
"And that's not by using the usual massive commercial machine but manually by using Chemex and French Press mainly and very small espresso machine," said Surtees, explaining their method and noting that dark roast gives a better flavour.
The Chemex method is celebrated as producing a perfect cup of coffee every time, extracting only the most desirable parts of the coffee bean.
The filter used in the process is what helps to create what coffee aficionados describe as a clean taste highlighting all the characteristics of the bean that may be lost in most commercial coffee-making processes. The French press method used also highlights the flavour intensity of the coffee. By allowing the grounded coffee to seep in the water, it creates a stronger and thicker cup of coffee, retaining all the essential oils from the beans.
But enjoying the dark roast done in these methods is governed by personal choice. "The dark roast is also a personal choice. We like our coffee strong and what we found is that the dark roast gives us the flavour we're looking for, but doesn't give that bitter taste. And why go into the market to compete with everyone else doing the same roast? So we figured there must be people around who like their coffee the way we like to taste it," adds his wife, Paula.
The coffee, which gets its name from Chris Blackwell's Strawberry Hill in Irish Town in the Blue Mountains, is being positioned for a niche market, and production is limited to three acres, at least for now.
Surtees has been involved with coffee from the mid-1980s when the old Strawberry Hill was in existence. But Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 changed the course of things. After the hurricane flattened Strawberry Hill, Blackwell decided to build a hotel instead of rebuilding the original structure.
A decision was made then not to operate a hotel and do coffee production, so production ceased for about 15 years.
"We have started three acres, and it will go up to five acres, it's not meant to be big - if you work one acre well, you can get up to 100 boxes from it; if you work 10 acres badly you won't even get a hundred boxes; so we go on the theory that three acres should give us about 300 boxes, that's about 3,000 pounds of dried coffee a year, which is a lot of coffee," Surtees said.
Meanwhile, back at Island Coffees Bar in the resort town, people seem to be warming to the concept of relaxation, free wifi, friends and teasingly delicious coffee-based cocktails.
"We get a lot of support; we haven't done much local marketing, it has been by word of mouth and it's building up very quickly. Obviously, we want this to become a social centre for people who live in Ocho Rios so that primarily it's for the locals here. It's a place where people can come, they can read their Sunday Gleaner, get online, they can chat with somebody through Skype, whatever it is as long as they buy coffee of course," he added with a chuckle.
And with all of that, Paula recognises the importance of the staff, labelling them the main selling point of the bar.
The staff, they are amazing. We chose them very carefully - Troy Watson, a Jamaican based overseas, spent months training them - because we want when you come in here you feel comfortable. We want when customers come inside and have our coffee they say "Wow!" And we've had that. People have come in here from overseas, for example, and try the coffee and they say "My God this is the best Blue Mountain coffee I've tasted!"
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