Oct 20, 2016
The coffee family is split into two main branches – Robusta and Arabica. As its name implies, Robusta is far hardier, producing massive yields of insect and disease resistant cherries, but it’s aggressively bitter with a flat, woody character. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on the branch that carries specialty coffee – Arabica.
For centuries, Arabica trees have developed into several distinct varieties, either by natural processes or specific cultivation. Each variety has its own characteristics – showcasing particular flavor profiles, yields, and resistance to pests and disease. Some thrive everywhere from the South Americas to India, others are picky, only reaching their full potential in particular microclimates.
Typica – The grandfather strain, Typica does not give a high yield, but the quality of the cherries it produces is worth it: complex, floral, and delicate.
Villalobos – A strain of Typica cultivated in Indonesia. Villalobos carries the floral nuance of its family, but particularly highlights sweet “stone fruit” flavors – think apricot, cherry, and plum.
Jember – A child of Southeast Asia, Jember is the sweet, caramel-spice sister to Villalobos.
Bourbon – The eldest child of Typica, Bourbon’s versatility, complexity and sweetness has made it the industry standard for the perfect balance between yield and quality, and it can be found flourishing anywhere from the Americas to Southeast Asia. Our own Rwandan single-origin beans are Bourbon.
Caturra – Found in South America, Caturra is a less-flavorful mutation of Bourbon, but still has the characteristic brightness and clarity.
Colombia – a Brazilian variation of Caturra, Colombia is popular for its high yield and caramel sweetness.
Blue Mountain – a complex, bold, and sweet variety, Blue Mountain was first cultivated in Jamaica before migrating to Hawaii. Although famous for being top-quality, Blue Mountain can deteriorate quickly from small changes in its environment or care, so the name isn’t a guarantee of quality.
Ethiopian Heirloom – Ethiopia was the first country to begin exporting coffee, and was once the heart of a global industry. It’s easy to see why – coffee has flourished here for thousands of years, and now exists in a myriad of variations, hand-cultivated for generations. Ethiopian cherries can have a range of flavors but typically sit at the more savory, citric end of the spectrum. Think barbeque sauce or tomato soup.
Gesha – subtle and elusive, Gesha is utterly distinct among coffees. Almost tea-like in body and flavor characteristics, Gesha is difficult to cultivate and highly prized.
SL28 – Cultivated by Scott Laboratories at the request of the Kenyan government, SL28 was originally a Tanzanian variety known for drought-resistance. Although its resistance didn’t significantly improve, the quality did – turning fruity, sweet, and acidic.