Coffea arabica, the species of coffee plant that grows the highest quality beans, can be further broken down into varietals. Varietals have most of the characteristics of their subspecies but differ from it in at least one significant way. (Cultivars are like varietals, but growers create them through horticultural techniques. Varietals occur in nature.) Here’s a look at some of the most common varietals that we see at Driftaway Coffee and what they contribute to your coffee.
Typica and Bourbon: The First Two Varietals
Typica and Bourbon are the two parents of almost all the coffee varietals you’ll hear of.
There’s disagreement whether Typica first came from Yemen or Ethiopia, but now it can be found all over the world. While Typica is known for producing an excellent cup that is sweet and clean, few farmers grow straightforward Typica. Instead, many grow own of the varietals or cultivars that have been developed from it over the centuries.
Bourbon (which has no relation to the alcoholic beverage) is named after the island it originated on: Bourbon Island, now Reunion Island. In 1708, the French planted coffee that they had received from the Dutch on this island, and it mutated into a unique varietal. Since then, many other varietals have come from Bourbon, and it’s made its way to South and Central America. Bourbon plants produce sweet, acidic beans that also make excellent coffee.
Catuai, Mundo Novo and Pacamara: Common Varietals in the Americas
South and Central America are rich with many different varietals that come from both Typica and Bourbon, thanks to a long history of growing coffee, relatively stable governments and heavy investment in the coffee-growing industry. Some common varietals that are grown in South and Central America include Mundo Novo, Pacamara and Catuai.
Mundo Novo, which is a hybrid between Typica and Bourbon that was found in Brazil in the 1940s. It’s particularly suited to the country’s climate and accounts for about 40 percent of Brazilian coffees. Farmers like Mundo Novo, because it’s resistant to disease and has a high yield. Coffee drinkers like it, because it produces a sweet cup with a thick body and low acidity.
Pacamara is a mutation between Maragogype (a Typica varietal) and Pacas (a Bourbon mutation). It’s known for creating citrus flavors and floral aromas. In general, higher elevations produce higher quality coffee, but Pacamara, in particular, does extremely well up in the mountains.
Catuai comes from Mundo Novo and Caturra (another Bourbon varietal), although it also has influence from coffea robusta, an inferior species of coffee. Catuai has an especially high yield for an arabica varietal, which likely comes from the robusta in its lineage. Catuai can taste bitter. When it’s properly grown and processed, however, it produces a good cup of coffee that holds up well to darker roasts. Catuai is grown in Indonesia, as well as South and Central America.
Discovering Varietal’s Characteristics for Yourself
There are many coffee varietals, too many to cover in just one piece. These varietals showcase the history and significance of varietals, though. Virtually all coffea arabica varietals came from Typica, Bourbon or both. Mundo Novo, Pacamara and Catuai are varietals that were discovered in Brazil, all around the same time, and yet they produce vastly different coffees. Mundo Novo is thick and sweet; Pacamara is citrusy and floral; and Catuai holds up well during roasting.
Among the dozens of varietals that exist, there are numerous different characteristics to discover. To learn more and discover each varietal’s unique characteristics for yourself, take note of the varietals that our coffees come from each time you receive a new one. Soon, you’ll find yourself wanting to know more and more about the plant that your beverage comes from.