Is Jamaica the ultimate travel destination for coffee-lovers?

While cycling in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains requires caution, the hazards are decidedly different from those in the UK. As a passenger on one of those perilous reverse-pedal-to-brake bikes, I’m confronted by darting mongooses, dim-witted goats, fallen mangoes, and a steep, single-lane road riddled with potholes the size of a long, moth-eaten scarf.

I’ll pedal 12 miles and descend 2,700 feet in 45 minutes — but this is not an adrenaline rush. That’s because the descent from Section to Spring Hill is so winding and eventful that I have no chance of picking up speed, despite the fact that I’m wearing a helmet, knee, and elbow pads.

However, I am not complaining, as the purpose of this breezy ride is to take in the scenic beauty of one of the world’s most famous coffee-growing regions. Due to a pandemic-induced decline in visitor numbers, this tour will feature only seven of us. Nonetheless, we are escorted by four cheerful guides who are equipped with walkie-talkies and whistles and are prone to yelling out useful warnings such as “Big dip ahead!” In normal times, the ride may attract more than 20 cyclists, and it is admirably inclusive. “Children as young as six years old have done this,” manager Rohan McLeod explains, “and we also have tandem bikes for non-cyclists.”

The valley we wind through is unfathomably beautiful, and there are stops to photograph the views, the flamboyant flora, and a riverbank where baptisms take place. Halfway down, we stop for lunch at a wooden house built by the ride’s organiser, Blue Mountain Cycle Tours: chicken and spicy rice served to a reggae beat and surrounded by lush countryside. We then continue at a leisurely pace, pausing to pick up a pineapple from someone’s garden and, later, to walk our bikes over a precarious bridge that my taxi driver had crossed earlier in the day with a merry “let’s give it a try!” Our journey concludes with a refreshing dip in Fish Dunn Falls’ thunderous waters.

The following day, I take a short walk from my base at Strawberry Hill, a hotel near Irish Town perched at 3,100ft and offering mesmerising views over Kingston’s glittering lights. “It all started in 1728 with the introduction of six coffee plants from Martinique,” explains Alton Bedward, who leads tours of the Craighton Estate. The pink-and-white wooden Great House, built in 1805, is the farm’s focal point. It is surrounded by an airy verandah where colonial-era administrators once slept.

One of the reasons why Coffee arabica thrives here is that the UNESCO World Heritage Centre-listed Blue Mountains are volcanic while the rest of Jamaica is limestone, and their misty, sharply inclined valleys create an ideal microclimate for a plant that loves well-drained, fertile soil. The result is a fruit that’s a pain to harvest but leads, if properly washed, sorted, sun-dried and roasted, to a smooth beverage that’s naturally sweet, has no bitter aftertaste and is low in caffeine.

Alton hands me a cup, and I have to admit that it is the best coffee I’ve ever had. I promptly buy a 500g pack of estate beans for $32 (£23), because this liquid gold is hard to come by — two-thirds of the Blue Mountains harvest get whisked away to Japan, where coffee-lovers can expect to fork out what I’d just paid for just one cup.

Craighton is owned by the Japanese Ueshima Coffee Company, and when Alton walks me up to a gazebo at 3,150ft, we enjoy views over some of the 500,000-odd bushes under its command. Their green and red cherry-like fruit glows like Christmas ornaments in the sun. Although the crop is not certified organic, it has been certified by the Rainforest Alliance, an international non-governmental organisation that establishes standards for sustainable agriculture. As in many coffee-producing countries, most of the crop is grown by small-scale farmers, of which there are around 5,000 in the Blue Mountains. Alton informs us that working on the steep hills supporting this long-cherished plant is not easy.

Read more • nationalgeographic.co.uk

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