Understanding Coffee Can Get Technical. Let's Explore | By Chris Harvey
Coffee is a natural commodity and can get pretty technical - just think of any domestic garden, nature has so many species, plant names and varying environments. In this series, we’re going to explore the various characteristics associated with coffee and dissect some of that technical language. The idea is that this will help you make quicker, more informed decisions when choosing your coffee. It will also help you understand a bit more about what you’re reading on the menu of your favourite coffeeshop or on the shelves of the supermarkets.
Firstly, we’re going to be looking at varietals. For the longest time, varietals have been most commonly associated with the wine industry. It’s a concept most people have encountered, even if they’re not a wine lover. A varietal in wine would be the wine produced from a specific type of grape, for example, merlot, shiraz etc. Well, the same also applies with coffee.
Species Of Coffee - Arabica & Robusta
In its most simplest form, coffee is harvested from the Coffea shrub. This shrub produces the berries from which coffee is extracted. The two most commercial species are Arabica and Canephora, or more commonly known, Robusta. There are other species, however these are not normally considered for commercial use, meaning you won’t find them on the shelves or in your local coffee shop.
1/ Arabica Coffee
Arabica is the most commonly recognised species and is renowned for it’s higher quality traits. Arabica is native to Ethiopia and Kenya, to name but a few regions. You’ve likely encountered these countries before when talking about coffee.
2/ Robusta Coffee
Robusta, on the other hand, is generally considered to be of slightly lower quality and grows in more adverse conditions and at higher altitudes.
Coffee Varietals - Mutations Of Coffee Species
If we start with Arabica, the two original varietals are Bourbon and Typica. When farmers are deciding what varietal to use, it normally depends on how much coffee they want to yield and what climate or environmental factors are present in the area the coffee is being grown. Bourbon coffee plants yield 20% to 30% more than the Typica varietal.
1/ Bourbon Varietals
Nowadays, Bourbon is most commonly grown and used in Brazil and Central America. It is widely considered that the Bourbon varietal produces coffee that is fruity with bright acidity, similar to wine.
2/ Typica Varietals
Typica is known for it’s lower yield but better cup quality. Again, it’s commonly grown in Central America but can also be found widely in Indonesia. When talking about flavour, Typica has a medium body and sweet acidity.
3/ Gesha Varietals
You might have heard the term Gesha (commonly misspelled as Geisha). Gesha is widely regarded in the coffee industry due to its unique cup profile. Gesha is named after the village of Gesha in Ethiopia and is thought to be a mutation of the Typica shrub. Characteristically speaking, you’ll find Gesha varietals have notes of Jasmine and Vanilla and are often considered more floral and complex.
As we briefly introduce you to the varietal concept, there are many further mutations that have descended from the Bourbon and Typica varietals covered here. Each have a slightly unique characteristic in terms of flavour, which we will explore in later articles, and some grow better in certain climates than others. As mentioned, farmers typically choose their varietals based on yield and climate - quality has historically been overlooked and considered a less important factor. As a result of this, you would often see farmers blending different varietals to reach the desired level of quality. However, more and more farmers are now focusing on producing the best tasting coffee from single varietals, such as Gesha, which is raising the bar for coffee producers all over the world, least mention those speciality grade.
GUSTATORY knows that many of you prefer single origin coffees over those blended, and there are many coffee roasters who solely produce suchlike coffees, staying clear of blended variations. With this in mind, GUSTATORY offers a dedicated Single Origin coffee subscription, however also, all coffees ever curated for our Plus 87 coffee subscription or Rest of World coffee subscription will be single origin as well; both of these latter coffee subscriptions feature the best coffees available by independent coffee roasters. Alternatively, enjoy browsing and shopping the GUSTATORY marketplace whereby we make great coffee simple to find, enabling you to forever checkout with one marketplace account, or as a guest. Easy. Curated. Ideal.
About Chris Harvey
Chris Harvey is a professional photographer and content creator with a huge passion for coffee and travel, as well as one with a keen interest in fashion and design. As a digital creator, Harvey has worked on product photography campaigns for Ted Baker, Dior, Son of a Tailor, Lyle & Scott, ASKET and Le Labo Fragrances, as well as having worked with the likes of Tessuti, Essential Journal and Liquid. See for yourself here, on Harvey's Instagram.
GUSTATORY (adjective): curating excellence in taste.