French Mission Coffee: An Ancient Variety
Most people think of Brazil or Colombia when they think of coffee. With their compelling flavours, these single-origin coffees consistently rank highly in cupping competitions. But French Mission coffee also holds a rightful place in the specialty coffee world.
From the 1840s onward, French Mission coffee has undergone decades of genetic mutation to achieve the excellent cup profile we know and love today. Keep reading to learn more about its history, flavours, and how to brew it.
What Is French Mission Coffee?
French Mission coffee is a coffee bean variety whose roots can be traced back to French missionaries settling on La Réunion Island, known at the time as Bourbon Island. It is an Arabica sub-variety from the Bourbon group.
A Brief Timeline of French Mission Coffee
French colonists began growing coffee plants on present-day La Réunion as early as 1708. While the first crops failed, the second and third attempts were successful.
Over the next century and a half, these Bourbon coffee varieties remained exclusive to La Réunion until the French Spiritan missionaries established their first mission on the island in 1841.
French Mission Coffee in Africa and Beyond
The Spiritans set up successive missions in Zanzibar and Kenya between 1859 and 1893, bringing coffee plants with them (1).
These first seedlings then spread to the Kenyan highlands, to Kilimanjaro, and to another French mission near Nairobi in 1899. Colonists who lived in the area were given the opportunity to plant these Bourbon varieties, and Kenya is still the primary growing region for French Mission coffee.
All successive coffee crops originating from the first French mission progenitors on La Réunion in 1841 are considered French Mission coffees.
French Mission coffees were introduced to the Americas in the 1860s. From Brazil, they spread northward. And because of their higher yield, tolerance to various coffee diseases and pests, and excellent cup quality, they gradually superseded Typica varietals in Central and South America after the 1940s.
French Mission Coffee Cup Profile and Brewing Methods
Since all French Mission coffees are Bourbon varieties, they share the same cupping profiles as modern-day Bourbon mutations and cultivars.
Many Bourbon varieties have a low resistance to heat, so they are shade-grown and planted beneath taller trees. As a result, these French Mission coffees develop complex, sweet flavours with slight acidity.
“Bourbon reminds me why I love Colombian coffee … It’s strong, yet delicate apple acidity, which complements its chocolaty notes.”
Check out this video from The Colombian Coffee Company for more about the cup profile and growing conditions of these French Mission coffees.
Home Grounds recommends brewing these coffees with either a coffee siphon or an Aeropress to preserve the delicate sweetness of this cup. We’d suggest sticking to a light to medium roast and, if you can find them, honey or naturally-processed coffee beans.
French Mission coffees are for you if you’re looking for a delicate, well-balanced coffee with mild acidity. Light to medium roasts will give you the most nuanced cup, and they benefit from coffee siphon or Aeropress brewing methods.
Have you tried French Mission coffee? Drop us a comment below. And if you liked what you read here, be sure to share.
No, SL34 is not a French Mission coffee. While this famous Kenyan varietal was long considered to have been bred from the original French Mission plants, recent genetic testing shows that it is more closely related to Typica than Bourbon.
French roast coffee is a very dark roast. It is achieved by roasting the beans longer than average to achieve a higher internal temperature. A French roast is darker than an Italian roast but lighter than a Spanish roast.
You’ll find French Mission coffee at reputable, local coffee roasters or at coffee roasters that specialize in Bourbon coffee. While you can buy these beans from Amazon, we’d suggest sticking to specialty or local coffee roasters for the best flavour.
- Arabica Coffee Varieties | SL34. (2022). Worldcoffeeresearch.org. https://varieties.worldcoffeeresearch.org/varieties/sl34