VARIETAL 1: RED CATURRA
The known history of both our varietals goes back to King Louis XIV who received 26 coffee plants as a gift from the Sultan of Yemen in 1714. They were planted on a small island; the Reunion Island which was then called Ile Bourbon, named for forefathers of the House of Bourbon. The plants thrived, developing the smooth sweetness and gentle brightness which would make the coffee popular and benefit economic development on the Reunion. It was called Red Bourbon, and based on its success the French took it to mainlandAfrica and Latin America.
In 1930 a natural mutation of Bourbon Red was found in Brazil, a much shorter plant with less distance between the branches, producing higher yield. It was called Red Caturra; and was one of many varietals which arrived in New Zealand in the early 70ies when the former Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was trialling coffee in the Far North. The trial was conducted at Pukepoto, about 5km west of Kaitaia, but was abandoned due to failure of some of the varietals. Seedlings were propagated by several nurseries and plants sold as ornamentals to this day.
The Red Caturra is doing well on our property and has fruited for the first time in 2017; producing a sweet cup with mild acidity and some notes of chocolate.
VARIETAL 2: LEROY OR BOURBON POINTU (Arabica var. Laurina)
Back to King Louis XIV and Ile Bourbon (today Reunion Island). In 1771 a dwarf mutant of Red Bourbon was discovered on the island by a local coffee estate owner named Leroy. It had a characteristic Christmas tree shape, and the bushes were drought resistant. Initially called Coffee Leroy, the name Bourbon Pointu was given to it from 1920 onwards for the shape of its beans which are sharply pointed on one end. Appreciated for its low caffeine content (0.6 % versus 1.5% in most other Arabica coffees) and its sweet, fruity character it soon became popular across Europe.
Replacement of coffee by sugar cane together with climatic disasters and pests led to a major decline in the coffee crop on the Reunion Island, prompting the Japanese Director of the Ueshima CoffeeCompany to visit and seek out remaining Bourbon Pointu cultivars. By then this coffee had become a connoisseurs’ coffee, so production was re-launched in 2002.
We came across Coffee Leroy in New Caledonia, where it was first introduced by the monks of the Marist Brothers order in 1860. As one of the most southernmost grown coffees it is cultivated near the Tropic of Capricorn at an elevation of about 25 m above sea level which is said to be the equivalent to an elevation of about 950 m above sea level in the Equator region. It was the preferred coffee of France’s former president, Jacques Chirac and was also consumed by renowned people such as Sir Winston Churchill and Honore de Balzac.
At the annual coffee festival, which is held in Sarramea, New Caledonia, every August, we were able to sample this coffee and view its very bushy, small-growing habit. We were also told about its drought resistance and deep rooting habit and concluded that it could possibly do well in New Zealand. We decided to purchase beans which we then germinated and planted out. Our 350 bushes are expected to fruit for the first time in 2018.
Our property is about 200 metres above sea level, and the soil is Taumata clay. With the high intensity of UV light in the Far North and a distance of 1100 km from the Tropic of Capricorn coffee growing here is on the extreme fringe.