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          Coffee Varietals      
          June 24, 2010      

When one considers the factors that influence the flavor of a specific coffeefrom its growing region and microclimate to its elevation and processing methodno examination is complete without appreciating the contribution of the coffee tree (varietal) that produced it. A "varietal" refers to a single botanical variety of coffee tree, such as var. bourbon. Every varietal imparts distinct flavor attributes to its coffee cherries which are then absorbed by the seedsor coffee beans.

Varietals impact the cup profile of every coffee we carry much like a type of grape affects the flavor of a fine wine. Although growing conditions and processing methods play a greater role in cup quality, a varietal helps to shape each coffee's taste profile. Refer to our list of varietals below to understand some of the flavor differences among our coffees.

        coffee cherries  

This varietal is named for the island of Bourbon (now known as Reunion Island) where it was first cultivated. Bourbon is also known as French Mission. Although it yields more coffee cherries than Typica, Bourbon produces a smaller harvest than most varietals. Its fruit is relatively small and dense while its leaves are broad and verdantly green. The finest Bourbon coffees are grown at elevations of 3,500-6,500 feet. Known for its complex acidity and tremendous balance, this coffee varietal offers excellent cup quality.

Single origin coffees with this varietal:
Guatemala Antigua   Kenya AA  

        coffee cherries   CATURRA

A Brazilian varietal, Caturra is a higher yielding mutation of Bourbon. Caturra coffee trees do not reach the same height as Bourbon, earning them a "dwarf varietal" classification. Despite its higher yield, Caturra requires extensive care and fertilization. It adapts well to most environments, but does best at elevations of 4,000-5,500 feet where quality increases and production decreases. Caturra is now less prevalent in Brazil and more common to Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Its cup quality typically includes bright acidity, medium body, and less sweetness than Bourbon.

Single origin coffees with this varietal:

Colombia Supremo Popayan   Costa Rica Tarrazu   Sumatra Mandheling

        a single coffee cherry   ETHIOPIA HEIRLOOM

Since the roots of the arabica (Coffea arabica) tree have been traced to Ethiopia, the varietals found there are referred to as heirloom. There are over 1000 Ethiopian heirloom varietals currently in production. For the most part, these varietals appear to resemble the Typica varietals indigenous to Yemen. Ethiopian heirloom varietals produce some of the most coveted flavors in the world that, depending on how they are processed, can range from floral and lemon to chocolate and wild berries. Without question, these varietals also possess the most aromatic properties of any grown throughout the world.

Single origin coffees with this varietal:

Ethiopia Yirgacheffe
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This Kenyan coffee varietal was created in the 1930’s by Scott Laboratories in Kenya. Botanists of the Institute searched for different mutations of French Mission and Mocha varietals, and began cross breeding them in pursuit of high-quality, high-yielding and disease-resistant strains. Some believe there is some influence from both Sudanese and Ethiopian strains in this varietal. Although its yield is quite small, many prefer SL28 over the other successful, widely used SL34 varietal. In the cup it offers sweet citrus, balance, and complexity.

Single origins with this varietal:

Kenya AA
          coffee cherries ripening   SL34

SL34 is a mutation of the French Mission, or Bourbon, coffee varietal created at Scott Laboratories in Kenya. It is known for its ability to produce top quality coffee at medium-to-high altitudes. SL34 is thought to have been selected from French Mission Bourbon trees in Kenya which suggests that this varietal has greater lineage to the Typica varietal. This coffee varietal is very resistant to heavy rainfall and can be grown at lower altitudes than SL28. SL34's flavor is characterized by citric acidity, heavy mouthfeel, and a cleanly sweet finish.

Single origins with this varietal:

Kenya AA
          coffee cherries   TYPICA

Coffea Arabica Typica was the first varietal of the species discovered in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia centuries ago. Typica seeds were imported to Martinique by a French Naval officer in 1720 and have since resulted in mutations that include Jamaican Blue Mountain, San Ramon, Pache, Villalobos, Java, and Jember. Typica was the first coffee introduced to the New World. It is a low-yield varietal that can reach 11-13 feet in height and produces extended, oval-shaped beans. Its cup quality is excellent characterized by outstanding sweetness and body.

Single origins with this varietal:

Colombia Supremo Popayan   Costa Rica Tarrazu   Guatemala Antigua

Papua New Guinea AA   Sumatra Mandheling Mexico Chiapas

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