varieties

Is coffee the same as coffee?

Of course not. There are around 124 different plant species that belong to the “coffea” plant family. Of these, 99% are commercialized in two species, Arabica and Canephora (incorrectly known as Robusta, the subspecies).

Canephora's only commercialized variety, Robusta, is known for limited flavors, a very bitter taste, high caffeine content, and is found primarily in the hotter, lower elevation growing regions. Because the plant is very resistant to temperature, diseases and pests, the name Robusta came about. This variety is mostly used in products with a coffee aroma and especially in espresso blends. Rarely you will find 100% Robusta espresso. There are very few Robusta varieties (e.g. Nemaya, Apoata) and these are mostly less relevant to the specialty coffee world.

The other type, called Arabica, has a much milder and sweeter taste, accompanied by fruity flavors if of good quality. Arabica varieties usually grow at higher altitudes because they prefer lower temperatures, for example in Colombia at around 1600-2400m above sea level. M. Unfortunately, these plants are generally more susceptible to insect pests and diseases such as fungi. Some of them are therefore crossed with Robusta subspecies to obtain more resilient plants.
Arabica varieties and their crosses (e.g. Catuai) are the center of specialty coffee today. The wide range of possible aromas and the very different subgenera have opened up a wide world of experience. As with wine, one can hardly taste all varieties in one's lifetime.

Illustration COFFEA arabica L. 106 (Coffea arabica L., Arabian coffee) Köhler's medicinal plants in lifelike illustrations with brief explanatory texts: Atlas on the Pharmacopoea germanica

And now something in detail

The most well-known Arabica varieties in Central and South America are the following.

Typical: One of the traditional varieties that is hardly used today due to the low yield and low resistance to pests and diseases. However, some regions in Peru still use them. Nevertheless, Typica can keep up with the others in terms of taste and variety of aromas.

Bourbon: naming from the island of Bourbon, now La Reunion, where it was introduced by French settlers . The quality is often higher than Typica, but the yield is surpassed by the equally good Caturra variety, Bourbon has lost importance. Subspecies such as Pink Bourbon (Bourbon Rosado) are still used in blends today.

Caturra: A natural mutation of bourbon. The most used Arabica variety in Colombia, but also in Peru and Guatemala. In addition to the very good quality, the advantages are higher yield and smaller trees, which makes it easier to pick the fruit. Unfortunately, Caturra is still susceptible to diseases such as "leaf rust" (Spanish: Roya) or pests.

Geisha: This is the finest Arabica variety that currently exists. A high aroma complexity paired with a sweet taste is used to make the highest quality coffee in the world, always with >85 points according to SCA. At the same time, it is the most susceptible of the Arabica varieties, which keeps the yield very low due to high plant mortality. The plants are also very sensitive to weather fluctuations and require constant monitoring. This makes it expensive to grow and process, but once you've tasted a cup of geisha, you'll understand why it's still worth it.