Previously, we learned that the Caturra Varietal revolutionized coffee farming in Brazil and the new world. This dwarf coffee tree increased production in great quantities,
making it more accessible to the legions of coffee drinkers in Europe and North America and helped developed the local economies. But the Caturra varietal is, genetically, 100% Bourbon.
So let's explore where this Bourbon came from before arriving in Brazil.
The Bourbon coffee was produced for the first time in the early 18th century in Reunion, an island in the Indian Ocean which was known as the Bourbon Island before 1789. Later, this coffee varietal was taken by the French to the African continent and to Latin America.
Hence, this coffee varietal inherited its name from the Indian Ocean Island located off the coast of Madagascar.
In 1715, the "Compagnie des Indes Orientales" gave Mr. Guillaume Dufresne the order to grow coffee plants originated from the port city of Moka ( or Mocha ), in what is nowadays Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula. Mr. Guillaume was part of the Third Moka expedition, which departed St. Malo, France with 2 vessels.
Ancient Bourbon coffee farm in Ravine des Cabris. in the island of Reunion, Indian Ocean
On returning from Moka, Guillaume Dufresne D'arsel, In late September 1715, arrived at Bourbon island with six Moka coffee plants, offered by the Sultan of Yemen to France. The Six coffee trees were planted near the town of St. Paul. The East India Company organized production, facilitated the purchase of seeds, built barns and roads, offering free concessions to any settler 15 to 60 years old. The goal was to plant and maintain 100 coffee plants. The third expedition was back in Saint-Malo, France, in February 1716.
Coffee made a fortune to the islanders and the Company. The "variety Bourbon" was judged the best. It was grown in commercial quantities from 1721. In 1704, the island of Bourbon had only 734 inhabitants. In 1754, it had 17,000 inhabitants. In 1735, the annual coffee export reached 100,000 pounds, then it went to 2.5 million pounds in 1744.
Watercolor of Jean-Joseph Patu de Rosemont representing a coffee plantation in Bourbon Island
The Bourbon coffee is generally grown between 1000 and 2000 meters altitude. It allows harvesting of 20 to 30% higher than that obtained from the Typica, but the final product quality is similar.
The rugged terrain of the Reunion island and its volcanic origin was perfect for growing coffee trees. French merchants took seeds from Bourbon island to their colonies in Africa and the Americas and from there the coffee variety propagated to all coffee regions in Latin America.
Nowadays, Bourbon coffee trees can be found in Central and South America. Most notably, El Salvador and Costa Rica has had for centuries coffee plantations of this type of tree.
Bourbon coffee varietal is one of the original species of trees that made coffee popular to the masses. Nowadays, it is making a come back in places like the Tarrazu highlands of Costa Rica, where coffee farmers are focusing in harvesting quality beans over quantity. Bourbon is a fine coffee and its production should be encouraged. Finally, we should pay tribute to the Bourbon varietal because it is the granddaddy of most coffee varietals cultivated in the highlands and responsible for most gourmet coffee beans sough after coffee connoisseurs.
As a sad note, coffee plantation workers were mostly black slaves from Africa. In the above image, you can see little kids and a woman with a baby working in the fields under the hot sun. We should thank all these unknown coffee workers since because of their efforts we nowadays enjoy this wonderful coffee varietal.