Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee in Japan: A delicate flavour affected by change
200g pack of roasted JBM from Leny’s Cafe.

Radcliffe and Shiho Lennox who have opened their own Jamaican-Japanese coffee trading house and cafe, Cafe Leny, are well placed to give a bird’s eye view of developments in the Asian market which remains the largest purveyor of the world’s best coffee — Jamaican Blue Mountain (JBM).

The Jamaican and Japanese couple have staked their resources on the bet that the demand for the Jamaican beverage will endure. Japanese traders routinely buy 70 per cent of all coffee produced in Jamaica every year.

The couple admit that the demand for other specialty coffees which compete with JBM appears to be growing in Japan. Radcliffe Lennox shared with the Jamaica Observer, “Some segments of the coffee consuming public have either long since transitioned to other specialty coffees or are in the process of transitioning in that direction. The demand for JBM is linked to a former era of opulence, when the Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee was as well sought after and valued. As time elapsed, the high-priced product has been replaced by substitutes in some quarters.”

Radcliffe Lennox said that also responsible for fluctuations in demand is the fact that the once dominant “TYPICA” JBM varietal has been reduced to almost 50 per cent “and sometimes less” of the varietals grown on the Blue Mountain Coffee farms in Jamaica.

Lennox commented, “Given the acute connoisseurs Japanese consumers are, it is no wonder they have been able to detect this change over the years. A change in the revered taste they had grown to love is occurring at a time when our coffee growing regions have been experimenting with new farming practices, genetic modifications, and hybridising varietals. This, coupled by a steady decline in the disposable incomes of Gen X, Y, Z’s, alphas and millennials have all compounded the problems on the demand side for JBM.

Cheaper brews

Radcliffe Lennox said an added contributing factor stems from a combined rise in the “Seattle-style” coffee roasts, served with a healthy dose of milk and sugar, at a fifth of the cost per cup of brewed JBM in cafes in Japan.

There is also “Comparable Substitute Specialty Coffee Beans” retailing at five to eight times less than the average cost per 100 grams of green and roasted JBM Coffee beans in some stores. Consequently, the decline in demand is hardly rocket science, Lennox outlines.

Somewhat of an industry historian, Lennox pointed out how the Jamaican coffee industry back in the heydays of the 1970s through 1990s was at times hamstrung by hurricanes. Simultaneously, the predominant grown “Typica Arabica” varietal has proven very susceptible to environmental and farm practices changes, leading to large farming losses.

To offset these heartaches, the industry acted very decisively with more robust varieties — but which — as per the Japanese taste receptors, arguably somewhat substandard in taste, hue and aromas — varietals were introduced,” Lennox commented.

Lennox noted that, while this helped to safeguard yield — in hindsight — the revered taste was somewhat impaired. He further cited research done in 2007 and other research subsequent to that over the years, which has fuelled, “ a long and festering school of thought that in actuality, more than 90 per cent of all coffees branded as Jamaica Blue Mountain is somewhat questionable. This is further obscured when blends are factored into the equation.”

Another common sentiment expressed by small roasters, the trader and cafe owner said, is that in addition to their inability to sell JBM to their customers because the price per kilogram is very high, the beans are generally not very fresh and hence their customers do not believe the beans are tasty enough. Also, some roasters who specialise in specialty beans tend not to carry JBM as they can choose Panama Geisha, Kona or other coffee at more competitive prices.

Other points that have been raised have also called into question the trans-shipment, handling and warehousing of prized beans such as JBM.”

Japanese clientele

Radcliffe and Shiho Lennox, through Pacific Jamaica Coffee Traders, are committed to providing exclusively in 100 per cent Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee.

Their new venture, Cafe Leny, is less than one year and has the same objective of delivering a completely Jamaican experience. The Lennoxes opened on September 25, 2021, but already the couple have feedback which reflects a growing clientele. Cafe Leny invites Japanese patrons to a completely Jamaican experience which completes the story of coffee grown on mountains on an island far away.

Radcliff Lenox reports, “According to many of our customers we have talked with, they have been exceedingly pleased with the pleasantly delicate yet complex aromas and flavours which envelop their mouth with every sip of Leny freshly hand brewed to order Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Grades 1, 2, 3, Peaberry or Select.”

Clients are also enjoying Cafe Leny’s signature Hot Chocolate and a decadent 75 or 95 per cent dark chocolate bar made from 100 per cent Jamaica Trinitario Cocoa.

Menu offerings also include Jamaican chicken patties which Radcliffe Lennox says are quickly becoming a favourite, quiches and sandwiches. To top off their meals, their regular sweets include cookies, scones and muffins all made with chocolate chips from the house’s special chocolate bars.

Radcliffe and Shiho’s background is in IT and marketing. Shiho Lennox, a law major, offers services from her company including IT server programming, web coding, web engineering, cost-benefit analysis for government and faculty software, statistical design, analysis and modelling. The company is over 20 years old.

Radcliffe Lennox, a former chartered marketer, has been providing business and marketing consultancy, business and communication coaching, proofreading and translation services through his own start-up to some of Japan’s largest corporate giants since 2009, he said.

Now the couple are focusing on introducing customers to Jamaica’s rich culinary culture through seasonal offerings. In Christmas 2021, clients were introduced to the Jamaican Christmas Cake, Sorrel and Eggnog.

This past Easter, Radcliffe Lenox shared, “we sold Jamaican Easter Bun. One of the most beautiful feedback we received from an online customer in Osaka was that her husband, a Jamaican, was transported back home with every bite he had of our Easter bun. We are currently serving sweet potato and cornmeal pudding with our very own 100 per cent Blue Mountain Coffee.

Also added were chocolate ice-creams. “For Emancipendence week, we are going to serve ackee and saltfish with a special twist,” Radcliffe Lennox said.

Cafe Leny has had repeat customers traveling to the store from both the easternmost and westernmost parts of Shizuoka Prefecture. The owners have also been getting online orders from as far away as Hokkaido which is roughly 1,300 km north-east of Yaizu City.

Lennox shared with the Jamaica Observer that he and his wife have also been working closely with the Jamaica Coffee Growers Association (JCGA) and several of their key members such as Donald Salmon, Dorienne Rowan-Campbell, Dave Twyman, to name a few, “on projects to further sensitise our growing and future customer base about the backend of care which goes into bringing them this finely crafted drink.”

The company recently hosted a “Blue Mountain Coffee Day Tour” jointly with the JCGA, the Jamaica Information Center (JIC) and Leny-PJCT was well received. This was followed up by a “Coffee Brewing Seminar — the Leny way”. All 15 attendees have become repeat customers and brand ambassadors.

COVID and supply chain impact

That said however, owing to the effects of COVID-19 and its variant strains coupled with new regulations for the food industry for new entrants, the Lennoxes have been left with a substantially smaller kitchen and chocolate making space, than expected. They have had to revise projections slightly downwards.

Radcliffe Lennox confessed as well, “The soaring costs brought about by the fallouts in the global economy, astronomically higher freight rates, soaring utilities costs and a sharp decline in the value of the Japanese yen have all left Leny badly bruised from the absorption of these added costs.”

However, he outlines, light is now glimmering at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. Japan will begin accepting foreign tourists from June 10.

Lennox said, “We are hopeful that this will lead to more people venturing out to patronise local businesses. With the lifting of many of the COVID-19 cautionary measures, a growing number of outdoor events have returned. We have already participated in three since April. We are using these events to help increase Leny visibility and win over some converts.”

Awareness of Café Leny within Shizuoka Prefecture is very high, a fact reflected in the number of hits to its website and growing online sales.

In order to increase income sources, the couple sell our products through multiple channels which include the physical store, a proprietary online store, social media platforms, outdoor events, Shopify, eBay–USA, other e-commerce sites, and plans are in the pipeline for Amazon.

Aiming to play a part in helping to build a more sustainable environment and in recognition of the need to reduce — if not eliminate food waste all together, Cafe Leny’s online store has an SDGs centric e-commerce platform. Radcliffe Lennox outlines, “Through this store, rather than having to either consume all our unsold baked products or throw them away in the trash bins, we sell them as frozen items at this online store. This has served as a beautiful trade-off and has been helping us grow our online sales.”

Waiting on tourists return

In order to increase the number of customers visiting our store in Yaizu, the couple are also planning to host in-store and virtual events quarterly to encourage them to visit the café while conveying the charms of Yaizu City.

Yaizu City is home to a Zen Buddha Temple which was visited by the late Steve Jobs. It also has the largest annual skipjack catch in Japan, and is home to several seafood processing companies that have been in business since the Edo period, and reputed for its delicious seafood.

Radcliffe and Shiho Lennox invited the general manager of the Hotel Century Southern Tower and his senior management team to their opening. One month after opening, the chef pâtissier and two of her pastry chefs came to study how to make chocolate bars from raw cocoa beans and by November 2021, she had made both an ice cream and a mousse infused with Jamaican rum from the houses’ cocoa beans and Leny signature 75 per cent Jamaican Trinitario Cacao Dark chocolate. The concoction has become a favourite among their guests.

In partnership with the Embassy of Jamaica to Japan, the Jamaica Information Center and Leny, the Lennoxes have coached the Head chef and the chef pâtissier from Hotel Century Southern Toweron how to cook all the dishes and sweets and jerk chicken producing a “Jamaican Plate” which is now the hotel’s number one seller.

The Lennoxes have been approached by prospective clients who have expressed keen interests in both their coffee (green and roasted beans), cocoa beans and chocolate bars. One of the most recent expressions of interest has come from a major cocoa distributor from Tokyo.

Radcliffe Lennox said, “We are excited about what the future holds.”

Inside of Leny Cafe
Radcliffe Lennox, co-ceo of Cafe Leny, speaks to clients in the store.
Leny 100 per cent Jamaica Blue Mountain grade one coffee
Leny 75 per cent dark chocolate bar made exclusively from purev Jamaica Trinitario Cocoa.
Leny dark chocolate bars made exclusively from 100 per cent Jamaica Trinitario Cocoa.
Avia Collinder

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