Coffee Species and Varieties

Coffee is a Rubiaceae, a family of flowering plants with the fourth largest species diversity concentrated in the tropics and subtropics. One of the most important economic family members of Rubiaceae is Coffea which we know as coffee. Coffea is a shrub or tree grown around the world between 25°N-30°S latitude also known as “The Coffee Belt.” Although there are over 100 species of Coffea in the world, only two of the species make up the majority of the world's coffee consumption. Coffea Arabica dominates in Central and Southern America and most of East Africa and is sought after for its exceptional cup quality and sweetness while Coffea Canephora (known as Robusta) dominates in South East Asia, West Africa and is sought after for its resilience to pests and diseases, however higher caffeine levels lead to bitterness making it less desirable. 

Out of the coffea arabica family there are two main varieties that are considered the original from which all others have descended: typica and bourbon. Typica has a lower yield varietal but produces an exceptional quality cup while bourbon provides a higher yield and distinct sweetness. Naturally mutated from typica and was first cultivated on the island of Bourbon known today as the island of Reunion, the Bourbon variety has colour variations of red, yellow and sometimes orange unlike most coffee cherries and has a lower yield when compared to newer varieties like Mundo Novo and Caturra.

What about robusta? Although robusta varieties are cheap to produce and are resistant to leaf rust and pest due to their high caffeine content,they aren’t as well known as arabicas because of their less desirable taste. Discovered in 1927 on a coffee plantation in East Timor, the most common variety of robusta is Hibrido de Timor, which is actually a hybrid of Typica and Robusta. From Timor it spread from the Indonesian islands throughout the world where breeders crossed it again to create other rust resistant robusta varieties such as Catimor and Sarchimor. 

The botany of Coffea is very interesting and the continuing research and mutation of different varieties show innovation and prosperity to better flavors and higher yielding crops. The next time you're out for coffee keep note of the varietal and compare it to others you’ll start to have your favourites. Thank you so much for reading have a great day!  

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