St. Helena Coffee

"The most exclusive coffee in the world comes from the South Atlantic Ocean island of St. Helena situated just above the Tropic of Capricorn, midway between Africa and America. Production is low (only about 12 tons a year), demand is high and the quality exceptional.
If Napoleon Bonaparte had not been exiled to the island in 1816, St. Helena's existence and the island coffee would probably have remained almost unknown. Because of the Emperor, St. Helena coffee gained attention in Paris where it enjoyed a brief vogue due to Napoleon's praise during his incarceration. Four days before his death, Napoleon's loyal aid, Marshal Bertrand, reported, "Tears came to my eyes at the sight of this man, who had inspired such awe... pleading now for a little spoonful of coffee."
The English East India Company's records indicate that coffee was introduced to the island from Yemen. The first seed came from the Red Sea port of Mocha, aboard the fully-laden East India Company's ship Houghton, which was returning under sail along the South Easterly trade wind route to Europe after taking on cargo in the East Indies.
Other than Napoleon's endorsement, St. Helena coffee did receive intermittent recognition. IN 1839, the London coffee merchants Wm Burnie & Co. stated, "we have submitted the sample of coffee received from St. Helena to the trade, who have tested it and pronounced it to be of very superior quality and flavor".
St. Helena coffee then proceeded to top the London market, and in 1845 was securing prices above any other coffee, thus making it the most expensive and exclusive in the wolrd. All of this did little to prevent the island coffee from fading from view, and, for many years, it appears to have grown wild on the tiny volcanic island.
Only within the last 15 years has St. Helena coffee re-emerged on the world market- except for once. Coffee from the island estates, then known as Coffee Ground Estate and the GW Alexander Estate, was sent to the Great Exhibition o f1851 in London, and received an honorable mention. Thereafter, the records grow vague and the coffee seems to have been forgotten to the world. Inaccessibility, caused by the demise of the sailing ship era, had a lot to do with it. Even today the only way to reach the island is by ship.
David Henry, chief executive of St. Helena Coffee Company says, "When we began working on what was the Alexander Estate, it was almost a jungle." Today some of the original trees stand 30 to 40 feet tall! Much of the older coffee grows in an area of the island known as Sandy Bay, which is surrounded by the remaining one third of a spectacular volcanic crater rising 2,000 feet above sea level.
Henry spent several years delving into the East India records and researching the archive accounts. "I came across records stating where coffee had been planted here 250 years ago. So we went off into the valleys. We discovered patches of wild coffee. It took us ages to secure the land and rejuvenate the wild trees" ...
The discovery, resurrection and intrinsic quality of this coffee owes almost everything to the fact that the trees all descend from a single source- the old cultivar of Green Tipped Bourbon Arabica imported to the island 269 years ago. Isolated on this island stronghold, from which not even Napoleon could escape, has kept the heritage pure. Generally today, world coffee production would typically consist of several Arabica types, many of which are new cultivars developed for greater wind and pest resistance and larger yields.
An unexpected surprise has been just how well St. Helena coffee performs as an espresso. Most gourmet coffees do not lend themselves well to espresso and, as a consequence, most espresso coffee is a blend. St. Helena coffee, to the contrary, has received positive feedback from Italian roasters and cuppers extolling its performance as an espresso. No one seems to be 100% certain why this is so. However, the supposition is that, because the coffee derives from a single strain, the bean cell structure is extremely even- so it reacts well under pressure (in the espresso process).
The uninitiated should know, too, that St. Helena coffee has another quirk. It is an extremely subtle bean, which makes it susceptible to damage. For instance, it is an awkward bean to roast, developing late in the roast and then very, very quickly."

-pp. 33-36, St. Helena: The Forgotten Coffee by Neil Rusch in Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, Volume 173; Number 4 (April 20, 2001)

St. Helena Coffee Beans
St. Helena Coffee Company
St. Helena Coffee Tree
ShareThis