Found! The Forgotten Coffee of Réunion Island

Found! The Forgotten Coffee of Réunion Island

The tiny island of Réunion1 is little more than a dot in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and southwest of Mauritius. For nearly 200 years that dot was the foundation of a singular exclamation point in coffee history. A peculiar varietal was cultivated at Réunion — a low-growing, long-bean mutation of Red Bourbon that came to be known as Bourbon Pointu, or simply, Leroy — and was said to be favored in turn by France’s King Louis XV, and satirist Honoré de Balzac. Bourbon Pointu thrived on Réunion until the 1950s, when twin calamities of coffee rust (a disease of the coffee plant) and fire ants invaded the island’s plantations.2 The plantations were abandoned… and the island’s unique varietal was thought to be lost forever. Perhaps it would be, if not for the efforts of Yoshiaki Kawashima. A life-long coffee man and the son of a coffee roaster, for 30 years Kawashima worked to develop coffee plantations in Jamaica, Sumatra, and on Hawaii’s Kona coast. Kawashima first heard of Réunion’s coffee varietal while researching coffee in El Salvador, though at the time the coffee experts he worked with believed the varietal had died out long before… ” In 1999, he went to East Africa on business and got a chance to visit Reunion. He set foot on the island hoping to find one of the legendary coffee plants. He left the island disappointed. “Nobody knew anything about Bourbon Pointu. The islanders didn’t even know that Reunion was once a coffee producer. A local took me to a supermarket and said, ‘Here, you have coffee.’ ” “Undaunted, Kawashima continued...

From the Bloggle Archives: The Legend of Kaldi

So little time, so many things to do… in lieu of continued empty space where new posts should be, here’s a classic from the Bloggle’s Coffee History Series: The Legend of Kaldi — Once upon a time, in a faraway land called Ethiopia â€â€? or maybe Abyssinia, it was a very long time ago, after all â€â€? there lived a young goatherd named Kaldi. By all accounts [and there are many, as the story has been retold many, many times] Kaldi was a very responsible young man, and not one to do foolish things. Every day Kaldi would set his goats to grazing in the hills that surrounded his village, and every evening his loyal goats would return home. This, of course, would suggest that the goats were the responsible parties. How foolish is it, after all, to just turn your goats loose into the hills every morning? But, back to our story… One evening, Kaldi’s goats did not return home. The young man, no doubt feeling a little foolish by now, searched for his herd all through the night, and as morning broke he found them, leaping and dancing with reckless abandon and apparent glee round a stand of shiny, dark-leafed shrubs with bright red berries. Kaldi took in the scene before him, amazed. He soon decided it must be the berries that caused such reckless behavior in his otherwise responsible goats, and â€â€? forgetting everything his mother told him about eating strange foods from strange places â€â€? Kaldi sampled the berries, himself. In no time, he too was dancing gleefully with his goats around the green-leafed shrubs....

Coffee History Series: Drink of Patriots

It’s December 16th, 1773 on Union Street, in Boston’s north end. Here, in the heart of the city’s financial district, stands an imposing two-story building. Above its door swings a copper dragon, long since turned green in Boston’s salt air. This is the Green Dragon Tavern & Coffee House – meeting hall, gathering place, lodge house – and crucible for the American Revolution. All evening long patrons have been entering under the sign of the dragon, and “Mohawks� – rebels carrying hatchets and clubs, faces painted with coal dust – have been furtively slipping out the back door into the night, en route to Griffin’s wharf. Tomorrow three shiploads of tea – despised both for its outrageous tax burden, and the monopoly granted the East India Tea Company by the British Parliament – are to be offloaded under the watchful eyes and guns of the British Admiral. For weeks, patrons of the Green Dragon have been discussing tea, taxes and tyranny over their cups of coffee and rum. With passionate arguments led by Joseph Warren and Paul Revere, noted Sons of Liberty, the conversation becomes earnest… and swings from impassioned debate to a call for action. Tonight, at Griffin’s wharf, the Mohawks answer that call. Boston Harbor becomes the largest teacup ever known as the entire tea consignment – all 90,000 pounds – is tossed overboard. Two thousand colonists watch as 150 Mohawks – men they know, despite their thin disguises, as pillars of their community – heave scores of smashed tea trunks into the harbor. In the morning, in a spectacular showing of fraternity, not one of the...

Coffee History Series: Penny Universities

Coffee made its introduction to Europe in the early 17th century as medicine for what ails you… whether your ailment include headaches, consumption, dropsy, gout, scurvy or any number of sundry and unmentionable maladies. First offered by apothecaries in Venice and street vendors in Milan, coffee found footing in Vienna by way of a failed Ottoman invasion, and found the fancy of Germany’s upper crust: it inspired Johann Sebastian Bach’s Coffee Cantata, and obsessed Ludvig van Beethoven, who was rumored to grind precisely 60 beans for each aromatic cup. [A recipe that makes a very good cup… even if it’s preparation is a wee bit time-intensive.] It was in London, however, where coffee — and coffee houses — became the rage. The first London coffee house opened at Oxford University in 1650, and by 1700 more than 2000 coffeehouses dotted the London landscape. Early coffeehouses served more than coffee; they also served as hotbeds of conversation, politics and commerce. One coffeehouse might serve as a gathering place for physicians, another for actors, or musicians, or lawyers or clergy. These gathering places became known as Penny Universities… for the price of a cup of coffee, one could sit for hours and participate in the discourse of the day. Or, one could conduct his business of the day — and a great many did. Mr. Edward Lloyd’s coffee house catered largely to merchants and sailors of the day, as well as the underwriters who met over coffee to offer insurance. In time, Lloyd’s Coffee House became Lloyd’s of London, the storied insurance company. Likewise, other coffeehouses — centers for news, currency and...

Coffee History Series: Baba Budan’s Beans

While coffee originated in Arabian lands, the legend of its powers of sobriety and mental clarity quickly spread far beyond Arabian borders. The Christian world grew increasingly alarmed about the legendary qualities of coffee, which was even then being sold by apothecaries –- by prescription only — in Venice. Petitioners brought coffee before Pope Clement VII in order that he might condemn it as the “devil’s brewâ€?. To their surprise, Clement immensely enjoyed the beverage, and baptized it, so that all could enjoy the beverage without guilt… and without a prescription. Arab traders were keen to ship boiled or parched seeds the entire world over, but were careful to never allow beans or cuttings that could create new coffee plants to leave the Arabian borders. Coffee became so precious to them, that it was made illegal to export fertile beans. On pilgrimage to Mecca in the middle of the 1600s, Baba Budan, a revered Moslem holy man from India, discovered for himself the wonders of coffee. In his zeal to share what he’d found with his fellows at home, he smuggled seven coffee beans out of Arabia, wrapped around his belly. On his return home, he planted the beans in the hills of Mysore, India, and nurtured the young coffee bushes that resulted. Coffee flourished in the hills of India – hills now named after Baba Budan. In short order, enterprising Dutch traders bought some of these coffee plants, and shipped them to faraway colonies in Indonesia and Ceylon. The Arabian monopoly of the coffee trade was over, and the Western world was waking up to a new aroma…...

Coffee History Series: The Legend of Kaldi

Once upon a time, in a faraway land called Ethiopia — or maybe Abyssinia, it was a very long time ago, after all — there lived a young goatherd named Kaldi. By all accounts [and there are many, as the story has been retold many, many times] Kaldi was a very responsible young man, and not one to do foolish things. Every day Kaldi would set his goats to grazing in the hills that surrounded his village, and every evening his loyal goats would return home. This, of course, would suggest that the goats were the responsible parties. How foolish is it, after all, to just turn your goats loose into the hills every morning? But, back to our story… One evening, Kaldi’s goats did not return home. The young man, no doubt feeling a little foolish by now, searched for his herd all through the night, and as morning broke he found them, leaping and dancing with reckless abandon and apparent glee round a stand of shiny, dark-leafed shrubs with bright red berries. Kaldi took in the scene before him, amazed. He soon decided it must be the berries that caused such reckless behavior in his otherwise responsible goats, and — forgetting everything his mother told him about eating strange foods from strange places — Kaldi sampled the berries, himself. In no time, he too was dancing gleefully with his goats around the green-leafed shrubs. Soon, we are told, a wise and learned man passed by — an imam, or monk — trudging sleepily on his way to prayer. The imam rubbed his eyes and took in the...

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