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 report records that:
A small patch of coffee in Plantation ground, containing about 286 bushes, yielded about 428lb. of dried coffee, an average of about 1½lb. per bush, but in Sandy Bay the yield of coffee per bush is nearly double.
After this the St. Helena flax industry took over as the island’s principal source of export revenue, reaching its peak in the 1950s only to decline and die completely in the following fifteen years.
In 1994 coffee production was revived. As the announcement in the St. Helena News reports, 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 St. Helena Government 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 in the late 1990s that there were 18 acres 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. 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. 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 at the Seaside, 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.
Or you can buy some coffee via Amazon below.
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”.