So when you see a ‘100% Arabica’ label, have you ever thought about what that actually means? As we already know from our previous blog post (see here), the genus ‘Coffea’ includes 124 species (discovered and classified by the Key scientist of the Royal Botanical Gardens). Yet most of the speciality coffee industry is dominated by arabica beans. As a result, there has been much more research invested into that species.
Coffea Arabica can be divided into thousands of different varieties. Some of them occurred due to a natural mutation or cross-breeding of plants like the ones in the wild forest of Ethiopia.Others have been designed by scientists in the lab to help farms survive diseases (like Coffee Leaf Rust) or to increase crop yields - these varieties are also called ‘cultivars’. A botanical variety will have specific farming requirements as well as original flavour characteristics, which of course will also vary in different parts of the world as a result of climate and terroir, for instance. The variety may have a distinct appearance but it will also naturally cross-breed freely with other varieties in all but the most carefully controlled settings.
The specialty coffee industry is generally interested in varietals which show the highest quality cup profile as well as resistance to the diseases and pests.Today we will take a closer look at Typica, Bourbon and the famous Geisha/Gesha variety, there will also be a little bit about unusual cross-breeding between Arabica & Robusta. Typica and Bourbon are the most culturally and genetically important varietals of Coffea Arabica coffees in the world. History tells us that around 15th and 16th century coffee seeds were taken from the wild forests of Southwestern Ethiopia to Yemen. From Yemen, the seeds of Typica traveled to India and then into Java in Indonesia.Typica is one of the most important varieties of Arabica. Spread throughout the globe, Typica is known by many names, including Jamaica Blue Mountain, Indio, Arábigo and Sumatra. First, it’s a variety in itself. Second, it’s a parent to some of today’s popular varieties such as Mundo Novo, Margogoype and Java.
The trees of Typica grow up to 5 metres tall and have long branches with elongated cherries which ripen in red. Typica is known for its high quality cup profile, which often contains sweet floral notes. Due to the susceptibility to pests and diseases and low yields, it is not the most popular variety grown nowadays. When farmed correctly Typica coffee can have distinctive flavour notes and these high scoring coffees can result in premium prices for those producers willing and able to take the risk associated with growing them.
Bourbon is a natural mutation of Typica. After it was taken to Yemen the seeds were introduced to Bourbon Island (now La Réunion) off the east coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Grown worldwide, Bourbon is recognised by farmers and consumers for its sweet and clean cup profile. The trees are slightly smaller than the Typica ones, and due to more branches on the trunk it looks more like a bush than a tree. Bourbon wins over Typica with the crop yields, producing around 30% more cherries.
Bourbon plants are susceptible to all major diseases and pests. Bourbon is a parent to popular coffee varieties such as Mundo Novo (natural breeding of Typica and Bourbon) and Caturra. Other varietals have been developed quite deliberately from Bourbon, including the famous SL28 & SL34 - cultivars selected and bred by Scott Labs in Kenya.
One of the most famous varieties in the past years in the speciality industry is Geisha/Gesha.
It originated in an Ethiopian village and was brought to Central America, where the Panamanian farmers shone the light on it. Geisha is known for its tea-like, jasmine and floral notes cup profile. Used regularly during coffee competitions, it is one of the most expensive and highest quality varieties of Arabica. The tree physically looks quite similar to the Typica one with elongated leaves and fruits. The yield is pretty small, which along with the cup quality contributes to the high price that this coffee can often command.
Like I mentioned at the beginning there is an interesting cross between Arabica & Robusta, which occurred naturally on the island of Timor in Southeast Asia - Timor Hybrid. This type of hybrid is often referred as ‘Arabusta’. It became popular due to its natural resistance to the leaf rust. Timor hybrid is used in creating more recent cultivars, like Catimor - a cross between Timor Hybrid and Caturra (natural mutation of Bourbon). Caturra shares its sweetness and Timor Hybrid gives it’s resistance to diseases and pests. There are more examples of such a cultivars, like : Srachimors, Colombia and Castillo which have an important role to play in helping farmers to mitigate the risks of disease - which can be devastating to growing communities. Counter Culture Coffee has created this amazing Coffee Variety Map, if you are interested and would like to know more, click here.I hope you found this interesting. Until next time!Magdalena.