The distinct aroma and sweetness of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee have a special place in the heart of Japan’s coffee scene. For Japanese coffee aficionados, it’s more than just the flavours of this brew that makes it significant for them.
Jamaican coffee is a symbol of Japan’s economic recovery after the Second World War. When the first import came directly from Jamaica in the early 1950s, the country was just starting to get back on its feet. People finally had money to purchase luxury goods again, and since Jamaican coffee was regarded as a high-quality import, it was more popular than the others at the time.
Blue Mountain coffee was advertised as the favoured coffee of the British royal family, resulting in many locals opting for this brew. Imports for Blue Mountain coffee grew gradually over the next three decades. By the late 1980s, 90% of Japan’s imported coffee was labelled with the Blue Mountain logo.
The extent of Japan’s love for Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is shown by its own day marked on the Japanese calendar. In 2018, the Association of Japanese Importers of Jamaican Coffee named January 9th as Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Day in the Japanese calendar. The date is memorable for both countries — it was the date the first cargo ship sailed off from Kingston port in Jamaica to Japan back in 1967, carrying more than 60% of the year’s crop.
Norman Grant, the president of Jamaica Coffee Exporters Association, took the opportunity on this year’s Blue Mountain Coffee Day message to praise farmers and plantation families for their hard work, especially facing the ongoing pandemic that inevitably threw challenges their way.
Over the decades, though, the import quantity of Blue Mountain coffee in Japan has dropped significantly, from 1,200 tons in 2000, to 500 tons in 2008. This was partly due to natural disasters that struck the coffee plantations, including hurricanes in 1988 and 2004, which caused a shortage in production. To get their favourite Caribbean coffee farmers back on their feet, the Japanese government provided aid to the industry.
Those incidents, as well as the financial global crisis in 2008, also caused the fluctuation of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee prices. Prices went up to 10,000 yen per kilogram five years ago but have since dropped to an acceptable price of 5,000 yen per kilogram. While the decreased price is more favourable for Japanese coffee fans, the import of Blue Mountain coffee still remains low, at 500 tons a year.s
Even though Jamaican coffee is not one of the top 10 coffee imports in Japan, Blue Mountain coffee seems to have a loyal following of Japanese coffee enthusiasts. This Caribbean smooth brew is not only a notable part of the country’s economic history but it’s also maintaining its place in Japan’s coffee culture today.