Exploring the World of Coffee Varieties

Exploring the World of Coffee Varieties
If you’re a coffee hunter, you know that varieties matter a LOT. But, if you’re just a coffee enthusiast and simply love coffee, well you might not know all there is to know about varieties and why they matter as much as they do. 

To begin with, a variety of coffee is not the genus or the species of coffee. Coffee belongs to the family Rubiaceae and the genus which is called Coffea. Now within the genus, there are two different species, Arabica and Canephora. Both are consumable species of coffee. Within the Canephora species, the most common variety is Robusta. Robusta coffee is usually used in commercial blends (as fillers) and in instant coffee. This species sells cheaper as a commodity, for its higher caffeine content makes it bitter. Yet Robusta is better on the production side, having higher yields than an Arabica coffee.

On the contrary, Arabica coffee grows in higher altitudes and is considered for Gourmet and Premium coffees because of its rich taste and aroma, and its natural sweetness and unique quality notes. You will always get the sweet taste you love from Arabica coffees.

There are numerous varieties within the Arabica species. In Guatemala, we typically divide varieties into two main groups: traditional varieties and exotic varieties. Traditional varieties are varieties that have positioned Guatemala as a high-quality coffee producer worldwide. These varieties include Bourbon, Typica, Pache, Catuai, and Caturra. Exotic varieties are those that have been recently introduced in Guatemala, but that provide a more exotic flavor (hence the name). These varieties include Geisha, Pacamara, Maracaturra, and Maragogype. And finally, there are new hybrid varieties that have been scientifically created by combining strains of Robusta and Arabica to create more productive and resistant varieties (such as Sarchimor, Catimor, H1, etc.), but quality has many times not measured up to the traditional varieties.

Still don’t get why varieties matter? Think of grapes used for wine. A Chardonnay is not the same as a Sauvignon Blanc. These are different types of grapes that produce completely different wines; some prefer one to the other, it all depends on your palate.

Comparably, coffee varieties will completely change the taste of coffee. If you grow two coffee plants, different varieties, in the same place, under the same conditions including climate, and post-harvest process, they will taste significantly different. For example, A Bourbon variety may have a traditional, round, chocolatey taste; a Geisha will be sparkly, sharp, and brighter. This happens as well with different color varieties such as a Red Bourbon compared to a Yellow Bourbon, both will have different sugar content and present different attributes in the cup, yellow varieties tend to be sweeter.

Single-origin coffees will come in single varieties as well. This is because producers separate their lots based on varieties; this allows them to have a meticulous quality control process. Some varieties are completely different than others, thus having different requirements in terms of processing. Blends, in turn, will usually contain several varieties and in many cases, more than one farm or combine different origins.

While some varieties are easier to produce than others, there are some varieties that have better cup qualities than others. For instance, rust-resistant varieties (Sarchimores for example) tend to have weaker cup qualities than non-resistant varieties like Catuai. However, as with all other things, “de gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum” - tastes and colors there is nothing to be disputed. So you are ultimately the best judge for your favorite coffee variety.

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