3 of 4 - Among the other traits that define the taste of a coffee, the variety of cherries is a considerable one. From the botanical genus Coffea arise several species of coffee trees, but only two are cultivated substantially for commercial purposes: Coffea canephora (Robusta) and Coffea arabica. If Robusta turns out to be tougher and more resistant, it must be said that the organoleptic properties make Arabica definitely more interesting for coffee lovers.
The coffee tree at the base is part of the Rubiaceae family so baptized by Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu in the 18th century because of their red roots and their dyeing properties (used to dye textile fibers or for dyes). Coffea arabica has been found on both sides of the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. This is Ethiopia, the home of Arabica and some of its natural mutations. Coffea canephora (Robusta) was later discovered in tropical forests west of the African continent. It was in the twentieth century that the number of coffee producing territories really grew as a result of colonial occupation: India, Bourbon Island (now Reunion Island), Martinique, Peru and Brazil as an example. By implanting Arabica in lands other than Ethiopia, certain hybridizations and natural mutations were then manifested. Variations in the environment have thus led coffee tree species to adapt. In addition to these natural mutations, other varieties of coffee trees are being developed by researchers to obtain Arabica species that are more resistant and able to grow in environments that are usually inhospitable to them. These laboratory mutations also aim to make coffee plantations more profitable, resilient and productive.1
Recognize certain varieties of Coffea arabica
Little information is available regarding the aromatic traits specific to different varieties of coffee. Jonathan Gagné, who is behind Coffee Ad Astra, tried to remedy this shortcoming by using data collected on the application.First bloom about 1500 bags of coffee. InThis article, he sought to associate descriptive notes with the most cultivated varieties of Arabica. For example, we notice that Bourbon coffee more often than not offers a fruity cup (stone fruits, dried fruits, berries, lemon), but also notes of nuts typically associated with roasting. Or, that Gesha (Geisha) gives, more than any other variety, a floral aspect to coffee. We strongly recommend that you read the article on Coffee Ad Astra to find out more. Now, without going into an exhaustive overview, we want to highlight some of the Arabica strains for their history and unique characteristics.
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the Typica is the first variety that was marketed after leaving the Arabian Peninsula. Cultivated in Yemen in the 15th century, this variety was brought to India, then to Indonesia. Around 1616, the Dutch merchant, Pieter van der Broeke, acquired (or stole, depending on the story) a Typica coffee tree and brought it to the Amsterdam Botanical Garden. A second coffee tree was also donated to the French Royal Court. These shrubs were the origin of coffee crops in the American colonies Martinique, Suriname and Haiti among others and Typica remained the only variety on the continent until the middle of the 19th century..
the Blue mountain is considered a separate Typica variety. However, its genetics are identical to it. It is found in the Blue Mountains region of Jamaica, as its name suggests, but also in Haiti, Hawaii and Kenya. For many, Blue Mountain is synonymous with finesse: supple acidity, a creamy body and floral and chocolate aromas.
the Kent was discovered on the Doddengooda estate in Mysore, India. Unlike other coffee trees on the plantation, a shrub had the ability to resist the fungi that cause coffee rust. This was a natural mutation. Kent has become popular in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Unfortunately, this variety is no longer as well suited to today's more virulent forms of rust.
the Kona is a mutation of Typica. Introduced to Hawaii in 1825, coffee trees have adapted to the microclimate of the islands, to a lower elevation and to very rich volcanic soil for coffee cultivation. Since it grows in a variety of environments, its profile varies from one environment to another. It can taste delicate and floral or more tangy, sweet and syrupy.2
the Maragogype is a Typica mutation discovered in Brazil. Its grains are particularly long, which explains its nickname of elephant grains. The Maragogype grows in Central America, Mexico, Peru and Brazil. It is said to have a lower yield and that the ripening of its cherries is slower.e.
the Pacamara is a hybrid of Pacas and Maragogype developed by the Instituto Salvadoreño de Investigación del Café in El Salvador. While it only represents 1% of the country's coffee trees, its organoleptic qualities have made it famous, especially during the Cup of Excellence competitions.3
Bourbon is one of the most cultivated varieties to date, as is Typica. This variety is the result of a mutation of a tree planted on Bourbon Island (now Reunion Island) by France. It was in 1715 that the coffee trees from Yemen were delivered to Reunion. Out of 60 shrubs, only 20 survived the trip, and then three years later, only one managed to acclimatize. Despite the bad start, the preciously harvested seeds have ensured long-term coffee cultivation on the island. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that Bourbon was cultivated in other regions such as Brazil. At present, there are several variants of Bourbon rouge, namely Bourbon Jaune, Orange and Pointu.
Mundo Novo is a natural hybrid of the Typica, Sumatra and Bourbon subvarieties. It was discovered in Brazil in 1943, and then has been widely distributed by the government since the 1950s.4 It is easily cultivated at altitudes of 1000 meters to 1200 meters, which are common in this country. It is considered to have a good yield and is also resistant to many diseases.
Caturra is a natural mutation of red Bourbon discovered in plantations in the Minas Gerais region, then selected by the Agronomic Institute of Campinas in Brazil in 1937. Smaller in size, Caturra allows coffee plants to be placed so more compact in order to obtain a higher production for the same space in addition to facilitating harvesting by hand.
Catuai is a hybrid of Caturra and Mundo Novo created at the Agronomic Institute of Campinas in Brazil in the mid-20th century. The idea was to combine the resistance of Mundo Nova with the small size of the Caturra plants.
SL-28 was created by Scott Laboratories in Kenya in the 1930s. This strain offers very fruity notes in the cup, which is what makes it so popular.5
The Gesha (Geisha) originates from the Gori Gesha forest in Ethiopia. In the twentieth century, this variety was established especially in Costa Rica and Panama. More often than not, the Gesha delivers a cup of unparalleled quality. As an indication, its grains are regularly rated above 90 points on a scale of 100 by the experts at Q Grader. This strain was notably featured in the 2005 Best of Panama competition. It is its delicate and very fragrant aromas with an unusual lingering aftertaste that make it so special.6
Heirloom is the generic term used to refer to varieties endemic to Ethiopia. Since there are thousands of varieties of coffee trees in Ethiopia alone, this term is used to group together under one umbrella a set of varieties, whether hybrid or not, and found in the wild or cultivated. Some criticize the term, since it conceals a wide range of cultivars under a single designation and does the important work of documenting and identifying and distinguishing them a disservice. For those interested in this question and want to learn more, we recommend reading A Reference Guide to Ethiopian Coffee Varieties by Getu Bekele and Timothy Hill.7
Robusta, this somewhat despised species
We know that Robusta has a bad reputation with coffee lovers compared to Arabica, due to its generally more woody and bitter flavor profile. Which explains it: its green beans are richer in caffeine and along with caffeine also comes a greater bitterness. Plus, these contain less oil (60% less oil than Arabica to be exact). The oils are used to trap volatile compounds that are only released during brewing. The Robusta thus retains less and offers a simpler cup. In the coffee industry, this species of Coffea is mainly used for making inexpensive instant coffee or in certain blends intended for espresso. However, it is questionable whether the unfavorable taste of Robusta is due solely to its chemical composition or to other factors such as production and roasting choices as well as selective mutations over time. This is what the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) noticed:
« Robusta is often overlooked due to its traditionally poor quality which is actually directly related to how it is processed. Often, Robusta beans are marketed with hundreds of flaws and their cup quality is not a priority. But what if the grain is processed correctly The impact could be huge not only on the farmers who produce it, but on all parts of the supply chain. Robusta represents 40% of world coffee production. »8
To improve the quality of the Robusta batches, some solutions have been put forward. This involves transformations from start to finish in the process, either in the methods of growing and harvesting coffee cherries, in the expectations of industry and consumers, in the roasting and in the evaluation of the beans:
- The wrong methods of picking coffee cherries, such as storing it at high levels of humidity, can result in a safe, earthy, and cardboard taste in the cup. Already using the same harvesting and processing techniques as for Arabica, it could improve the lot of Robusta.
- A change of mentality regarding this species of Coffea is also necessary in order to open the market to good quality Robusta. Robusta can be quickly rejected even though some growers use the best methods to cultivate it. If Robusta is denied from the outset to reach specialty markets, producers will not be encouraged to invest more in improved grain processing.
- Knowing the particularities of Robusta during roasting also allows you to achieve a superior result. For example, it is said that crack is barely audible when the wall of Robusta beans breaks. In addition, rather than roasting the Robusta very dark, a lighter roast could result in a more balanced, clean and sometimes even sweet cup.e.
- Robusta has a completely different profile from Arabica, as they are two separate species. Comparing them during a cupping session will certainly devalue Robusta beans. However, it has properties that some coffee drinkers appreciate: its body and its lack of acidity. As Robusta grows faster and is more resistant to temperature variations and disease, some say that with climate change and growing demand for coffee, part of the future of coffee is improving batch quality. by Robusta.
All in all, some varieties of coffee trees offer a distinctive aromatic profile at their base. Others let themselves be shaped by their environment, by the way cherries are grown, by the post-harvest treatments chosen by coffee growers as well as by roasting. There is even a wild species of Coffea, Coffea Charrieriana, spotted in Cameroon in 2008, which has the particularity of producing beans naturally without caffeine. We can say that the varieties of coffee trees form a universe to be discovered in oneself and bring us back more precisely to the very source of coffee, namely the cultivation of fruit trees.
1. Gloria Montenegro and Christina Chirouze, Caféologie, p. 30-32
2. Gloria Montenegro and Christina Chirouze, Caféologie, p. 36.
3. For the entire section on Typica: The Coffee Roaster's Complete Guide to Coffee Varieties and Cultivars, Daily Coffee News.s.
4. Mundo Novo, World Coffee Research.h.
5. James Hoffman, The World Atlas of Coffee, p. 23-25.
6. The Rise of Gesha: Getting to Know the Famed Coffee Variety, Barista Magazine.e.
7. For the entire section on Bourbon: The Coffee Roaster's Complete Guide to Coffee Varieties and Cultivars, Daily Coffee News.s.
Research and writing: Chloé Pouliot