Wednesday 24 February 2010
Alex James: Bean here, done that. And very nice too
We puffed and panted up the mountainside, up the steepest paved road I've ever seen, to the farm next door to the hotel. Normally, you can spot farms a mile off: crops crystalizing out of the randomness of the landscape in regular lattices, but I would have walked right past this one if it hadn't been signposted.
The microclimate here in the Blue Mountains in Jamaica is perfect for growing coffee. After water, coffee is the most popular drink in the world so the coffee bean is the basis of a trillion-dollar industry and is among the most carefully studied and well understood of all crops. There are, for example 10 separate variables involved in judging the quality of coffee. These plunging, almost vertical slopes are where the very best stuff in the world comes from.
Jamaicans call coffee tea and they don't particularly have a taste for it, which all seems ridiculous but then the British don't have a taste for grouse. I've wanted to see coffee growing for as long as I can remember, it's just never been right at the top of my list of things to do next.
It's always fascinating to have things we take for granted framed by where they come from. Normally, I suppose, things that I buy are framed by adverts, by marketing. Say "coffee" and it's hard not to think of a brand before you think of anything else: Lavazza, Starbucks, Nescafe.
Coffee is just a little red bean that is grown by people who often have no shoes or teeth in places that look like paradise. This was one of the most beautiful vistas I've ever seen, an image I'll carry to the grave: a vast, perfectly still green world: potent enough to banish any coffee advertising propaganda from my mind forever.
Junior, our guide, was astonishingly knowledgable and engaging. You could have just plugged him straight into Radio 4 and broadcast everything he said, live. "Y'knaa, ya soun jus laak de singer from Coalplair," he said to me. I had to put him straight on that one.
Rustic hotels — my favourite
There is no hot water at this hotel. There is a fridge in the room, but the door is hanging off. The view and the ambience make all of that seem utterly irrelevant. I think it is my second favourite hotel that I've ever stayed in. My favourite had no electricity either.
Wintry can match tropical
It's hard to believe in snow when you've just picked a tangerine. I'm surrounded by bananas and long-tailed hummingbirds. But Oxfordshire under a deep frost on Saturday morning was actually every bit as pretty as this tropical paradise.
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