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St Helena Coffee

Pure Arabica since 1733

The only good thing about St Helena is the coffee.{b}

Our coffee has been judged the best in the world

Coffee plants, in flower
Coffee fruits
Coffee processing machine
The roasted Coffee
Coffee Beans
Coffee on sale
Harrods St Helena coffee

Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.{d}

The history of our coffee

In 1733 Green Tipped Bourbon (Arabica) Coffee seeds were brought from Mocha in Yemen, and were planted at various locations around the Island. The plants, of the Arabica variety, flourished, despite general neglect, but it was not until St Helena coffee was praised by Napoleon during his exile on the island that anyone had the idea of exporting it. The product enjoyed a brief popularity in Paris during the years after Napoleon’s death.

In 1839 London coffee merchants Wm Burnie & Co. described St Helena Coffee as being of very superior quality and flavour. In 1845 St Helena Coffee was sold in London at 1d per pound, making it the most expensive and exclusive in the world at that time{1}. A contemporary document (in the Records) reports that:

A small patch of coffee in Plantation ground, containing about 286 bushes, yielded about 194Kg. of dried coffee, an average of about 1½lb. per bush, but in Sandy Bay the yield of coffee per bush is nearly double.

Then in 1851 at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, coffee grown at the Bamboo Hedge estate in Sandy Bay (still an active coffee plantation) won a Premiere Award.

After this the St Helena flax industry took over as the island’s principal source of export revenue. In 1921 A.W. Mason, reporting to the Government of St Helena on agriculture on St Helena, wrote:

Coffee thrives wonderfully in sheltered spots. It grows well and bears fruit abundantly but no special care is given to it and in many instances the fruit is not even picked. The St Helena Coffee is said to be quite as good as the best Mocha and at the London Exhibition in 1851 was awarded the prize for first quality. Whilst local supplies could be grown there is not sufficient suitable land for it to warrant its being considered a crop of importance.

Philip Gosse agreed, writing in the late 1930s:

Some excellent coffee is grown in Sandy Bay; with a little enterprise and trouble enough coffee could be grown there to supply the whole island, yet coffee in imported.{e}

The ‘Blue Book’ for 1962/3 notes that: The report by the coffee expert who visited the island, which was published in 1962, showed that there was no future for coffee growing. It is not anticipated that there can ever be more than a token coffee export industry in St. Helena.

Article in the St Helena News, 16th September 1994

Bamboo Hedge coffee ground
Bamboo Hedge coffee ground, late 1990s

David Henry

In 1989 coffee production was revived and coffee was exported from St Helena for the first time in decades, although the total sold was only 3 tonnes. As the announcement in the St Helena News reports (left), Mr. David Henry, a Saint living in the UK, came back to St Helena in October 1994 to re-establish the St Helena coffee industry. Taking over the Bamboo Hedge coffee plantation but with plans to expand, David’s objective was to grow St Helena coffee in exportable quantities, using his contacts in the world coffee industry to secure overseas sales. As part of this initiative grants were offered by the Government of St Helena for others to set up coffee growing, and several new producers joined the market in the following years.

For a while all was well and the industry grew. It was estimated by the St Helena News in October 2000 that there were 73Km² of coffee under cultivation, containing 20,000 trees and with a potential to produce up to 12 tonnes of green bean per year, exporting about three tonnes of these annually. The St Helena News estimated in October 2000 that between April 1999 and March 2000, 2,400 kilos of beans (or equivalent) were exported or sold on the local market.

But not all the growers were successful and after disputes with coffee pickers in 2005 and 2006 the industry ran into trouble. David Henry left St Helena in 2008 and by the end of that year it was estimated that there were only two acres of productive coffee cultivation remaining. (For more read ‘What Happened to the Coffee?’)

Current production is larger, but nowhere near the 1990s peak. In financial year 2017/18 coffee exports had total value £34,000.

Undiluted Arabica

Our original coffee plants were introduced in 1733 and remain an undiluted strain of 18th Century Arabica - which is very rare.

St Helena coffee today

Fortnum & Masons

You can, of course, buy St Helena coffee on St Helena, to drink in many of the local restaurants and in the ‍Coffee Shop‍ in the Leisure Park, and some shops have St Helena Coffee beans for sale. But finding it anywhere else in the world can be a challenge. In August 2015 it went on sale in Harrods (London), at that time the only UK outlet, at £60.00 per 100g. In 2020 it was spotted on sale in London’s Fortnum & Masons (right).

But by far the best place to try St Helena Coffee is here!

And if you fancy something more energetic, coffee pickers are employed every year, usually around September-November.

Prefer something a little stronger? You can buy ‘Midnight Mist Coffee Liqueur’ from the St Helena Distillery, specially blended from St Helena Coffee Beans, which offers a deliciously rich flavour to anyone who enjoys a smooth exotic drink.

St Helena Coffee is the best coffee in the world! I guess I should know since I’m a food scientist and it’s my job to taste and evaluate food products.{g}

Protected Coffee?

In 2019 the IUCN officially listed Arabica Coffee (the kind grown on St Helena) as a globally-endangered species. Because our coffee strain remains pure since the first plants were imported in 18th Century this could be good news for our coffee industry.

However an investigation conducted by The Sentinel and published on 7th March 2019 revealed that in March 2018 Legislative Council had approved a decrease in duty for anyone importing coffee plants. Imported plants would present a hazard to the integrity of St Helena’s pure coffee strain. The report advised Legislative Council to review the applicable duty on imported coffee plants. In April The Sentinel was able to report that new legislation was to happen soon to protect the St Helena coffee strain.

International Coffee Day

International Coffee Day, on 1st October, is not celebrated on St Helena. Nobody needs an excuse to drink any more coffee!

For more annual events see our page This Year.

Read More

Below: Article: WHAAAAaaaat? Writer’s accolade for St Helena coffeeArticle: From Steel to Coffee - A Mid-Life Career Change

Article: WHAAAAaaaat? Writer’s accolade for St Helena coffee

By Simon Pipe{2}

Rosemary Gate Coffee

Coffee writer Maja Wallengren’s cup was fairly flowing over when she reviewed the product of St Helena’s estates on her SpillingTheBeans website. Now she has declared it her Coffee of the Year.

She really was keen. SpillingTheBeans can hardly contain the excitement to be able to share SUCH a rare coffee with you, she wrote. It is stunning to find an island coffee with so many flavour attributes.

It was, she said, the kind of coffee that makes you stop up after the first zip to take a look at the cup and say out loud ‘WHAAAAaaaat?’ as you ponder in wonderful amazement over where this coffee comes from.

Maja, a Danish writer who is crazy beyond passionate about her subject, was sent a sample by South Sea Island Coffees, the London importers for the island estates in Sandy Bay. Maja told the story of the original Yemini beans being imported into the island in the 1730s, and remaining unusually pure because of the island’s extreme isolation.

The South Sea Islands Coffee website tells how a joint venture with Solomons led to production being resuscitated following the demise of the Napoleon Estate of David Henry, who had left the island. Production is now focused on the historic coffee farm of Bamboo Hedge, it says. The land around the adjoining Wranghams Estate is also being cleared for renewed coffee cultivation and, it is hoped, that this will come on stream in the near future.

Quality controls are more rigorous for St Helena’s delicate bean than would be possible on larger estates, says the website, but there are difficulties - apart from the difficulty of export. One of the major challenges for coffee production in St Helena is the deep scarcity of local farm labour, it says.

Article: From Steel to Coffee - A Mid-Life Career Change

Coffee producer Bill Bolton surveys his crop
Coffee producer Bill Bolton (Rosemary Gate Estate) surveys his crop. His coffee is available at the Coffee Shop at the Seafront in Jamestown.
Coffee Pioneers
Coffee Pioneers, The Boltons with Vincent March

The Gang’s All Here
The Gang’s All Here - Bill and Jill with the Coffee Shop Girls and the Coffee Plantation Workers
Brian Beard Celebrating his 20 Years Making Coffee
Brian Beard Celebrating his 20 Years Making Coffee with Ag. Governor Sean Burns Looking on

By Vince Thompson, printed in The Independent 22nd May 2015{2}

Bill and Jill Bolton celebrated 20 years of coffee making on Tuesday. Joining the celebration was their neighbour, Brian Beard, who has also been producing coffee beans from growing the coffee bushes through to roasting and grinding the beans for the past 20 years. St Helena coffee is becoming increasingly established and sought after; it sells overseas at £21 for 225 grams, however all of what is produced by Bill, Jill and Brian is sold on the Island at about £6.50 for a 225 gram packet of coffee.

When Bill and Brian planned their coffee production enterprises, they knew next to nothing about nurturing coffee bushes or harvesting and roasting coffee beans. Bill had spent his life working in the steel industry in Sheffield.

To mark the 20th anniversary of coffee production on Rosemary Plain, people connected with coffee production in St Helena gathered at Rosemary Gate to toast the success of the enterprise. Vincent March was one of those present. He shared his knowledge of coffee growing, and offered his advice and assistance in the first years when Bill and Brian were planting their first coffee bushes. Bill explained it takes five years for a new coffee bush to produce its first harvest of coffee beans.

Celebrating with Bill, Jill and Brian was Paul Hickling, who uses the coffee to produce the Midnight Mist coffee liqueur, Colin and Marlene Yon who were the first customers for Bill and Jill’s St Helena coffee; Colin and Marlene sold the coffee through their shops. Also there was Mandy Fowler, CEO of Solomons and owners of coffee plantations in Sandy Bay and Rodney Buckley, representing Solomons’ past connections with Island coffee production.

Among the other guests marking the event were Sean Burns, the Acting Governor and Niall O’Keeffe, Head of Enterprise St Helena. The Coffee Shop girls were there, as were the two coffee plantation workers.

The Coffee Shop is located in the Leisure Park.


{a} CKW Photography{b} Napoleon{c} Some photos from Rosemary Gate Estate; others from Farm Lodge{d} Anne Morrow Lindbergh{e} Philip Gosse in St Helena 1502-1938{f} Tourist Information Office{g} Frank Calabro


{1} 1d = £0.0042, so for 1lb that’s actually not very expensive by modern standards.{2} @@RepDis@@