Did you know that coffee is a fruit? Pretty crazy to think about, especially if you've never thought of coffee for what it is beyond a drink to wake you up in the morning. But it is a fruit!
And like any other fruit coffee has different species and breeds or "varietals." Coffees are grown throughout the world in hot climates with different elevations. They come in all different shapes and all different sizes, grown in mountains, volcano sides, large farms and everything in between.
Since each coffee varietal is different, the result can be different flavour profiles in the cup that we drink. This is what makes coffee so interesting! Each coffee varietal can have very different flavour profile. So let's break this down:
Coffee starts at its species. An animal is described by its species first before ever mentioning the breed. The same is with coffee. There are many different species of coffee, but the two most popular species are Arabia and Robusta.
Arabica originated in Ethiopia and is known as the most popular coffee species in the world. Arabica is known to grow in elevated areas and is the bean of choice in the world of specialty coffee.
Robusta originated in central Africa. It's the second most popular coffee in the world, making up 40% of the worlds coffee production. Most instant coffees are made from Robusta coffee.
So What is a Varietal?
Let me offer another animal analogy. When asked what pet you own, your response would be a "dog". But this question is often followed by, "what type of dog do you own?". Your response would be, "golden retriever" or "poodle" or any other dog breed to describe the nature and characteristics of your pet. The same is true with coffee! The varietal describes the nature of the coffee plant, its beans, and ultimately its flavour potential.
For the sake of this article, below are a few of the more popular Arabica varietals in specialty coffee today!
Let's start this off with a bang. Geisha is a highly sought after coffee varietal. It is often farmed and sold at a higher price than other varietals because of its demand and legendary status. Within the specialty coffee world, this varietal is crowned king.
Geisha varietals are often grown at very high altitudes as this has proven to produce the best results for the varietal. Originating from Ethiopia, this varietal no longer is known to be from its home country but is now known to grow in Panama. Although the best known Geisha's come from Panama, other countries like Honduras and Colombia have been known to grow Geisha as well.
The Geisha plant is very elegant as it grows very tall and with elongated leaves, cherries and beans. Geisha is a truly an astounding coffee! There's a reason why it's known as king.
Typica is another one of the more famous Arabica Varietals. It can be traced back to the birthplace of Arabica coffee, Ethiopia, and is integral to many of the coffee varietals we drink today.
From Blue Mountain in Jamaica to Arábigo in Central America, you’ll find Typica varieties all around the world. Though Typica is one of the more popular varietals, it is becoming less popular because of its susceptibility to pests and diseases. As farmers have done more research and coffee has expanded, new varietals have proven to produce more fruit and be less susceptible to disease.
Still, Typica is found in all coffee-producing countries, and depending on where it’s grown and how it’s developed, it has specific attributes to that location.
The coffee varietal that was planted off the coast of Africa on the Island of Bourbon is known as... Bourbon! What a surprise! Why isn’t this known as Typica as well? The plant actually ended up mutating into a different variety and significantly changed from the Typica plant.
Bourbon is known to be much more productive than the Typica plant. In fact, many farmers have proven it to be up to 30% more productive than its Typica counterpart. This lead to the spread of Bourbon by farmers.
Bourbon is known for having a bit more complexity in taste profile when compared to Typica. It is also known for its sweetness!
Cattura is a popular varietal with farmers for its compact plant with high yield potential. Caturra is a natural mutation of the Bourbon varietal that resulted in a smaller, and even more productive version of this shrub. Since it was planted just outside of the town of Caturra Brazil, the variety was given this name.
The coffee’s taste tends to have a bright acidity with potentially less clarity than Bourbon.
This popular Varietal is known for its extensive use in, you guessed it, Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is known for its extensive coffee production. It is believed that it has between six to ten thousand coffee varieties in Ethiopia alone! This is where the Ethiopian Heirloom's generic name originates. The Ethiopian Heirloom is an umbrella name for the varietals in Ethiopia.
Fun to think about! Each time you drink Ethiopian coffee, you could be drinking a different varietal even if it shares the same name.