What Do These Coffee Words Mean? Pt. 2

July 31, 2018

What Do These Coffee Words Mean? Pt. 2

Part two: Variety

Photo courtesy of Olam

You may have noticed that each of our bags list the variety of the coffee, and you may have wondered, “What does that mean?” or “Why does this matter, Stovetop?” Coffee plants come in different varieties, similar to  apples. Just as you associate certain attributes and flavors to a Jonagold apple, you can expect similarities among coffees of the same variety. Bourbon variety coffees, whether grown in Rwanda (like our Rwanda Remera) or Burundi (Burundi Cafex Natural), will have similar characteristics that are attributed to the plant.

Coffea is a genus of flowering plants from the Rubiaceae family. Branching off of coffea are several different species, only two of which account for the commercial production of coffee plants growing today. These are Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora. Canephora plants, most widely known for their Robusta variety, contain higher levels of caffeine and are less susceptible to disease. However, these plants are historically inferior in taste to Arabica, typically tasting very bitter and astringent. Arabica coffee makes up 75-80% of the world’s production, and is essentially the only species you will see in specialty coffee.

Without going into too much of a history lesson (see the link at the bottom if you’d like to learn more), coffee most likely originated in Ethiopia, where it grows wild. Ethiopian varieties are commonly referred to as “Heirloom” because there are so many varieties growing wild that it can be nearly impossible to differentiate plants or determine their specific genetic makeup. From Ethiopia, coffee was stolen and transported to different countries, and these original Ethiopian varieties began changing according to the terroir and circumstances of their new home. This is why there are so many different varieties available today.

Photo courtesy of Cafe Imports

Plant productivity and resistance to disease are two of the main reasons farmers choose to plant certain varieties. Obviously, the farmer with a more productive plant, like caturra, will have more crop and make more money. But there are also many environmental factors that specific varieties can fight against. Castillo, common in Colombia, was developed for its resistance to coffee leaf rust, a growing disease affecting more and more farmers’ crops. Farmers may also plant varieties because of cup quality, culture, or convenience.

At Stovetop, we don't select coffees based on plant variety, and we don't imagine that many coffee drinkers choose beans that way either. But learning about variety in coffee and the way the plant has evolved throughout its history has helped to give us a deeper appreciation of the way its history is helping our industry adapt and improve, even today.

If you’re interested in learning more about coffee varieties, check out these great resources: