Bumping along a dirt track in his mud-spattered Land Rover, with two huge dogs riding in the back, Alex Twyman inspects the ripening red berries of his crop on the northern slopes of a 130-acre estate in Jamaica's Blue Mountains. In his rumpled work shirt and scruffy boots, he doesn't look like a coffee baron. But what started out as a hobby for Twyman in the 1960s has turned into Jamaica's premie coffee plantation. At present, he's the only planter licensed to market his herbicide-free beans independently; others are obliged to sell their harvest to the local coffee board.
Twyman is also a longtime advocate of an appellation system, similar to that used by vineyard owners in France and California, to classify Blue Mountain coffee estates. In other words, Jamaican coffee could eventually cost as much as a Bordeaux premier cru.
At 4,000 feet, the Jamaican rain forest is usually shrouded in mist, which means a longer growing season and concentrated flavor in the bean. And, as most caffeine addicts can tell you, the island's java ranks right up there with Kona or Sumatra blends.
Twyman waxes poetic about the proper way to make a cup of coffee—never freeze the beans, grind no more than five minutes before percolating, sweeten with honey instead of sugar. A custom-built, propane-fired roaster takes pride of place in the farmhouse pantry, where his wife, Dorothy, processes every pound of Old Tavern Proprietor's Choice by hand. The result is an exceptionally complex brew with hints of spice and wine, but not the harsh jolt of regular coffee. "Blue Mountain has half the caffeine of other beans," says Twyman, who won't sip anything else. As a British expat, he has good reason: "I'm actually a born tea drinker." $40— $50 per pound. Orders can be placed by calling 800-642-5282, or faxing 404-233-6528. Old Tavern Estate, P.O. Box 131, Kingston 8, Jamaica; 876-924-2785; www.exportjamaica.org/oldtavern