Bill and Jill Bolton are the owners of the Rosemary Gate Coffee plantation and Coffee Shop in Jamestown, St Helena. As producers of St Helena Coffee, one of the most exclusive coffees in one of the most remote places in the world, we ask them about their hard work nurturing this rare plant, from the bean to the bag. And how it came to be sold in Harrods, the most famous department store in the world.
Origins of Rosemary Gate Coffee
Bill and Jill have been supplying St Helena with coffee since 1994.
The Bourbon Arabica, the only coffee available on the island, was introduced from Yemen by the East India Company in 1732. Before the Rosemary Gate Plantation, the only source of coffee on St Helena was from Agriculture and Forestry (A&F), and all the coffee was exported. At this time, Dr Brian Robinson approached Bill and Jill and asked if they would be interested in growing coffee, and they said yes.
Bill and Jill decided their coffee plantation’s primary purpose was to supply the island with fresh St Helena Coffee.
Jill says: “you just couldn’t buy the coffee on the island. The A&F, which is now the Solomon’s Plantation, always exported and we wanted to make it available for people on island. Before we opened the Coffee Shop in November 2002 we sold it at C&M’s café, who later retired and that’s when we bought the Coffee Shop. Before then many Saints hadn’t even tasted the coffee.”
With every new venture comes the first step; for Rosemary Gate this was clearing the land for planting. Each year saw 100 new plants added. Jill says: “It was a gradual process and it grew to 500 and 600 and so on, and of course it is still growing each year.”
The coffee production process
The couple point out that, like a baby, it takes nine months to develop the coffee from the flower to the ripe cherry. Each season brings a new task.
Picking takes place at the end of September or October, and the red cherry must be pulped as soon as possible. December and January will bring the busiest time.
How many people does it take to pick coffee at Rosemary Gate?
“As many as we can get,” says Jill.
“Bill is colour-blind, which is not great when you should only pick the red cherries! So we get all the staff from the Coffee Shop and we have a list of people who we can call on. If it gets really busy we will close the Coffee Shop and just pick during the week and open on Saturday.”
St Helena Coffee in Harrods
Three years ago the couple made the decision to supply Harrods in London with St Helena Coffee.
Jill explains: “My stepmother went to a lecture on tea and coffee and she couldn’t help herself, she had to tell the lecturer about our coffee and as it turns out, he was the buyer for Harrods. He was desperate to get in touch with us.
“We have been selling to Harrods for three years now, and figure this helps to keep St Helena Coffee at the top of the tree and in the public eye.”
Why are international buyers interested in St Helena Coffee you might ask. Bill says it’s largely due to its quality and rarity, and St Helena Coffee comes with a great reputation attached. According to Bill, St Helena Coffee won a medal at the Great Exhibition in 1815.
“There is so little of the coffee, and it’s that rarity that makes it so sought after,” says Bill.
Be sure to visit the St Helena Coffee Shop at lower Jamestown for a fresh cup of St Helena Coffee!