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St Helena Coffee

‘The only good thing about St Helena is the coffee’ - Napoleon Bonaparte

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Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

St Helena coffee has been judged the best in the world. It’s also possibly the rarest in the world. And the best place to buy it is here!

This page is in indexes: Island Activity, Island Detail

Below: The history of our coffeeSt Helena coffee todayRead More

Top Twenty things to do [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]

Drinking St Helena Coffee is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.

Top Twenty things to do [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]

St Helena Coffee [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]

Coffee plants, in flower [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
Coffee fruits [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
Coffee processing machine [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
The roasted Coffee [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
Coffee Beans [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
Coffee on sale [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
Harrods St Helena coffee [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
{a}

The history of our coffee

In 1733 Green Tipped Bourbon Coffee seeds were brought from Mocha in Yemen, and were planted at various locations around the Island. The plants 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” and in 1845 it was sold in London at 1d per pound, making it the most expensive and exclusive in the world. A contemporary document (in the Records{1}) 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.{b}

Article in the St Helena News, 16th September 1994 [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]

Bamboo Hedge coffee ground [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
Bamboo Hedge coffee ground, late 1990s

David Henry [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]

In 1994 coffee production was revived. As the announcement in the St Helena News reports (right), 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 initiatve 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? (180.0Kb)’)

Current production is larger, but nowhere near the 1990s peak.

St Helena coffee today

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), currently the only UK outlet, at £60.00 per 100g.

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

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”.

Read More

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

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

By Simon Pipe, printed in the St Helena Independent 10th January 2014{2}

Rosemary Gate Coffee [Saint Helena Island Info: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 Solomon & Co. 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

Ready for delivery [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]

The Gang’s All Here [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
The Gang’s All Here - Bill and Jill with the Coffee Shop Girls and the Coffee Plantation Workers
Coffee Pioneers [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
Coffee Pioneers, The Boltons with Vincent March
Brian Beard Celebrating his 20 Years Making Coffee [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
Brian Beard Celebrating his 20 Years Making Coffee with Ag. Governor Sean Burns Looking on

By Vince Thompson, printed in the St Helena 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 Solomon’s and owners of coffee plantations in Sandy Bay and Rodney Buckley, representing Solomon’s 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.

More stories [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

The Coffee Shop is in the Leisure Park.

Coffee producer Bill Boulton surveys his crop [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]
Coffee producer Bill Boulton (Rosemary Gate Estate) surveys his crop. His coffee is available at the Coffee Shop at the Seafront in Jamestown.

closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]

Laugh at funny coffee humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Coffee]


Credits:

{a} Some photos from Rosemary Gate Estate; others from Farm Lodge

{b} Philip Gosse in ‘St Helena 1502-1938’



Footnotes:

{1} The St Helena Records is a collection of documents dating back to the earliest days of St Helena, held in the Government of St Helena Archives. The Archives can be accessed in person or via email - see our Family And Friends page for more. From the records and other sources we have compiled an events database, which drives our events-based pages e.g. On This Day page. You can search our events database in various ways on our Chronology page.

{2} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.



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