Much of the recent discussion around coffee in the source world seems to be hinged as of late on processing and variety. The discussion is certainly full of debate and each deserve equal discovery. This link http://sprudge.com/2013-sexiest-coffee-variety-alive.html from Sprudge is a testament to how we see and interact with coffee these days in regards to coffee varieties/cultivars. Is it all super geeky and kind of esoteric, for sure, but is too lofty to make coffee lovers understand that a Bourbon tastes really different than a Gesha or other Ethiopian Heirloom coffees such as our Blue Nile Blend (a sun dried, natural processed coffee).
Each day on the cupping table and through our production cuppings we are running though any number of varieties; S795 from our Sulawesi single origin, to SL28 and SL34s from our exclusive lots selected from Kirinyaga and Nyeri regions of Kenya to smatterings of Caturra and Bourbon from Guatemala Huitz Matig, La Bolsa and Dota Costa Rica. Whenever we are cupping, we are looking at it from the point of you of what is it, and by that I mean, its altitude, its soil composition, variety, processing methods, maturation period…its full identity, if you will. But all of that culminates into a choice, a decision and understanding. Taste acts as the great evolver. The variety is the vessel that takes all of these variables and then passes on its imprint. I see variety as the skeleton that is the framework or core design of flavor.
The biggest question has been what’s the single most important thing a farmer can do to differentiate him or herself. A decade of heavy debate has rallied around whether its soil, altitude, variety, processing, nutrition programs, spacing of plants, pruning…the list goes on, that produce the difference in the cup. I would say that if you ask a producer what he or she would ask of another producer upon visiting their farm is, what are you planting? I might be wrong, but it is usually at the top of most producers FAQs about another origin. I have been fortunate enough share what I have learned from other areas of the coffee growing world and have been able to taste some of the latest experiments being conducted as it pertains to agronomy and its effect on taste. It is amazing to find yourself at a cupping table in Indonesia and have a Q grader (certified taster) lab manager of a dry mill in Aceh produce a 100% Bourbon sample that has been fully washed, like most Central American coffees. That would have never happened 10 years ago.
Though the coffee world is struggling with really big things right now and farmers are far more concerned about survival from issues such as climate, leaf rust, and a depressed market due to record volumes in Brazil. I realize there are for more important matters at hand, but I do believe that we will have to really put our heads together and expand what we can do with the potential areas such as Ethiopia. There are many organizations that are out there committed to trying to get closer to cracking open the vast potential of genetic material available to move the coffee world into new agronomical directions.
-Darrin Daniel, Allegro Coffee
Variety is a (strict) botanical term, and denotes a wild, botanical variety, and is given as, for example, Coffea liberica var. ugandensis (a made up name for illustrative purposes). Variety denotes a hierarchical unit of natural variation, produced by evolution and without the influence of man. A hortitcultural/agricultural ‘variety’ is different because it did not originate in nature. Many years ago, the term cultivar was adopted, based on the notion of a ‘cultivated variety’, hence culti-var, or cultivar as correctly written. In essence, it allows us to decide between natural and man-made units of variation. Think about dog breeds, these would not have occurred in nature. Cultivars can be suffixed with ‘cv.’ or just single quotes, or sometimes both. So: Coffea arabica cv. Kent, Coffea arabica ‘Kent’, or Coffea arabica cv. ‘Kent’ Latin names in italics, cv. names in Roman.
Source: Davis, Aaron P., Dr.
The Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives Directorate Royal Botanic Gardens
Typica: Considered the oldest of c. arabica, it originated from Yemeni stock, taken first to Malabar, India, and later to Indonesia by the Dutch. It later made its way to the West Indies to the French colony at Martinique. Typica has genetically evolved to produce new characteristics, often considered new varietals: Criollo (South America), Arabigo (Americas), Kona (Hawaii), Pluma Hidalgo (Mexico), Garundang (Sumatra), Jamaica Blue Mountain (Jamaica), San Bernado & San Ramon (Brazil), Kents & Chickumalgu (India). Concentrated sweetness is a hallmark of this variety.
Bourbon: A natural mutation of Typica. Around 1708 the French planted coffee on the island of Bourbon (now called Réunion) in the middle of the Indian Ocean, all probably from the same parent stock – the plant the Dutch gave them. Unsurprisingly, it mutated slightly and was planted throughout Brazil in the late 1800s and eventually spread through Latin America. Bourbon produces 20–30% more fruit than Typica varieties. Bourbon is known for its complex acidity and overall balance in the cup.
S795: Probably the most commonly planted Arabica in India and Southeast Asia, known for its balanced cup and subtle flavor notes of deep, herbaceous characteristics. Released during the 1940s, it is a cross between the Kents and S.288 varieties. This was bred in India in the late ‘40s. It is believed that is has a gene originating from C. Liberica. This variety is is called Jember in Indonesia. Sulawesi is known for planting large amounts of S795 dating back to the 1960s.
Caturra:A mutation of Bourbon discovered in Brazil, near the town of Caturra. Caturra is a high producing tree and has been widely planted throughout Latin America. Today, Caturra is considered one of the most reliable for its cup quality and yields. Caturra is known for its citric acidity, medium to full body and more mild levels of sweetness.
SL 28:was bred in 1931 from Tanganyika D.R and it has become a variety with uniquely high quality. It has wide leaves with coppery tips. Beans are wide and productivity relatively low. The plant shows some influence from Ethiopian and Sudan coffee varieties. Some sources say that the botanists of Scot Laboratory examined the mutations of French Mission, Mocha and Yemen Typica and bred them into SL 28. Originally their goal was to create a plant with high quality, high productivity and great resistance towards diseases. By taste qualities SL28 is the best of all SL cultivars. SL 28 taste is described to be intensively citrusy, sweet, with balanced taste and multi-layered aroma.
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