Varieties of Coffee

Varieties of Coffee

One may think the only varieties of coffee around the world are just Arabica and Robusta, but certainly not! However, Coffea Arabica, known as Arabica coffee and Coffea canephora, known as Robusta coffee are the two main species of coffee that are cultivated today. Arabica accounts for 75-80 percent while Robusta accounts for about 20 percent and differs from Arabica coffees in terms of taste. Robusta is more productive and less susceptible to plant diseases such as leaf rust but they taste in one-dimension and bitter. On top of Arabica and Robusta, there is a third main variety Liberica, but its share of the coffee production is less than 1 percent and it tastes bitter. Arabica and Robusta coffees are further divided into multiple varieties and each is unique in its taste, performance and adaptation to local conditions.

The difference between a coffee variety, cultivar and hybrid

In coffee industry we tend to use these terms interchangeably although they have specific botanical meanings.


Taxonomy of Coffee

Variety: Varieties occur spontaneously through either mutation (for instance, growing much larger cherries than other plants of the same variety), or through natural hybridization with another variety (and in rare cases a different species!). A variety retains most of the characteristics of the species but differs in some way.

Cultivar: This refers to any variety produced by horticultural or agricultural techniques and not normally found in natural populations; simply put, a cultivated variety. Most of the varieties we know in specialty coffee are really cultivars. Bourbon and Typica are some of the most widely known cultivars.

Hybrid: Hybrids are created by crosses between two different species or two different forms of the same species. Hybrids may occur through naturally or selective breeding, for example, mundo novo is a hybrid of typica and bourbon.  Hybrids are indicated in botanical terminology by a multiplication sign (x) between two parents.

As a matter of fact, Arabica itself is a relatively recent hybridization of Robusta (Coffea canephora) and another, lesser known species of coffee known as Coffea eugenioides.  Thousands of natural varieties of Arabica continue growing in the wild in the area in Eastern Ethiopia where this hybridization happened!

The choice of coffee variety is a major decision for a coffee farmer. Normally the varieties with the best flavor have a smaller yield. However, new, more productive coffee varieties with better taste are constantly being developed all over the world. Important to note is that the more traditional varieties have still maintained their positions in the taste tests and all of the most known coffee varieties are Arabica.

Coffee varieties chart

An illustration of coffee variety network





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