You will notice that on the labels on each bag of coffee from Roastworks, we detail the varietal of the beans in the blend or single origin.
Coffee or Coffea is a shrub that produces berries from which coffee beans are extracted. The two main commercial species are C. Arabica and C. Canephora (commonly known as Robusta). There are other less popular species like: C. Liberica, Excelsa, Stenophylla, Mauritiana and Racemosa although these are not considered commercially viable, because of their lack of self pollination, complexity or lack of yield.
C. Arabica is the most highly recognised species because of its higher quality traits. Arabica is native to the Southwestern Highlands of Ethiopia, South Eastern Sudan and Northern Kenya. The lower quality C. Canephora grows more easily in adverse conditions and altitude, and is presumed to be native to Sub Saharan Africa, from Guinea to Uganda and the Sudan.
Coffea plants are small trees that grow to five metres when unpruned. The bloom is a white fragrant flower followed by oval berries that are green when immature, then ripening through yellow, then red (best time to pick), then black.
Historically, farmers choose the varietals they want to grow based on production and resistance, rather than cup quality.
That’s why in most single origin coffees have a blend of different varietals, instead of just a 100% single varietal. There is however a new generation of farmers who are leading the single varietal revolution with a focus on quality rather than yields, so we are starting to see microlots that have 100% single varietals like Gesha, Typica, Yellow, Red or Orange Bourbon. These are exceptional coffees and are raising the bar to even higher specialty coffee standards.
There are many varietals, hybrids and mutations, so let us explore a few of the more common ones found in specialty coffee.
TYPICA is the start from which most of the coffee varietals have been developed. It has longer seeds than its brother cultivar, Bourbon, and it was the first coffee in the new world. This varietal is known for its low production but excellent cup quality. It’s mainly used in Central America, Jamaica and Indonesia. It delivers a cup that generally has a sweet acidity or maleic acid (think of apples and pears).
BOURBON coffee plants produce 20% to 30% more yield than the Typica varietal. Its berries have a less conical shape and mature more quickly. The name comes from the French Island of Bourbon, now called Reunion, in the Indian Ocean. It’s planted and used widely in Brazil, but currently is also being used actively in Central America. Bourbons are known for their fruity characteristics and bright acidity similar to wine.
CATURRA is a natural mutation of the Bourbon varietal; it was first found in the town of Caturra in Brazil. This varietal produces a higher yield than its father; this is mainly due to the fact the plant is shorter. It’s also more disease resistant than older traditional varietals. Caturra is more commonly found in Colombia and generally shows a more citric acidity like lemon and lime notes.
MARAGOGYPE is a natural mutation of the Typica discovered in Brazil. Known for its very large bean size and lower yield than the Typica and Bourbon varietals.
GESHA is often misspelled as Geisha. Its name and origin comes from a town called Gesha, located in the south of Ethiopia. Believed to be a wild mutation of the Typica, it is known for its elongated seeds and low yield, the unique cup profile makes it highly regarded, showing high traits of jasmine and vanilla.
CATUAI is high yielding varietal that resulted in a cross between Mundo Novo and Caturra. The fruit does not fall from the plant easily, making it favourable for areas where you can experience high winds or rain. Catuai delivers a high sweet cup, but this varietal is more renowned for its resistance, than its quality.
CATIMOR is a cross between Timor coffee (resistant to rust) and Caturra. Created in Portugal; its maturation is early and delivers high yields, but needs strict methods of fertilisation and shade. It can have problems at higher altitudes, resulting in negative differences in cup profile between it and the other commercial varietals. This varietal has a high sour acidity, making it taste a little salty or stringent, and is known more for its resistance and production yield than its quality.