A deep dive into coffee varieties

Coffee beans are the seeds of the coffee plant, of which there are many different varieties.

CROWD ROASTER sells a variety of coffee varieties, including Geisha , Bourbon , SL28 , Castillo , and Caturra , and each variety results in different flavors.

So what exactly are these "varieties"? On the one hand, coffee is said to be divided into Arabica and Robusta varieties.
How does it relate to varieties?
I would like to dig a little deeper into this variety today.

Coffee as a plant

In the Manabu classification, coffee trees belong to the genus Coffea, family Rubiaceae, order Gentianales, family Asteraceae.

The Coffea genus grows naturally in the African continent and Southeast Asia, from the coast of the Indian peninsula to northeastern Australia, and is believed to have originated in West Africa, from where it spread to Central and East Africa, Madagascar, Asia, and Australia.

Well, there are currently 125 species that belong to the genus Coffea. The two species that make up the majority of coffee used for drinking are Arabica and Coffea canephora. These two species account for 98-99% of coffee production.

There are other varieties such as the Liberica variety, which is grown in West Africa, the Philippines, Malaysia, etc., but they only make up a small proportion of total coffee production.

Arabica growing environment

Arabica has been consumed since ancient times, and was the only coffee species available until the discovery of canephora at the end of the 19th century.

Arabica originated in southwestern Ethiopia, where a variety of wild and semi-wild species still grow today.

It prefers a slightly humid to dry environment at an altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 meters. It is clear from the locations of coffee plantations around the country that a relatively low temperature at high altitude is suitable for it.

The Coffea genus grows in the tropics (sometimes known as the coffee belt), but Arabica cannot grow just anywhere in the tropics; it can only grow in high-altitude mountainous areas with clearly defined rainy and dry seasons.

Therefore, it can only be cultivated in very limited locations, even in tropical regions.

A unique Arabica variety with twice the number of chromosomes

A Manabu characteristic of Arabica is that it has 44 chromosomes, twice as many as other species. This is the only characteristic of the Coffea genus, and it is also a factor that makes it difficult to crossbreed with other species.

Recent research has shown that 22 of the 44 trees are close to the canephora species, and the remaining 22 are close to a species called Eugenioides that grows wild in western Tanzania. It is now believed that the Arabica species was born from a cross between the ancestors of these two species.

Another major feature of this species is that it is capable of self-pollination, whereas species such as canephora cannot self-pollinate and require pollen to be transferred mainly by wind.

Arabica is self-pollinating, meaning that the same flower can be pollinated. This means that seeds can be harvested from a single tree, and because of this characteristic, it can be propagated from just a few seedlings, which is why it has been historically possible to expand its cultivation areas around the world.

Are there no "varieties" under Arabica?

It is said that within the Arabica species there exist the "varieties" mentioned at the beginning.

However, in fact, in the Manabu classification, there are no varieties or varieties classified under the Arabica species.

Within the Arabica species, there are many variations with different characteristics, such as yellow fruits, large fruits or seeds, and different colored cotyledons.

These species were once classified as variants, but when the wild species in their native Ethiopia were examined, it became clear that they were a heterogeneous group, with species with diverse characteristics mixed together.

Therefore, their characteristics are not used to distinguish them as varieties.

Coffee varieties are called "cultivars"

However, it is true that over the long period of time that the Arabica coffee plant has been cultivated by humans, numerous strains have emerged.

This is called a "cultivated variety" which is used for cultivated crops, in addition to the classification on the plant Manabu .

Artificial breeding is widely carried out to improve yield and disease resistance, and dozens of varieties have been created, including the two main original species, Bourbon and Typica .

This includes Geisha , which is noted for its exceptional flavor.

We will introduce these cultivars in more detail later.

What varieties of canephora are there?

On the other hand, are there any varieties of Canephora?
This canephora species is native to Central Africa and is known in the coffee industry as "Robusta."

Robusta is disease-resistant, can be grown at low altitudes, and has higher yields than Arabica. It was discovered during an epidemic of rust in Southeast Asia at the end of the 19th century, and as a result, it began to be widely cultivated in Indonesia, Vietnam, and India.

Because it has almost no acidity and an earthy smell known as Robusta, it is considered to have a weaker flavor than Arabica and has been traded at a lower price.

However, in recent years, steam treatment has been developed to remove the Robusta smell, and production has increased, now accounting for 30 to 40 percent of the world's coffee harvest.

There are in fact cultivated varieties of this species, Robusta, but when it comes to distributing coffee, they are all treated as Robusta and are not differentiated by cultivar.

Therefore, it is safe to say that there are virtually no cultivated varieties.

However, in recent years, there has been a movement to identify high-quality Robusta varieties, add value to them, and distribute them.

In the future, we may even see Robusta cultivars available.

There is still a lot to learn about coffee varieties, and we hope to cover them in more detail in the future.