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Dig Into the Roots of Coffee Bean Varietals

Where do coffee beans come from? Did you know that they actually start out as cherry seeds? These coffee cherries grow on trees across the globe. In fact, there are over a hundred different species of coffee plants. But only two, Arabica and Robusta, rule the coffee market today. That doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of bean options out there though. These two prominent species have resulted in many of the varieties, cultivars, and hybrids being sold on the coffee market today.

If you didn’t know, varieties are naturally occurring subspecies derived from Arabica and Robusta plants, while cultivated subspecies and hybrids are also produced to create varieties that are more conducive to today’s coffee-growing environments. This happens both naturally as well as in labs where the plants are bred together or modified to create a desired subspecies.

As a specialty coffee roaster, Nomi Brew has a deep respect for the arabica variety. Let’s take a look at some of the most well-known arabica coffee tree varieties and cultivars, where they come from, and the unique flavors and characteristics of their beans.

Bourbon

Bourbon coffee plants are one of the two most common naturally occurring varieties of the Arabica coffee plant. Given its name for the island in the Indian Ocean where it was first developed, now known as Réunion, the Bourbon plant was originally brought to the island from Yemen. It was then transplanted throughout Brazil and has spread across Latin America since the 1800s. The plant is distinguishable by its strong, broad leaves and round fruit. Due to its distinctive sweet flavor and susceptibility to diseases and pests, Bourbon is a highly desired variety in the specialty coffee market today.

Catuai

Created at the Agronomic Institute of Campinas in Brazil, Catuai is an example of a hybrid variety and is derived from the Caturra and Mundo Nova species. As a result, the Catuai shares a combination of dwarf characteristics from the Caturra and the higher production rate and disease-resistant qualities of the Mundo Novo. It also produces larger beans than those found on the small Caturra plants.

Caturra

The Caturra is a cousin of the Bourbon variety. It’s easy to spot a Caturra by its small leaves, shorter distances between nodes, and the overall compact, high-density shape of the plant. The cherries and their subsequent beans are also smaller and tend to be denser than other varieties,  bringing a sparkling acidity unique to this variety. Due to its short stature and the fact that there is less distance to travel between branches, the Caturra is known for maturing quickly compared to other arabica varieties.

Geisha

Sometimes referred to as the queen of coffee, the Geisha variety began as a wild plant named after the town in Western Ethiopia where it originated from. Its unique taste and the fact that it is more resistant to rust than many other varieties have made the Geisha coffee plant a highly desirable variety, and it is popular among growers in both Central and South America today. You can spot a Geisha tree by its leaves, whose wavy, downward shape closely resembles those of a Christmas Tree. Large clusters of cherries are also typical of a Geisha plant. Producing a range of flavors from sweet papaya and blueberry to floral jasmine and rose, the Geisha offers a truly unique and flavorful coffee bean.

Maragogipe

The Maragogipe is a very specific arabica variety that was first discovered in Brazil. Originally mutating from the Typical variety, the Maragogipe produces large leaves and big, juicy cherries with a lot of sweetness from the mucilage. If you haven’t read our blog post on the coffee process, mucilage is that sticky, honey-like substance between the cherry skin and seed that gives some coffee beans their bright, sugary taste. The beans produced from the Maragopgipe tree are so large that they’re often referred to as elephant coffee beans. When roasted, these beans offer a unique flavor profile with subtle acidity and citrus tones of tangerine, mandarin, or orange.

Mundo Novo

The Mundo Novo is the result of breeding the two most popular arabica varieties together, Bourbon and Typica. First discovered in Brazil in the 1940s, the Mundo Nova became a popular hybrid due to its ability to grow at higher altitudes than other varieties. It’s also more disease resistant. Both of these factors contribute to Mundo Nova’s high yield. However, it tends to grow quite tall, making it more difficult to grow in certain regions, including Central America.

Pacamara

Visually, the Pacamara shares many characteristics with the Typica plant. It is distinguished by its branches, which grow closer together and are more robust than the Typica. This gives the Pacamara a fuller shape. The Pacamara was created in El Salvador in 1958 and is a mix between two Bourbon mutation varieties: Pacas and Maragogype. The rare nature and high quality of the Pacamara beans make them desirable in the coffee market.

Pache

The Pache variety is known for producing big, beautiful coffee beans. These plants are easy to spot by their large, elongated leaves, which grow strong and thick compared to other varieties. The Pache is considered an exotic variety that works well with honey processing. Check out our blog post on the subject to learn more about this and other coffee processing methods.

Typica

The Typica variety is special as it is thought to be the original variety from which all other coffee varieties were born. Found all around the world, Typica plants are identifiable by their bronze-tipped leaves and upright branches, which will grow extremely tall if they go unpruned. The distance between nodes is also a bit longer than other varieties. Typica plants tend to be rarer than the Bourbon variety due to their relatively low yield and higher susceptibility to disease and pests. But with a flavor profile that creates a sweet and pointed acidity, it remains a sought-after variety for those in the specialty coffee market.

From Ethiopia to Brazil and back again, there’s never a dull moment when exploring the roots of the coffee industry. Thanks for taking the journey with us! If you’re curious to taste some of the delicious brews created from these arabica varieties, check out our latest menu of specialty grade coffees on the Nomi Brew website.

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