Coffee Varietals Explained

April 4, 2019

 

If you’re reading this, I apologize in advance for further complicating coffee. You know the difference between light roasted and dark roasted coffees, you know what countries you typically like to buy coffee from (I’m a big fan of Ethiopian coffees) and you may even know if you prefer water processed or natural processed coffees. So to add one more thing to consider on your coffee buying checklist we now dive into coffee varietals. 

 

Like wine? 

 

Yes! Just like wine! You might like a pinot noir and despise a merlot, both are grapes they are just different species and they produce different tasting and looking wines. 

The same is true for coffee. There are 1000s of varietals of the arabica coffee plant. All varietals are believed to have originated in Ethiopia and most varietals still only exist in this lush African country. To simplify our conversation we will only talk about the varietals that are commercially available, that is, coffee varietals that you can actually buy.  

 

Typica

 

Coffee trees were taken from Ethiopia and brought to Yemen sometime before the 1300s. The typica is considered the oldest variety of coffee and it is the parent to many other varietals. The typica produces a strong yield and provides very traditional coffee flavours. 

 

Bourbon

 

The Dutch government wanted to give a gift to the King of France, and decided that a coffee tree would be a fantastic gift. France took this gift with open arms and a greenhouse was established where this single plant was treated like royalty and properly cared for. Thankfully for us, they did this, because this one plant is the ancestor to most of the coffee we have in the world today.

 

Its seeds were taken and planted around the world; first in Latin America & the Island of Bourbon (an island off of the Eastern coast of Africa, which is now known as Reunion Island). This very important tree was christened with the name “The Noble Tree” because of how significant it was in widening the range of coffee we have today.

 

A natural mutation of Typica that occurred between its planting on the island of Bourbon in 1708 and its export to Brazil in 1860. The Bourbon varietal is a delicious coffee that produces a consistent yield.

 

Kent

 

Named after a planter in India, this varietal was developed in India for it’s resistance to leaf rust and other disease. 

 

French Mission Bourbon

 

French missionaries brought coffee from the island of Reunion (formerly Bourbon) and planted this coffee across Africa. 

 

Maragogype

 

A mutation discovered in Brazil with much larger leaves and fruit. This varietal is praised for having such large beans. 

 

SL28

 

Developed by Scott Laboratories in Kenya, prized for its cup quality and its distinctive fruit flavours. SL28 is highly sought after.

 

SL34

 

Produced by Scott Laboratories in Kenya, this crop is heartier and more disease resistant. It does, however, have an inferior cup quality compared to the sought after SL28. 

 

Caturra

 

A natural mutation of the Bourbon, the Caturra is a dwarf variety. This makes it easier to pick and higher yielding than it’s parent (Bourbon). Caturra is considered to have a high cup quality.

 

Catuai

 

A hybrid selected by the Instituto Agronmico in Brazil. A productive dwarf variety that is known for it’s resistance to dropping its cherries in high wind or heavy rain conditions. This breed is still extremely popular in Brazil.

 

Timor Hybrid

 

A cross between the Arabica and Robusta families, this coffee was discovered on the island of Timor in the 1930s. The crop is hearty and very disease resistant but the cup quality is poor. 

 

Pacas

 

A natural mutation of the Bourbon varietal discovered by the Pacas family in the 1940s. It is known for having a healthy yield and an excellent cup quality. 

 

Geisha

 

This variety came from Ethiopia through Uganda and was originally discovered in Costa Rica in the 1950s. The breed was re-discovered in 2005 in Panama. This is the holy grail of coffee varietals. The plant yields a small but extremely floral and flavourful crop. It is normal to see bidding wars take place as coffee buyers try to acquire this special bean. 

 

Pacamara

 

A hybrid cross between the Pacas and Maragogype. It is known to produce an excellent cup and to have a very large bean size.

 

Ruiru 11

 

A dwarf variety created by the Kenyan Research Station. This breed has proved to be incredibly disease resistant but it did not become mainstream because of it’s poor cup quality.

 

These are not all of the Arabica coffee varietals that exist but this list should cover the coffees that you will see for sale. Let me know what varietals you have tried and which ones you like the best! 

 

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