The Island of St Helena is a small, mountainous, sub-tropical island of 122 square kilometres, situated in the South Atlantic Ocean. Discovered by the Portuguese Admiral Joao da Nova on the 21st May, 1502, St Helena was a secret supply base for the Portuguese for their East India fleet.
St Helena ceased to be Portugal's exclusive preserve in 1588, when Captain 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.
The St Helena coffee story begins on 10th February 1733 when 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.
The Emperor Napoleon is St Helena’s most famous resident. On 16 October 1815, the defeated emperor arrived at St Helena and began his imposed exile at Longwood House, where he was to remain until his death on the 5th May 1821. Napoleon said “The only good thing about St Helena is the coffee” which he drunk at breakfast and lunch without fail.
In time, the Green Tipped Bourbon trees planted by The East India Company were lost to nature and time, until they were resurrected by a coffee pioneer in the 1990s, and later on with the help of a group of UK coffee experts. Through investment, agrarian advice and marketing support, the St Helena coffee industry was gradually returned to its former glory.
Coffee is all about personal relationships and St Helena is no different. Sea Island Coffee founders, Britt Shaw and Guy Eardley-Wilmot set out in the summer of 2007 to help with the restoration of St Helena coffee and travelled by land, air and water to get there.
St Helena has no airport and the only way to visit this remote island was on the Royal Mail Ship St Helena – the lifeline of St Helena – a container ship with some passenger accommodation. They flew to Cape Town, then embarked on the RMS St Helena for the week long voyage via Namibia.
An incredible journey with no land in sight for days and a fearsome 24 hour storm ended with the island in sight – the same sight that Napoleon would have had on his arrival – a giant jagged volcano coming out of the Atlantic.
Embarking at the port of the picturesque “capital”, Jamestown, they spent a month conducting field studies, quality tests and a full review of facilities as well as documenting the plantations with a view to improving the standards and helping to bring this incredible coffee to the world.
The coffee lands are mainly in the Sandy Bay and Bamboo Hedge areas on steep and rather muddy inclines, which made the field study rather challenging, but the area was mapped and the plants studied by the founders.
St Helena is a most unique spot – a beautiful time warp where crime does not exist; doors are left open, cars have their keys left in the ignition (where would you go if you stole it?) and there’s a very easy going atmosphere where everyone knows everyone else.
Since Guy and Britt’s initial visit in 2007, St Helena coffee has become known to coffee connoisseurs world-wide, who have been seduced by its distinctive quality.
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. This 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. To discover more about St Helena coffee read here