Second Course: Strong Drink
In the peaks, the next morning dawns bright and cool, belying the intense sun baking greater Kingston thousands of feet below. Carey sits across the table and sips his tea while I savor a cup of Blue Mountain coffee from Old Tavern Coffee Estate, just north of here. If a nation's essence were made up of aromas and tastes, surely Blue Mountain coffee would be a key part of Jamaica's. This brew's distinct flavor notes are complex and almost nutty, born from a berry slowly matured in the cool mountain mists and having a high sugar content.
After breakfast we will trek further up into the Blue Mountains to Old Tavern, where Alex and Dorothy Twyman grow coffee beans, processing and harvesting in the traditional way, meaning by hand. This, combined with limited real estate for growing beans – Old Tavern grows their coffee at about 4,000 feet of elevation -- means the coffee can retail for roughly $50 to $60 per pound in the U.S. If you don't know what you are looking for, Old Tavern, huddled on one of the many curves of a winding and dizzying mountain road, is easy to miss. The unassuming building has no sign, and Alex tells me, "That's how we like it. If you really want to find us, you will."
From inside, the rich smell of roasting coffee wafts through the window into the cool mountain air. Alex tells me Dorothy is roasting beans in small, to-order batches. Coming outside to greet me, Dorothy invites me back in, and I watch as she tastes a cup of coffee brewed from the beans she has just roasted. She does this with each order, using only the most aesthetically perfect beans for the premium coffee. The discarded beans with cracks or other imperfections are still usable and sold to a few local restaurants. Dorothy gives me a cup of just-roasted dark coffee. The aroma is heady. It's velvety on the tongue, sweetened not with sugar but with honey from Alex's bees, which are kept to pollinate the coffee flowers. He's rather enterprising. Later, I taste a coffee liqueur he makes with his beans and Jamaica's famous Appleton Estate premium rum (among others). I discover a more refi ned, artisanal version of the mass-market brands like Tia Maria.
I sip my coffee and take a cookie from the plate shyly offered by Dorothy. "We got these especially for you. They are from Trinidad." I nibble them while looking at the book of estate photographs with Alex. In the next room, Carey and the Twymans' grown son, David, are chatting about this and that. It's not unlike a lime at an old friend's house on my father's island. I wish I could linger here in this easy hospitality, but soon Carey gives a slight nod to indicate that it's time to head back down the mountain into Kingston and the next leg of our trip.