Typica was the first coffee varietal brought outside of eastern Africa/Arabia and introduced to the western world. It’s the heirloom varietal from which many common hybrids and mutations have stemmed. In the 1700’s a French naval officer brought this cultivar to the Americas where it flourished in its new territory. A tall, conical shaped tree with its secondary branches growing at a sharp angles from its elongated stem, the Typica varietal is the essential example of a low yielding, high quality coffee. It grows naturally in shaded canopies where it has a lower nutrient draw from the soil than when it’s planted in full sunlight. It has thin copper colored leaves with bold, long fruit and its beans themselves can be identified by their extended oval shape. In the cup, Typica exhibits excellent sweetness cleanliness and body. It’s more pronounced flavors can range from a winey chocolate to spicy floral notes depending where it’s grown and how it’s processed. Its low yield had caused its replacement by more productive cultivars in some parts of the world but in most cases, such as Jamaican Blue Mountain, it can be one of the most sought after coffees in the world.
Maragogype is a natural mutation of Typica found in Bahia Brazil in the 1870’s. It’s a rarely grown varietal because of its low yield and delicate flavor. It must be roasted lightly to preserve its fragile flavors. The plant itself is very tall with large leaves and large fruit. The bean is very porous. Maragogype is known for its quality which is defined by its bright citric acidity, floral noted on the nose, and its thin body. Many farmers are reluctant to replant this varietal as it’s economically inferior to many other varietals.
Bourbon is an heirloom varietal that is prized for its outstanding cup quality. Though its production is lower than most, it out produces Typica by 20-30%. This varietal has a cylindrical shape with many branches growing off the main stem at a low angle. Its fruit is small and dense and comes in an array of colors, including red, yellow, orange and pink. Bourbon has not been bred to resist pests or stand up to inclement weather conditions, so its production requires extra effort by the grower. This effort pays off, however, in a varietal that does exceptionally well in competitions because of its balance, richness and strength of flavor. Its flavors vary by region but consistently display nutty chocolate, with a full creamy body, complex acidity, and exquisite balance.
Caturra is a natural mutation of Bourbon found in Brazil in 1935. It is most commonly seen in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Colombia. In comparison to its parent plant, Bourbon, Caturra produces a product of slightly inferior quality but with greater productivity and a greater resistance to pests and disease. It’s a short plant with a thick core and many secondary branches. It has large leaves with wavy edges and its small dense fruit grows in tight clusters. It grows well in different environments. Higher elevations produce a better coffee but production decreases with elevation. Caturra matures quickly and due to this it needs extensive fertilization and pruning. Caturra in the cup exhibits fruity qualities with a crisp acidity, tannin and a light body.
Catuai is an artificial hybrid of Mundo Novo and Caturra created in Brazil in the late 1940’s. Currently over 40% of Brazils annual crop is of the Catuai varietal. The tree itself is short with many secondary branches tightly cropped together. It has standard leaves with a normal sized fruit. It is a high yielding varietal and the fruit holds tight to the tree even in inclement weather. Its downside is that it’s very susceptible to both pest and disease and requires more fertilization and care than other varietals. Though it is generally high in acid, Catuai doesn’t have a standard flavor profile; rather, it varies with the conditions in which it is grown. Catuai does respond well to natural fertilization which leads to a sweeter final product. Red fruit tends to have a cleaner mouthfeel than its yellow counterpart, which can develop an industrial, oily mouthfeel as the coffee cools.
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and many heirloom varietals have evolved here naturally. Recent research continues to add to the hundreds of varietals already discovered here. Ethiopia, therefore, categorizes its coffee by region, of which, Sidamo, Harrar, and Yirgacheffe are the most famous. Coffees from Harrar are dry processed and produce and medium bodied, fruity brew with a nice balanced acidity. Sidamo and Yirgacheffe, on the other hand, employ the wet-process technique which leads to a lighter bodied cup of coffee latent with floral and citrus notes and a bright crisp acidity.
Gesha is an extremely rare coffee that originated in Ethiopia. The trees grow in a very high elevation, tend to be very tall (up to 15 ft) and have beautiful, elongated seeds and leaves. In 1998, there were extreme rains that brought a plague of fungus across the coffee farms in Panama. One of the coffee farmers in the region, named Peterson was able to salvage a few varietals, one of which being the Gesha tree. The reason that the coffee is so rare is because the character of the flavor changes drastically when planted in a different area, therefore to maintain its original brilliance it is grown on the original hillside. Gesha is a buoyant coffee and has a clean sweet, fruity flavor. A very distinct bergamot-like finish is also typical in the cup profile.
Pacamara is the artificial hybrid of Pacas and Maragogype and was created by the El Salvador Institute for Coffee Research in 1958. It is a medium sized tree with a wide rigid stem, large leaves and thick foliage. Its most notable feature is its large, oval shaped bean. The bean is so large, most processing equipment is not suitable to handle Pacamara beans without damaging them. For this reason Pacamara is predominantly processed naturally and sundried on patios. It’s a high yielding varietal but is susceptible to rust and requires much attention. In the cup Pacamara is known for its phenomenal balance. It exhibits sweet citric notes with berries and vanilla on the finish.
SL28 and SL34
SL28 is an artificially bred varietal developed by Scott Labs in Kenya in 1931. It was bred from mutations of Bourbon and Typica and has many similar attributes to Ethiopian and Sudanese varietals. It’s a plant with relatively low productivity and is susceptible to both rust and pests. It produces large leaves and beans and grows best at medium to high altitudes. Its cup quality is exceptional with multi-layered aromas, great balance, and a distinctively sweet acidity.
SL34 is a close cousin to SL28 with a few key differences. SL34 has a higher yield and is resistant to rainfall. It also grows better at lower altitudes. What it gains in productive value it loses in quality, which is why it’s not the equal to SL28.
Pacas is a natural mutation of Bourbon discovered in El Salvador in 1949. It grows well at medium to high elevation and is somewhat less sweet than Bourbon.
Mundo Novo is a natural hybrid of Bourbon and Typica. It was first discovered in the 1950’s in Brazil. It’s approximately 30% more productive than Bourbon but does lack the exceptional cup quality found in both its parents. Mundo Novo is a naturally disease resistant plant that is able to be planted very densely. It has large leaves and fruit. Mundo Novo is distinguished by its thick, silky mouthfeel and low acidity. In the cup it lacks sweetness but maintains flavors of dark chocolate and spice with occasional citrus.