“Write what you know about” advised Jeffery Archer one Cheltenham Literary Festival. “Take in your surroundings and use them to form your story, don’t try to make things up — there is no need too.” This was some of the best writing advice I ever received because believe it or not, all of us live unique lives that tell a story. So naturally I’m going to abandon that handy advice and write about something I know next to nothing about.
Ignore the reams of business ‘self-help’ books because London just would not tick without its coffee. Behind George Osborne’s economic policy is the missed fact that the big smoke only functions because coffee is drunk in droves. Everyone has their favourite coffee places, Baristas are gods commanding eternal elixir (especially at the time I leave for work) and we all melt at the smell of freshly ground coffee beans. If you have ever travelled on the train between Dorking and London Waterloo you will know that fateful spot where the smell of roasting coffee fills the carriages. Even after over two years of working in London, I haven’t managed to spot the source of this awakening aroma — I suspect a Café Nero factory but may be wrong. Coffee is what keeps everybody sane in the city and I suspect it’s the same globally and historically.
There is one coffee in London which you won’t find. It’s grown on St Helena. Located approximately 1,200 miles North West of Cape Town, St Helena is little known. This tiny British Outpost (just 47-square miles) remains one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands — five days at sea from Cape Town! The reason some people may have heard of the island is because Napoleon was banished to St Helena after his defeat at the battle of Waterloo and arguably he put this remote island on the map.
St Helena’s coffee is something special. London’s coffee merchants WM Burnie & Co described St Helena’s coffee as being of “very superior quality and flavour”. Apparently, even Napoleon whilst incarcerated on the island during the early 19th Century praised the quality of St Helena’s coffee. Today St Helena’s coffee lives on thanks to Rosemary Gate Coffee Estate, which is a family run business founded in 1994 by Bill and Jill Bolton. They grow the green tipped Bourbon Arabica coffee, which was introduced to St Helena from Yemen in 1732. Years of growing and perfecting the recipe has resulted in St Helena’s coffee being one of the finest in the world market.
It is also one of the rarest and most expensive coffees in the world. In 2016 St Helena is going to get its first airport but until then, very little product is exported from the island. Besides, the island is so small that inevitably there will always be a struggle to keep up with global demand. There is only so much space where coffee can be grown. Then last week, for the first time ever, I got the chance to taste St Helena’s famous coffee. For over a year I’ve wondered what this coffee would taste like, focused on how amazing it would be to enjoy product grown thousands of miles away. Holding the 125g packet, I couldn’t wait to put it into the coffee machine.
Now, I’ve never professionally tasted coffee before — nor know the language associated with it. What I will say is that the coffee tasted pure, it isn’t blended with anything else. It is also advisable to try drinking it without milk first. When you drink coffee black you get a real sense of all the flavours, milk tends to water flavours down.
It was earthy, almost floral and slightly nutty. Very different to the coffee around London, although my only comparison would be to the coffee chains.
What I also focused on whilst drinking the coffee is that this is what Napoleon would have tasted. The coffee physically hasn’t changed one bit so I really was tasting three centuries of St Helena’s history. To then write about that experience on this 21st Century blog is something.
St Helena Tourism is a client of Keene Communications. As Keene’s digital bod I assist to plan client digital strategies and was thankful to taste the island’s coffee. To learn more about St Helena then visit the Wirebird Blog.