Origins of Arabica Bourbon
The Arabica Bourbon falls among the best coffee varieties you can find in Brazil, Salvador or Rwanda. This widely known and popular coffee is cultivated in three color mutations, red, orange and yellow bourbon. But what does it have in common with the American whiskey? Nothing at all, fortunately.
The name comes from the place of origin of this wonderful variety, which is a small island in the Indian Ocean called Réunion, formerly Bourbon. The oldest records mentioning coffee from this lovely volcanic island come from merchants of the East Indian Company and are dated to the beginning of 18th century. The first export was started in 1718 and the coffee usually went to Mokka harbor in Yemen and then to Europe. The export went slowly at first. Just less than two tons were shipped in 1724, but increased rapidly in the next hundred years, peaking at 2 440 tons of coffee per year.
The coffee, first called Café du Roy, then Café Leroy was served to kings at the French court and was the brand of choice of the classical author, Honoré de Balzac, who would enjoy forty cups a day. Or so they say…
The Bourbon variety found its way to Latin America around the middle of 19th century, where it gradually replaced older Ethiopian variety, the Arabica Typica, mainly because of its 30% larger yield. While the Arabica Bourbon was doing great in the world, the production on Réunion was slowly, but steadily, getting smaller year by year. Farmers simply opted to grow sugarcane, tea and vanilla beans instead of coffee, and thus the year 1942 marks the last export of Arabica Bourbon from the island of Réunion. The last harvest came eight years later and then the variety was forgotten even by the locals.
After almost sixty years, one unrelenting Japanese coffee specialist from Ueshima Coffee Company discovered 27 original plants and restarted the production. The resulting coffee is called Burbon Pointu. It is sold only in Japan and it holds the prestigious Premium Product title by Specialty Coffee Association of Japan. It is also quite pricey, at $35 per 4 ounces.
The Bourbon Pointu is exceptional by its low volume of caffeine and delicate taste with slight acidity, low bitterness, full body and charming fruit flavor of oranges and tangerines.
One can only hope that the island of Réunion will eventually return to its former coffee glory and we will be able to enjoy Bourbon Pointu as well.