Arabica: Varietals or Terroir?

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
Dogshot

#1: Post by Dogshot »

Coffee plants are often referred to as either arabica or robusta, but are the differences in arabicas due to terroir or are there many different varietals of arabicas as well?

For example, it seems that the differences between a Maragogype and a Peaberry are so great that they must be different types of bean, but are Yirgacheffe and Harrar also different types? If so, how many varietals are there, and how are they classified?

Mark

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paradiseroasters

#2: Post by paradiseroasters »

There are hundreds of documented varietals. In central and South America the most common ones you will encounter are:

Typica
Bourbon
Caturra (a spontaneous higher yielding mutation of Bourbon)
Catuai (a hybrid of Mundo Novo and Caturra)
Pacas (a hybrid of caturra and Bourbon)
Pacamara ( a hybrid of Pacas and Margogype)
Catimors (arabicas cross bred with robusta)
Mundo Novo (spontaneous hybrid of Typica and Bourbon)
Margogype ( a giant sized mutation of Typica)


there are many cross bred lab developed varietals also in use in many countries:

SL28 and Ruiru 11 in Kenya
SL795 and SL9 (SL795 I believe is a cross breed of Kent varietal, robusta and perhaps another arabica varietal, the SL9 I believe is Kent and a varietal brought from Ethiopia)

Sumatra almost undoubtedly has it own naturally mutations of classic ethiopian varietals, although i don't think there is much if any documentation on this.

Ethiopia has hundreds of documented varietals. Yirgacheffe and Sidamo i'm told mostly have 4-6 documented varietals but they all grow together and lots are not separated by varietal. harrar hosts it's own varietals. and then there are still hundreds of varietals (as well as dozens of species of coffee plant in addition to the commercially used Arabica, Robusta and Liberica) that grow in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia (where coffee is originally from) the most famous of which is the gesha varietal that was brought to Central America 50 years ago, largely forgotten, then rediscovered in Panama to produce what is now the most expensive coffee in the world (the Hacienda La Esmeralda Special, sold for $50.25/lb green at an internet auction in May.) If you want to know just how much of a difference varietals can make get a hold of this coffee and compare it to anther of the top 10 coffees from the Best of Panama competition.

Peaberry occurs in all varietals in about 5-10% of the coffee cherries. It is simply when one bean forms in the cherry instead of 2.

yes there are many varietals and yes they can have a big impact on flavor and yes terroir makes a difference a Bourbon from Brazil a Bourbon from Guatemala and a Bourbon from Rwanda will taste very, very different.
Brian Foster
Paradise Coffee Roasters

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malachi

#3: Post by malachi »

paradiseroasters wrote:Ethiopia has hundreds of documented varietals.
I believe thousands might actually be more accurate.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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paradiseroasters

#4: Post by paradiseroasters »

Thousands there are in Ethiopia for sure but I think they only have documented 8-900. Gesha does appear to be a documented one and there is a farm in Kaffa that claims to be growing it, hopefully I'll get to try some of this coffee next year. also of the 4 -5 varietals documented in Yirgacheffe recently some preliminary tests have shown that 1 isn't very good in the cup 2-3 are good, and one is noticeably better than all the rest. Maybe in 5 to 10 years we'll see some single varietal Yirgs. When I was cupping for the ECAFE comp in Addis i did come across a Sidamo washed coffee that tasted suspiciously like the Gesha Panama I had for breakfast the previous day. perhaps it's there already and we don't even know it.
Brian Foster
Paradise Coffee Roasters

Dogshot

#5: Post by Dogshot »

Wow! Thanks for the information...this really shows how specialty coffee is still in a state of infancy. Can you recommend any good books/resources that list coffee varietals by type/region?

Mark

PeterG

#6: Post by PeterG »

Miguel has written some very good information here. Just to add to what he has written-

1. Remember that coffea Arabica and coffea Canephora (commonly called Robusta) are species of coffee. There are a number of other coffee species in the genus coffea, mostly indigenous to Africa and area around the the Indian Ocean.

2. Within the Arabica species, there are a number of subgroups, usually called varieties, varitals, or types. This is what Miguel is talking about when he talks about varietals. (p.s. I met a guy in Ethiopia who had documented about 2,500 types of coffea Arabica and he was not slowing down).

3. Types are very difficult to document, especially because they frequently have local, slang, or confusing names. Also, if a farmer knows that a certain coffee type is desirable, he may claim that his coffees are of a desirable type, whether it actually is or not.

4. I personally believe that plant type is just as important as any climactic variable, however the concept of terroir includes plant type (as well as soil type, weather, and cultivation technique) as elements in its definition.

It is my belief that variety/type is one of the greatest, most interesting, and most often overlooked components of coffee flavor. I'm glad this topic came up!

Peter G
counter culture coffee

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another_jim
Team HB

#7: Post by another_jim »

PeterG wrote: It is my belief that variety/type is one of the greatest, most interesting, and most often overlooked components of coffee flavor. I'm glad this topic came up!
The difference of the Geisha from the other Panamanian coffees really underlines this. But there may be a bit of irony here; Danny O'Keefe, who works for Fair Trade organizations, turned this up (excerpted from his alt.coffee post)
The Heads of three coffee development organisations in Kaffa zone, Jimma, have announced the discovery of a high yield species of locally grown coffee plant. Studies conducted by the Jimma Agricultural Research Centre into the species named Gesha, after the woreda in which it was discovered, found that it yields 18 to 20 quintals of coffee per hectare, three times the yield of other species.

From the Ethiopian Newsletter July, 2004
It would be a very telling interaction between place and variety if a bean used for high yield commodity coffee in Ethiopia was identical to a low yield super quality varietal in Central America.
Jim Schulman

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malachi

#8: Post by malachi »

Geisha is a coffee growing region in ethiopia. I'm sure there are a ton of types grown there.

There is a great illustration of the impact of terroir in the description of the history of the Esmerelda.
http://www.haciendaesmeralda.com/Thegeisha.htm
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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paradiseroasters

#9: Post by paradiseroasters »

Gesha is a region in ethiopia where the coffee was first discovered. Only problem is there are 2-3 regions/towns called gesha. 1 or 2 in the western portion of Kaffa and 1 in the Mocha district of Illubabor. All these areas are places where coffee still grows wild and no doubt each location has dozens of varietals that could be the 'Geisha' coffee of Panama. You can thank Willem Boot's excellent article on coffee varietals in Roast Magazine for much of the info I posted on Latin American varietals. I heard that geisha was also planted Tanzania around the same time as Panama. anyone know if it still exists there? It's interesting that the farm in Kaffa that says they have geisha considers it varietal that works well at lower elevation where as in Panama they say it only does well at high elevations. Of course the discrepancy could be based on relative elevations in each region. Coffee doesn't start growing until abut 5000ft in Ethiopia (which would be relatively high for Central America) and continues until at least 7500ft (i've heard as high as 8000).
Brian Foster
Paradise Coffee Roasters

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another_jim
Team HB

#10: Post by another_jim »

In the search for Geisha, the 1920s date is significant. Washed Central coffees, pre-war the domain of German importers, were steamrolling the specialty coffee world, replacing DP Ethiopian and Yemens as the highest regarded coffees in the world.

So why would any Central American grower be hunting for varietals in Ethiopia? Neither yield or quality make much sense as a reason. Disease resistance does; it is in the 20s that the SL28 was developed for disease resistance, as well as a number of American hybrids of lesser quality. It would make a lot of sense to look for a very tough heirloom Arabica for cross fertilization and try to get a better tasting tough tree than the Robusta/Arabica hybrids developed in the Americas.

Look for a varietal with a reputation for disease resistance; that's probably what they were asking for in 1920.
Jim Schulman