Despite the island offering perfect conditions for coffee growing, coffee only became a part of Jamaica’s history in 1728, when the plant was first introduced to the island. After 1834, the large coffee plantations of the early colonial period began to break into smaller farms dotted around the Jamaican mountainside. For the first time, small farmers engaged in coffee production. Their noble efforts and commitment to sustainable farming revived the coffee industry, which had become unviable after a century of large-scale, nonviable farming practices.
Among these families were the Simpsons, Ricardo’s maternal great-grandparents. Born in 1874, Sarah Simpson (nee Thompson), Ricardo’s maternal great-grandmother, would go on to own land and farm coffee in connection with the local church, run by her relatives of pastors, deacons, and laypersons, in the Brown’s Hall District.
On the other side of the family, Ricardo’s paternal great-grandparents, the Forbes, became one of the biggest landowners in St. Mary’s parish in the mid-nineteenth century. Ricardo’s paternal grandparents Lucas Forbes and Eva Shand would carry on living on the land, farming chocolate and tobacco, and buying more land to grow their holdings to set the next generation up for success.
In 1915, Ricardo’s maternal grandmother was born: Daisy Elizabeth-Ann Simpson.
Like her mother, Daisy grew up in the community of Browns Hall, St Catherine Parish and followed in her parents’ and grandparents’ tradition of hard work and civic mindedness.
When Daisy married Dudley Thompson, a master builder, the couple bought her parent’s coffee farm. While Dudley worked as a master carpenter, Daisy carried on in the footsteps of her parents and grandparents: growing, reaping, and selling exquisite Jamaican coffee and sugar cane.
Farming coffee and sugar cane allowed Daisy to continue that tradition of caring for the needy in the local community with love, deep faith, and sense of purpose.
Daisy sold her cane to the Monymusk Rum factory and most of her coffee crop to a local coffee processing factory. But she always held back a portion of the crop to roast and sell at the Linstead town market.
Daisy Thompson continued farming coffee until her retirement, but her children left the family farm to find their own paths. Ricardo’s mother left home for Jamaica’s capital city, Kingston, sending Ricardo and his siblings to their grandparents’ home for a month each summer.
Though anchored in the city, Ricardo’s annual pilgrimage to the family coffee farm was formative. Through osmosis and household chores, he learned about coffee and farming from Daisy and her group of collaborative farmers. But the most essential lesson he learned from Daisy was that finding one’s true purpose was worth more than gold.
When Ricardo saw his grandmother, he saw a woman who was self-sufficient, free to chart her own course, and connected to something bigger than herself — a local community through farming and a global community through coffee. Daisy’s spirit and outlook on life left a life-long mark on Ricardo as he began to seek his own purpose.
Daisy retired and moved to Gloucester, England at 75 years old. She would continue to remain a mentor to him as Ricardo emigrated to Canada, became an entrepreneur, and found veritable success in property management in southeastern Ontario.
Daisy lived to receive the centennial letter from Queen Elizabeth II and died at 102 years old.
In 2010, the roads in Ricardo’s life all led in one direction: home to Jamaica.
“I had been in property management and was fairly successful at it. In 2012, I had to make a decision: to invest more money and grow the [property management] company or be satisfied with where I was. I didn’t want to just be satisfied.”
So, Ricardo thought back to his childhood and consulted with his mentors, and he found his calling — Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. The Jamaican Blue Mountains is the premier coffee cultivation area in Jamaica: the deliciously smooth, chocolatey coffee enjoys an unparalleled reputation around the world. The combination of the soil and perfect microclimate means the coffee berries ripen over time, which produces a bean that replaces acidity with unparalleled substance.
Ricardo began to make more frequent trips home to Jamaica and started working backwards, diving deeper into his family’s involvement with coffee.
He knew he wanted to add to the rich tapestry of his family story. So, Ricardo worked closely with Daisy and found himself another mentor in Mr Shirley, the Blue Mountain’s largest producer.
“It felt natural; it felt as if I was home. It made me realize that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
On August 6, 2012, Jamaica celebrated its 50th year of independence from the United Kingdom. The Golden Jubilee was a reminder of a period of unrivalled optimism and renewed possibility. Inextricably tied with the independence era, rocksteady was also celebrating its 50th year. It was a year of celebrating a gift of love to the world and a direction for humanity.
Inspired by the limitless possibility running through his family story, Ricardo formally began his journey to reinvigorate his family’s connection to the land and embody the spirit of the movement so perfectly formed in the Rocksteady music movement.
And so in 2012, Rocksteady Mountain Resort Ltd. was born.
To rebuild his family story on a solid foundation, Ricardo and his family purchased a parcel of land in the Portland parish in 2013: the parcel would be the beginning of Rocksteady Coffee.
Returning to his roots, Ricardo began collaborating with local farmers to build Rocksteady Mountain in a cooperative, sustainable fashion. Like his grandmother and his great-grandmother, Ricardo works closely with his team of farmers, of whom 80% are local women. Their organic-approach and rejection of pesticides harken back to the care for the soil first used by the small farm holders in the mid-nineteenth century.
The collaborative relationship between the family and the farmers is evocative of the rocksteady name. Remembering rocksteady takes Jamaicans back to a time when Jamaica was bright and newly independent, with love, happiness, and imagination flowing through the veins of the country.
“It’s been a roller coaster in terms of company growth and been an amazing learning experience in terms of building a company from scratch. I’m thankful to provide meaningful employment for folks in the community, give back to my country, and find satisfaction along the way.”
Nearly a decade later, Rocksteady Coffee continues to aim higher and reach further to fulfil its potential. Ricardo continues to renew the path taken by Sarah and Daisy and continues giving back to the local community.
In addition to local sales in Jamaica, Rocksteady Coffee has also found a new home in Canada. In 2018, partnerships with gourmet Canadian food stores granted locals in Ottawa and Montreal access to luxurious Blue Mountain Coffee in their neighbourhoods for the first time.
Soon, discerning coffee drinkers will find a dedicated supply across Canada and in luxury food stores in the United Kingdom.
The future is bright, but at Rocksteady Coffee, we know good things take time. So, come on and get ready. Join us as we continue to enjoy what is as much an exceptional coffee as it is a feeling, a partnership, and a commitment to something bigger than ourselves.