Winner of SpillingTheBeans’ personal choice as Coffee Of The Year in 2013 thanks to the uniqueness of these beans, the incredible effort that has gone into getting this coffee to the market, and for its outstanding flavor profil
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.
With so many extraordinary coffees in the world and so many rare islands and unique varieties, what makes for the truly rare and unique coffees to the utmost of coffee lovers?
This Sunday’s Coffee of The Day is a real special treat among treats, from the uniquely geographically located and extreme remote island of St Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. SpillingTheBeans can hardly contain the excitement to be able to share SUCH a rare coffee with you, thanks to the courtesy of one of our favorite coffee companies in the world, the Sea Island Coffees in London, the U.K., which was generous enough to share a sample with us.
About The Island Of St. Helena
The Island of St Helena is a small, mountainous, sub tropical island of 47 square miles, 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 15th 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. Without an airport, access to the island is via the Royal Mail Ship St Helena, operated by Curnow Shipping Ltd. at Falmouth, Cornwall, England.
Coffee, coffee…and more coffee!
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 is unique, 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 on 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 of 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.
Being a volcanic island, St Helena’s soils are extremely rich and the climate sub-tropical. Combined with our organic cultivation philosophy and single bean origin, St Helena Coffee is a truly unique coffee sensation.
St Helena is, of course, famous for Napoleon Bonaparte. The original tomb of the exiled Emperor Bonaparte is located at the head of Geranium Valley on St Helena. Napoleon often used to visit this site, where it is said he found peace and tranquility and requested as his place of final rest. This area was also the place of residence for his Chief Aide, Marshall Bertrand and his wife. Several stone terraces were unearthed and artifacts discovered, such as Wedgewood china, wine bottles and a lovely set of stone steps framed by an arch of ferns leading towards Napoleon’s tomb.
In 2010, St. Helena Trading (UK) Ltd. (a jointly held company by our associate, Blue Mountain Coffee (Europe) Ltd. & the Edmonds Coffee Group) 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 government has now authorised 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 is wet processed to the highest possible standards, with a wonderful semi translucent sheen in green bean form. This delicate bean, medium roasted has a high lively acidity, with good balance and good body. This coffee has a superb fragrant bouquet with no off flavours and pleasant floral fruity hints of citrus and caramel strongly hinting of its Yemeni origins.
Just how good is St. Helena coffee?
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.
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.
In terms of cash paid for the St. Helena bean, there is nothing to surpass it – even Jamaica Blue Mountain, which for 70-odd years has dominated the gourmet coffee scene. A 17 gram-shot of St. Helena Green Tipped Bourbon Arabica at Harrods last year would have set you back Ł4.74. St. Helena coffee retails at $22 per half pound, shipping included. Kenyan, Hawaiian, Jamaican – and more recently – Galapagos-grown coffee all occupy the rarefied landscape of true gourmet coffee, and now St. Helena coffee is standing there amongst the best of them.
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 labor.
There is no official statistics of how much coffee today is produced at St Helena but it would hardly be more than a couple of containers by the most optimistic calculations and estimates. Furthermore, this is an island SO remote that it can only be reached by ship as there are no regular flights to the island because an airport has yet to build. One of the closest ports of embarkation is along the coast of South Africa and takes 3 to 4 nights at sea to reach, according to cruise reports.
Spilling The Beans dream about one day being able to visit this mythical island… but until that day arrives, please check out more about this extraordinary coffee at Sea Island Coffee’s home page – which in any case should be considered a must-see for coffee lovers!
“The only good thing about St Helena is the coffee.” –Napoleon Bonaparte
For more informations about St Helena coffee buy:
…and coffee here!