The most rarest and scarce coffee variety in the Caribbean is the Guadeloupe Bonifieur. What makes this coffee so rare and so appreciated is its scarcity and the incredible storyline behind how the Guadeloupe Bonifieur survived through some of the most difficult challenges to become what it is today.
Grown in Guadeloupe, a Caribbean island under French governance, this rare coffee blend thrives in a narrow coastal strip between the island volcanic mountain range and the Caribbean sea, with an average yearly temperature of 28ºC.
This Arabica variety is best known however for the story behind how it survived through centuries of challenging times and became the delicious coffee blend that is world renowned today.
The Origins of the Guadeloupe Bonifieur
It was Gabriel de Clieu, the governor of the island between 1737 and 1752, that first introduced coffee to the nearby Martinique island and then brought it to Guadeloupe around 1721. He had simply taken a coffee plant from the Dutch that originated in a France botanical garden and nurtured it during the long journey from France to the Caribbean.
Incidentally, the world famous Blue Mountain coffee shares the same origin, only it was taken to Jamaica from the original Martinique plantation by Sir Nicholas Lawes and planted in the Blue Mountain District giving birth to what is still considered today as the best widely available coffee in the world… but not better than the Guadeloupe Bonifieur, according to connoisseurs.
This Arabica coffee bean that was planted in Guadeloupe began to improve in taste and quality each year. The French appreciated the coffee from Guadeloupe, and gave this blend the name “Bonifieur”, or “to improve”. It is believed that the name comes from the fact that during those initial years the Bonifieur coffee was used to enhance lower quality blends.
Interesting Facts about the Guadeloupe Bonifieur
Coffee production peaked in Guadeloupe at the beginning of the 19th. Century, when 9,000 hectares of plantations produced 6,000 yearly tons of coffee, becoming an important crop for the island.
Back in the 1700’s, when France realized the economic benefits of growing the coffee in Guadeloupe, African slaves were brought in to work with the native people in the worst conditions to ensure the blend was harvested in abundance and shipped to France on a regular basis. This high demand for the coffee forced slaves to work long hours in deplorable condition for many years.
However, the production went through an abrupt decrease during the 19th. Century and then in the early 1900’s, a hurricane effectively wiped out the entire coffee plantation in Guadeloupe. Subsequent increasing competition from South American and African plantations, had coffee replaced by banana and sugar cane.
Fortunately, the small amount of harvest that survived was carefully protected and cultivated, then restored slowly over the past century. Although the coffee plantation has been restored as mainly a tourist attraction, it still does produce somewhere between 20 to 30 tons of the Guadeloupe Bonifieur coffee each year.
Everyone who tastes it agrees it is a superb coffee, but no one knows how to explain what the reason for its superior quality is. Here are some characteristic features that may help understand what it that sets it apart is.
- Guadeloupe Bonifieur is grown on just 100 to 120 hectares.
- There are only 59 to 80 remaining farmers.
- It is confined to the lower volcanic slopes of the Leeward Coast, in the south-west facade of the island.
- It comes from the “Bourbon Pointu” a variant of the Typica de Coffea Arabica.
- Beans are planted on volcanic soil and enjoy a warm tropical climate.
- It is grown under the shadow of lush banana trees.
- The variety remains the same as in 1721, it hasn’t suffered any graft process in almost 3 centuries.
- The bean has a significant presence of an oily substance which is appreciated as one of its main qualities.
- The beans are fermented using the wet method, where the berries that float are all discarded.
- The final bean selection is made by hand, meaning that only the best beans make it to the final product.
The incredible taste and high quality of this blend are still considered the best coffee in the world. Professional tasters report it has a very delicate aroma and very low acidity, with an endearing mouthfeel and texture.
It is available today from only a small amount of distributors, and that rarity only adds to the price and the allure of the Guadeloupe Bonifieur.