Craighton Estate Great House and Coffee Company
Our Visit to the Craighton Estate Great House
The day started out as a day trip to Holywell Recreational Park high above Kingston, with lunch at the world famous Strawberry Hill boutique hotel. On the way up Highway B1, I saw sign for Craighton Blue Mountain Coffee Estate. I had previously read about the great house but there was no indication of its location except that it is in Saint Andrew Parish. At that point, the day’s itinerary was completely turned on its head as I turned the truck up the narrow one lane road to the great house. I drove onto a gravel parking lot (car park in Jamaican) in front of the wood pink with white trim Georgian great house. Bonita and I climbed the stairs to the large front porch. There we met Alton (Junior) Bedward our tour guide and Craighton coffee expert. The sun was shining brightly, but mists were rolling down from the mountains above. Junior explained that the mist, along with the volcanic soil, cool temperatures, high altitude and steep slopes combine to make a world renown coffee that is alkaline, full bodied, naturally sweet with no bitter after-taste. Only Arabica Typica coffee plants produce this type of coffee…a type for which Starbucks is famous.
Junior then took us on a short tour of the three hundred acre estate where 400,000 coffee plants are grown. He explained that the best coffee is produced by new growth, so every seven years the trees are cut down and allowed to sprout new growth. The tree is finally dug up and a new seedling is planted every thirty-five years. The plants are fertilized with either chicken manure or leaves from the Gongo trees planted among the coffee trees. The Gongo tree is a legume and the falling leaves fertilize the plants with nitrogen. The coffee is harvested by hand between September and January every year by two hundred harvesters who scramble up and down the steep hills. The permanent labor force runs between thirty and fifty. Following the harvesting, the cherries are placed in water and the “floaters” are skimmed off and discarded. Junior then went into detail about the processing of the beans through roasting and bagging for export to Japan. For those mortals who would like to purchase the coffee in their local supermarket, are sure to be disappointed unless they live in Japan. The entire crop is shipped off to Japan to be sold for ten times the price that could be gotten at a supermarket in the United States. The Jamaica Blue Mountain Number One coffee is sold in Japan for US$1,500 for a five-pound bag.
History of Coffee
Junior then gave us a history of coffee:
- Kaffe is indigenous to the highlands of Ethiopia.
- The Ottoman Empire monopolized the coffee trade in the 1500’s.
- It was against Roman Catholic doctrine to drink coffee because it was under the control of Muslims. In 1615, the Pope blessed and baptized some coffee, making it legal to purchase and drink.
- Coffee is only produced between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
- Seven plants were loaded on a ship and brought to the Caribbean. Only one plant survived the trip to Martinique but from there the coffee spread to the other French countries and eventually found its way to Jamaica from Haiti.
- The growers first exported coffee from Jamaica in 1737. Over 85% of coffee grown in Jamaica is exported.
After the informative climb to the nearest mountain top we walked back down and roamed through the beautiful, well cared for house. We first entered into the living room. To the right is the dining room with a large chandelier over the dining room table. To the left are the bed rooms. The kitchen is in the back of the house. A spectacular stairway leads to the first floor. The Craighton Estate was established in 1765 by a Scottish-Italian emigrant. George Craighton built the great house in 1805 at 2,600 feet elevation. The house has been privately owned since its construction and today, Tatsushi Ueshima, the largest coffee importer in Japan, owns the building and estate. Several Jamaican governors have used the house as a retreat from the summer Kingston heat. The house is used for the tours and offices.
Following the tour, Junior treated us a sample of the Craighton Blue Mountain coffee and we were able to purchase bags of the products. We sampled the famous beverage, which was brought out in white cups and saucers. True to Junior’s description, according to Bonita, it had a smooth, rich taste with a distinct aroma. There is a mild bitterness (“it is never sour,” Junior says) a bit like chocolate and it is naturally sweet with no lingering aftertaste. One cup of Blue Mountain coffee contains less than 25 mg of caffeine, far less than the 150-175 mg in the average cup of Robusta, grown in lower elevations. You can contact the Jamaica UCC Blue Mountain Coffee Company by phone: (876) 944-8033. You can contact Junior Bedward by cell phone: (876) 292-3774 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To get to Craighton Estate, take Highway B1 from Old Hope Road, past Redlight, Irish Town and Strawberry Hill. The entrance will be well marked, on the right, if you are coming from the south. If coming from the north, it is below the New Castle Army Post. The road is narrow and winding so be prepared for anything coming at you from the opposite direction.
Following the tour, you can enjoy lunch at the incomparable Strawberry Hill Hotel restaurant or better yet stay in one of their magnificent cottages.
“Mountaineering in Jamaica”. From an Engraving by S. T. Dadd after Sketches by B. S. Tucker, published in The Illustrated and Sporting News, February 23rd, 1888. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins.
A Party of Gentlemen are shown mustering at Craigton Great House, which is described as “the Governor’s cottage”, then start off on the road past St. Mark’s Anglican Church near Irish Town, skirt some dangerous precipices, and then arrive at their final destination which I assume must be Blue Mountain Peak.
Craighton Great House, near Irish Town in St. Andrew, was originally known as Creighton Hall and was built between 1790 and 1805 by George Creighton, Esq., a Scottish Coffee Planter, on his 400 acre Coffee Plantation. Perched over 2,700 feet …up in the cool, misty Blue Mountains of Jamaica, it has one of the most panoramic views in the Island. In 1810 George Creighton was listed as owning 39 Slaves at Creighton Hall, but he died later that same year and by 1811 the plantation had been purchased by Sir Edward Hyde East, who also owned the vast adjoining Maryland Coffee Plantation with over 2,700 acres and more than 260 slaves. Creighton Hall, later renamed Craigton, remained in the possession of the East family until 1842 when the Hon. Hinton East, Custos of St. Andrew, finally sold the plantation to the newly arrived British Governor, the 8th Earl of Elgin. Anxious to escape the heat and humidity of Spanish Town, the official Capital of Jamaica located on the St. Catherine plains far below, Lord Elgin purchased Craigton Great House as a Summer Residence and it later became a favourite Summer Residence of the British Governors of Jamaica. Tragically Lord Elgin’s beautiful new young wife, Elizabeth, Countess of Elgin, died while at Craigton on the 7th of June, 1843, aged only 22. Her Duppy (Ghost) is said to still haunt the house and she has sometimes been seen descending the grand mahogany staircase. When Lord Elgin left Jamaica in 1846 he sold Craigton to a Mr. Edwards, a British Coffee Planter, who was probably a relation of Sir Bryan Edwards, Chief Justice of Jamaica from 1855 to 1869. His widow, Mrs. May Edwards, was the owner of Craigton Great House, (which she renamed The Medici), when this Watercolour was painted in 1862. She died in 1866 and left Craigton to her daughter, Marjorie Grant Edwards, who through her Trustee, John James Henry Edwards, sold it in 1867 to another newly arrived British Governor, Sir John Peter Grant. Sir John loved Craigton and he spent a great deal of money enlarging the Great House and also improving the Garden, filling it with rare Trees, Plants and Flowers imported from all over the world. Sir John also purchased two pet Sheep to keep the grass short on the Front Lawn. The famous English Victorian Painter, Marianne North, who was a guest at Craigton in 1871, wrote that Sir John had actually trained these two Sheep to come up to the verandah of the Great House and stand on their hind legs to beg for carrots, a trick which amused him to no end. Subsequent British Governors of Jamaica, Sir Henry Norman from 1883 to 1889 and Sir Henry Arthur Blake from 1889 to 1898, also made Craigton their Summer Residence and many elegant Dinner Parties and Garden Parties were held there during those times. The next occupant of Craigton Great House was a Judge Curran who lived there from 1891 to 1901 and he was followed by Sir Charles Lumb, Senior Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Jamaica, who lived there from 1901 to 1905. On the 29th of September, 1905, Craigton Great House, with its 29 acres and all is furniture and glassware, was transferred to the Hon. Archibald Edmund Henderson Haggart, Custos of Kingston, of Ruthven Lodge, St. Andrew, for the sum of 420 pounds sterling. Haggart used Craigton as his Summer Cottage. When the firm of Haggart and Company went bankrupt in 1917, Craigton was then sold to Franz X. Knecht, the Managing Director of the West Indies Chemical Works Ltd. near Spanish Town. In the early 1930s Craigton was resold to Judge Seaton, who in 1938 leased it for 5 years (at 100 pounds sterling a year) to Sir Robert Kirkwood, the nephew of Lord Lyle of Tate and Lyle Ltd., the British company which owned vast Sugar Plantations in Jamaica.(Their Partners, the Tate family of Tate & Lyle, were the Founders of the famous Tate Gallery and Museum in London). Sir Robert was the Managing Director of the West Indies Sugar Company (WISCO) and also the Chairman of the Jamaica Sugar Manufacturers Ltd. When the lease on Craigton ended after the 5 years, he bought the property from Judge Seaton for 5,000 pounds sterling. Sir Robert and Lady Kirkwood entertained many famous guests at Craigton during the 1940s and 1950s, including members of the British Royal family, before finally selling the Great House in 1956 for 25,000 pounds sterling, making a hefty 20,000 pounds profit in the bargain. Later occupants of Craigton Great House have included Lord Hailes, British Governor-General of the short-lived West Indies Federation, who made it his official residence in Jamaica in 1958. In 1981 Craigton was sold to the Ueshima Coffee Company of Japan who still own the plantation. They grow Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, the finest and most expensive Coffee in the world, for export to Japan. They have restored the 18th Century Craigton Great House and furnished it with a fine collection of 18th and Early 19th Century Jamaican Colonial Prints and Antique Mahogany Furniture.