Ripening Storage Conditions for Jamaica's Top Coffee
It’s strong. It’s expensive. And, it’s not always easy to find.
But one cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee and you might just understand why it has earned a reputation as one of the most premium coffees on Earth.
While outdoor climate conditions in the steep hills of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains have a great deal to do with the unique, robust flavor of the coffee, so too does the indoor climate of the island warehouses where the beans are stored before they are exported.
“After they are harvested and processed, Blue Mountain coffee beans are dried to a moisture of about 12% and the storage environment needs to be stable in order to maintain that moisture level,” explains Gail Nelson, a research officer with the Jamaican Coffee Industry Board, a government agency set up in the 1950s to help ensure coffee quality standards are met. “Ideally, warehouse temperature should be between 20°C to 25°C with relative humidity in the 60% to 70% range.”
Unlike many modern warehouse facilities found in the United States, many of the storage warehouses in Jamaica are older and do not have automatic climate control systems. The warehouses also vary in terms of the materials used during construction: some were built entirely of concrete, while others were constructed with zinc and other materials.
To understand how indoor climate varies from warehouse to warehouse, the Coffee Industry Board has begun conducting a series of indoor environment “trials” in various coffee storage warehouses throughout the island.
“We’re comparing different warehouse conditions and seeing how those conditions may affect bean moisture levels,” says Nelson. “If the beans are losing too much moisture, there can be a negative impact on flavor.”
Using HOBO data loggers from Massachusetts-based Onset Computer Corporation, temperature and relative humidity are monitored every half-hour, around-the-clock, in six different warehouses. Nelson downloads the collected data every two weeks, and creates time-stamped graphs of the climate conditions using accompanying software.
“The software allows us to compare graphs of all the warehouses and see how climate fluctuates,” Nelson explains. “From this, we can make some conclusions about the storage conditions of each facility and take corrective action if necessary, such as sealing off roofs or installing better environmental controls.”
She adds, “Eventually we’d like to get to the point where we can automatically track conditions during transport to ensure quality all the way through to the consumer.”