The first coffee trees to be cultivated originated in Ethiopia, and this same variety, Typica, is still widely grown today.
Many other varieties now exist, some natural mutations and others the result of cross breeding. Some varieties have explicit taste characteristics of their own, while others take on their characteristics from the terroir in which they are grown, the way they are cultivated and the way they are processed after harvest.
Few coffee consumers are aware that there are different varieties of the Arabica coffee tree, mainly because much of the world’s coffee always has been, and still is, traded by origin.
Here are some of the well-known varieties of Arabica tree:
This is considered the original variety from which all other varieties have mutated or been genetically selected. The Dutch were first to spread coffee around the world for commercial production and this was the variety they took with them. The fruit is usually red and Typica is capable of producing excellent cup quality, though with a relatively small yield compared to other varieties. It is still grown extensively in many different parts of the world and, as a result, is known by several different names including criollo, sumatra and arabigo.
This was a natural mutation of Typica, which occurred on the island of Reunion (at the time called Bourbon). The yield is higher than that of Typica, and many in the specialty industry believe that it has a distinctive sweetness, making it prized and desirable.
This is a mutation of Bourbon, discovered in Brazil in 1937. This variety has been especially popular in Colombia and Central America, though it is still fairly common in Brazil. Cup quality is considered good, and while quality increases with altitude, yield decreases. There are both red and yellow variations and it is a low-growing variety, often referred to as dwarf or semi-dwarf, popular because they are easier to pick by hand.
This is a hybrid between Caturra and Mundo Novo created by the Instituto Agronomico do Campinas in Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s.
A now prized variety, SL-28 was created in Kenya by Scott Laboratories in the 1930s, selected from a drought-resistant variety from Tanzania. The fruits are red when ripe and the beans are notably larger than average. This variety is considered to be capable of producing a cup with a distinct fruit flavour, often described as blackcurrant.
Geisha or Gesha
Gesha is a town in western Ethiopia and while the variety was brought to Panama from Costa Rica, it is believed to be Ethiopian in origin. The variety is considered to produce exceptionally aromatic/floral cups and the demand for it has driven up prices in recent years.