Do you know what you drink? Coffee, of course, but which variety? When we choose a wine, we often do so for the grape variety, in other words, the variety or varieties of grapes that make up the wine. We like one grape variety or another for its taste, for its personality, and the same goes for coffee. There are dozens and dozens of Arabica coffee varieties, some naturally occurring, others man-made. Here's a little information and history on a few varieties.

OG'S (original beans)

Moka: Certainly the first, this is the source of modern Arabica. Also known as Ethiopian, this variety has undergone no transformation and remains unchanged since its discovery in the forests of Ethiopia. Legend has it that the discovery of coffee took place somewhere between the 10th and 12th centuries, but the exact date remains mysterious and virtually unknown. However, one proven fact is the monopoly imposed by the Yemenis on the export of this coffee around the 12th-13th centuries. At that time, after replanting Ethiopian coffee trees in Yemen, they exported only roasted coffee, so that it could not be replanted. The variety thus takes its name from Moka, the oldest coffee export port in Yemen.
Typica: To counter the Yemeni monopoly on coffee beans, Dutch merchants are said to have stolen green beans and planted them in the Dutch East Indies (now an independent state, Indonesia). Still grown today, this variety has given rise to Kona (Hawaii) and Blue Mountain (Jamaica), among others. This type of plant offers low yields, but very high grain quality. Typica means "first variety", the first mutation of the original plant.

Bourbon: Along with Typica, Bourbon is one of the first coffee varieties still grown today. The mayor of Amsterdam is said to have presented King Louis XIV of France with a few Typica seedlings, which were planted in French territory on the Indian Ocean island of Bourbon (now Réunion). It was with Bourbon that coffee was introduced to South America (Brazil), giving rise to a number of bean types that still exist today. Bourbon comes in several varieties: red Bourbon, yellow Bourbon, pink Bourbon and French Mission. The "indigenous" version from Réunion Island is called Bourbon pointu (or Laurina) and is one of the most expensive coffees in the world, along with Jamaica's Blue Mountain.

Java: Descended from Typica on the island of Java in Indonesia, and still produced today, Java is widespread and an integral part of coffee "mythology", being one of the first variants, introduced by the Dutch.

Caturra: A natural mutation of Bourbon discovered in Brazil in the first half of the 19th century. Smaller than the original Bourbon plants, Caturra plants produce more branches, making them more productive and easier to work with. Although they require a great deal of care, this variety is highly prized for the aromatic palette it develops.
Mundo Novo: As its name suggests, Mundo Novo originated in the New World (South America) and is still one of the most widely grown varieties in Brazil. It is a cross between Typica and Bourbon, which first appeared in the 1940s. Mundo Novo yields well and is highly resistant to disease, making it an attractive variety for many growers.

Catuai: A cross between Caturra and Mundo Novo that appeared in Brazil in the 40s. More productive than the original Caturra, it produces high-quality beans. Catuai was created to better survive the Brazilian climate. It is more resistant to wind and rain, as its fruit is firmly attached to the branches. Catuai comes in two sub-varieties: yellow Catuai and red Catuai.

Catimor: A recently created hybrid (Portugal, 1959), specifically designed to resist various pathogens. This hybrid was created from Caturra (itself a mutation of Bourbon) and Timor (an Arabusta, i.e. a cross between Arabica and Robusta that originated on the island of Timor in Indonesia). Although less present, its robusta ancestor has given it low acidity, high bitterness and a fairly limited, even vegetal aroma. Little appreciated in the world of specialty coffee, vegetal aromas are more sought-after by Robusta enthusiasts.
Maragogype: Native to Brazil, this descendant of Typica takes its name from the village of Maragogype where this variety was discovered. Maragogype is distinguished by the size of its characteristically large beans, nicknamed "elephant beans". Maragogype is found throughout South America, in Brazil of course, but also in Mexico and Guatemala.

Pacas: A natural mutation of Bourbon discovered in El Salvador in 1949. Like its Bourbon ancestor, it is a fairly low-yielding plant, but yields appreciable quality beans.

Pacamara: A hybrid of Pacas and Maragogype, Pacamara was also developed in El Salvador in 1958. It is a relatively low-yielding plant, but the quality of its beans is highly appreciated. In fact, Pacamara is most often chosen for the Salvadoran Cup of Excellence.

Colombia: A variant of Caturra developed in Colombia in the 1980s for its high yield and resistance to diseases such as coffee rust and other pathogens.

SL28 and SL34: SL is the acronym for Scott Laboratories, a laboratory that developed varieties specific to Kenya in the 1930s. SL28 is a derivative of Moka, while SL34 is a derivative of Bourbon, more precisely French Mission. 90% of the varieties produced in Kenya are SL. For only a few years now, growers in Malawi and South America have been trying to establish these varieties on their land. SLs are renowned for the acidity they impart to the beans, which brings out citrus aromas.
Ethiopia: Ethiopian varieties are a special case. Coffee growing is less - for want of a better expression - "institutionalized" in Ethiopia than in other producing countries. What we mean by this is that cultivation takes place directly on the land of the local inhabitants, who grow a host of other plants on their land, not reserving it exclusively for coffee. What's more, coffee has been grown here for thousands of years. Over the course of time and mutations, it has become very difficult to identify the origins of the coffee grown today. This is why labels on bags of beans often read "Heirloom", a simple reference to the ancient and unique nature of coffee growing in Ethiopia. This doesn't mean that the coffees found there are of inferior quality - quite the contrary! Ethiopian coffees are among the most recognized and appreciated in the world.
Bon café.
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