Coffee, the Isle of Bourbon, and the Seeds of Single Origin Coffee
Throughout much of the history repeated here, of course, the coffee being traded was single origin coffee. Before the Industrial Revolution, there was no way to mass produce or transport enough coffee that any other option would become available. But as time went on, the methods and geographical locations of cultivation contributed to the development of different varieties of coffee, which meant that the origin of the coffee beans themselves had an impact on the taste of the coffee you were brewing.
This might seem like common sense to coffee addicts today – who have access to coffee beans of different types and different roasts from all over the world – but only a few centuries ago this would have been considered a new development.
Perhaps the first different popular variety of coffee separate from the basic Arabica variety began on an island off of the east coast of Madagascar known as the Isle of Bourbon – also known as Reunion in French. When coffee was cultivated there, it actually produced coffee beans that were smaller – so significantly, in fact, that this became known as a different variety of Arabica known as “Bourbon.”
Different types of coffees grown in Mexico and Brazil were actually the “descendants,” if you will, of this Bourbon coffee, which contributed to a greater variety in flavor and texture of coffee depending on where in the world the coffee was grown. That’s why Bourbon coffee is one of the first instances that the idea of single-origin coffee.
Brazil’s natural coffee-friendly climate (as well as a number of other factors like altitude and soil that will be explored in the section on South America) eventually led to its dominance in the coffee trade in portions of the 19th and 20th centuries.