The Story of
St Helena Coffee
The Island of St Helena is a small, mountainous, sub tropical island of 122 square kilometres, situated in the South Atlantic Ocean, on latitude 16 degrees south and longitude 5 degrees 45' west. The island was discovered by the Portuguese Admiral Joao da Nova on the 21st May, 1502. He landed where Jamestown stands today and built a chapel there. For over eighty years the Portuguese kept their discovery a secret and used it to replenish their East India fleet.
St Helena ceased to be Portugal's exclusive preserve in 1588, when Capt. Thomas Cavendish called there during the last stage of his round-the-world voyage in HMS Desire. English and then Dutch ships were soon calling frequently. Following a Dutch attempt to annex the island in 1633, the East India Company decided to fortify it and in 1659 the first permanent settlement was established.
In 1673 St Helena was captured by the Dutch but only four months later was recaptured by the English. The East India Company was granted administration of the island which continued until 1834 when it was brought under the direct control of the British Crown.
On 16 October 1815, the defeated French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte arrived at St Helena and began his imposed exile. His home was to be Longwood House, where he was to remain until his death on the 5th May 1821.
Today St Helena is a British Overseas Territory with an English speaking population of approximately five thousand people, mainly of English, African and Chinese descent.
The nearest land is Ascension Island, some 1125 Km north west of St Helena, with the closest mainland port being Cape Town, Republic of South Africa, and some 2720 Km southeast of the island. St Helena Island is one of the most remote places on earth. Access to the island is via the Royal Mail Ship St Helena, operated by Curnow Shipping Ltd. at Falmouth, Cornwall, England.
On the 10th February 1733, coffee seeds were brought to the Island of St. Helena, by its then owners The East India Company. The Green Tipped Bourbon Coffee seeds were brought from the coffee port of Mocha in Yemen, on a Company ship the "Houghton" by Captain Philips.
Over the past ten years, St. Helena coffee has become known to coffee connoisseurs world-wide, who have been seduced by its distinctive quality and uniqueness.
St. Helena coffee has a distinctive quality and unique heritage as it is not just a pure Arabica coffee, but a single type of Arabica bean known as Green Tipped Bourbon Arabica.
Green Tipped Bourbon Arabica is a subtle and delicate bean, which requires great care during harvesting, wet processing and roasting, to ensure that all of its wonderful characteristics are preserved for the enjoyment of the true coffee connoisseurs.
With the Island being one of the most remote places on earth, situated in the South Atlantic Ocean, in the path of the South East Trade Winds, St. Helena has one of the purest environments in the world.
Only natural fertilizers are utilized. Livestock manure is not used as it may contain non-organic substances from concentrated animal feed or veterinary treatments.
The coffee is wet processed using pure spring water descending from the Island's peaks, along the Central Ridge.
St. Helena is fortunate in having a rich supply of guano, the dropping of sea birds, which are collected from small out-crops, of rock along the island coasts and used as a natural fertilizer. The guano being extremely rich is allowed to dry and than applied sparingly at the base of the trees during the early stage of the wet Season.
In 2010, St. Helena Trading (UK) Ltd arrived at a joint venture with Solomon & Co. (St. Helena) Plc. to resuscitate the St. Helenian coffee production following the sad demise of the Napoleon Estate and related holdings. The first crop from this cooperation came on stream in March of 2011.
All the former quality and related controls were re-established and surpassed, allowing for the same elegant connoisseur's coffee to return to the exotic coffee market, albeit in small quantities as before. Production is now focussed in the area centered on the historic coffee farm of Bamboo Hedge, collectively known as the Sandy Bay Estates. The land around the adjoining Wranghams Estate is also being cleared for re-newed coffee cultivation and, it is hoped, that this will come on stream in the near future, further assuring a regular and enhanced crop of St.Helenian coffee.
The British and St Helena governments have now completed the construction of an airport, which will completely change St. Helena's accessability with positive implications for both its tourist and agricultural industries.
St Helena Coffee Cup Profile
The St Helena coffee is wet processed to the highest possible standard with a wonderful semi-translucent sheen in green bean form.
This delicate bean, once roasted, is well balanced in the cup with good fruity acidity, rich black cherry notes and a pleasing chocolatey aftertaste which lingers on the palate and hints of its Yemeni origins.
St Helena coffee is subjected to the most rigorous quality control. Due to the relatively small quantity of coffee produced, it is possible to give the coffee more attention than a larger coffee industry could expect to do. One of the major challenges for coffee production in St Helena is the deep scarcity of local farm labour.
Coffee Quality Spec
Altitude: 720 meters, but because of its unique geographical position this will be equivalent to more than a 1000 meters of altitude in other coffee producing countries
Total Rain per Year: 3000 mm
Variety: Green Tipped Bourbon
Processing Method: Fully Washed
Mucilage removal: Natural Fermentation
Drying Method: Sun-drying, this process is very slow since it takes approximately 4 months to dry the coffee while it takes just 4-5 days in all other coffee producing countries
Flowering Period: December-April
Harvesting Period: October-February
In the coffee trade, the name 'Bourbon' has come to be associated with a variety of coffee plant originating in Yemen which spread into South America via the French Caribbean. Louis XV already had some coffee plants flourishing in his greenhouse at Versailles. He was particularly passionate about brewing the coffee, tending to them personally, and harvesting, processing, roasting, and brewing them himself. He had Madame du Barry portrayed as a Sultana, coffee cup in hand.
Napoleon arrived on St Helena on 16 October 1815 after the defeat that summer by the British and Prussians at Waterloo. The likelihood of his escaping was as remote as the island itself. The fortifications were truly formidable: gun emplacements bristled from every strategic point overlooking the ocean, and the lessons of the Dutch invasion had been learnt, so that inland passes were covered from the heights.
As a result of the Napoleonic connection, the island had achieved a measure of celebrity and its cottage coffee industry enjoyed a brief renaissance. The owner of the estate at Bamboo Hedge, G. W. Alexander, sent a sample to a coffee broker in London, William Burnie & Co., who pronounced it 'of a very superior quality and flavour' and suggested that it might fetch as much as £7 per hundredweight.
St Helena Trading (UK) Limited
Lower Ground Floor,
164 Old Brompton Rd,
London, SW5 0BA
St Helena Trading (UK) Limited is a British trading company responsible for the importing, distribution and marketing of St Helena coffee internationally.