Coffee History : Circumnavigating the Globe

The noble tree also sent shoots to the island of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean, then called the Isle of Bourbon. There, a combination of spontaneous mutation and human selection produced var. bourbon, a new variant or cultivar of coffea arabica with a somewhat different growth pattern and smaller beans. The famed Santos coffees of Brazil and the Oaxaca coffees of Mexico are said to be offspring of the Bourbon tree, which had traveled from Ethiopia to Mocha, from Mocha to Java, from Java to a hothouse in Holland, from Holland to Paris, from Paris to Réunion, and eventually back, halfway around the world, to Brazil and Mexico. Trees of the bourbon variety continue to produce some of Latin America’s finest coffees.

For the concluding irony, we have to wait until 1893, when coffee seed from Brazil was introduced into Kenya and what is now Tanzania, only a few hundred miles south of its original home in Ethiopia, thus completing a six-century circumnavigation of the globe.