TOKYO -- As the supply of Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee plunges, Japanese distributors are being forced to contend with the shortage by raising prices or halting sales of the Caribbean variety that has found avid fans in the country.
Key Coffee will stop selling some of its Blue Mountain blends this fall, as it expects difficulty securing large quantities of beans that could pass its internal quality controls.
UCC Ueshima Coffee will raise the prices of seven products that use the beans by about 40% starting Sept. 1. Even though the largest Japanese distributor has its own plantation in Jamaica, its bean procurement has fallen by more than half compared with 2007.
Sales of whole beans have been impacted as well. The Kaldi Coffee Farm chain operated by Camel Coffee stopped selling Blue Mountain blends in March.
Blue Mountain coffee is known for its strong aroma and well-rounded taste. Due to the limited volume of production, it costs about 1,800 yen ($17.55) for 100 grams, about three to four times more than the price of common varieties.
Japan consumes about 80% of Blue Mountain output, making it the biggest market for the coffee. The popularity likely dates from the 1950s, when a booming cafe industry actively incorporated it into menus. "Japan is the only country that puts such a premium on Blue Mountain coffee," said an executive at a leading coffee company.
Production in Jamaica, the only source for the high-end bean, has dropped to a fifth of its 2007 peak. It suffered from decreased demand after the 2008 financial crisis, and a hurricane in 2012 damaged many trees. A disease and a plague of beetles further ravaged the country's coffee plantations, and total output for 2014 is projected at about 430 tons.
Jamaican producers are planting new trees and trying to nurse those affected back to health, but it will take three years for them to bear fruit. With demand for Blue Mountain increasing in North America and Jamaica, many in the industry believe securing a stable supply will remain a challenge even when production recovers.