I’ve written before about how my personal rediscovery of the Maui Moka bean at the 2006 WRBC was, at least for me, something akin to finding a live dodo…or at least a ceolecanth. But a coffee that was presumed extinct for four years is one thing. One that has been presumed extinct for over 50 years is quite another: asahi.com : Weekend Beat/ Java quest: ‘Lost’ coffee found on island – ENGLISH.

In the 18th century, the French harvested the Bourbon Pointu bean variety — a mutant of the Bourbon variety, coffea laurina — on Réunion island (then called Bourbon island), some 500 miles off the eastern coast of Madagascar. Its sweet taste, delicate aroma, low bitterness, and low caffeine (half of a typical arabica bean) were supposedly enjoyed by the likes of Louis XV and novelist Honore de Balzac. However, after a series of devastating cyclones that hit the island, the last recorded shipment of the bean arrived in France in 1942.

It hadn’t been seen since. Then in 1999, Yoshiaki Kawashima — an employee of Japanese coffee company UCC — came to Réunion island in search of the varietal. (Last month we wrote about UCC’s Japanese anime canned coffee marketing campaign.) Working with the locals, Mr. Kawashima rediscovered the varietal in 2001. UCC has since partnered with Réunion island workers to redevelop the crop.

A couple months ago, UCC made their first release of Bourbon Pointu: some 2,000 packages, each weighing 100 grams, available for purchase in Japan. Costing as much as $270-a-pound (no civet poop required), the lot sold out instantly in a country known for consuming rare novelties.

UPDATE: June 6, 2008
In today’s news, apparently the Japanese aren’t jumping for $50 a cup coffee of the stuff: $50 combo leaves Tokyo coffee fans cold | Lifestyle | Reuters. However, they still seem to be interested in the beans.

UPDATE: June 8, 2008
Here’s a perspective of the story from English-language Japanese media: UCC introduces famous coffee fit for royalty – Mainichi Daily News.