The first coffee trees that have been found in Ethiopia, from the Typica variety, are still widely cultivated nowadays, but many other now exist and have been developed either through natural mutations or cross-breeding.
All the different varieties of Arabica have their own taste characteristics while others will develop them from the soil they are planted in, the way they are cultivated and the way they are processed after harvest.
We are going to go through the main varieties here, without going into too much detail, so that we can have a better understanding of what differentiates them.
- Typica: Considered as being the original variety of the coffee plant, from which all the others have mutated or have been genetically selected. Its fruit is usually red and is capable of producing an excellent quality of coffee.
- Bourbon: A natural mutation of Typica that occurred in the island of Bourbon (that later became La Réunion). It is believed that it has a distinctive sweetness, which makes it prized and very desirable. There are different colour variations: red, orange and yellow. Due to the low amount of yields it produces compared to others varieties, its price has been generally higher to compensate.
- Mundo Novo: Natural hybrid of the Typica and Bourbon, this variety has been named after its discovery place in Brazil in the 1940s. It presents a strong resistance to disease and the capacity to grow in high altitudes that are common in Brazil.
- Caturra: A mutation of the Bourbon, its fruits are commonly red or yellow and is often referred to as dwarf due to being a low-growing variety. It has the capacity to overbear but, because of that, can also succumb to die-back should it produce more fruits that it can sustain.
- Catuai: Hybrid between Caturra and Mundo Novo, it’s been created in Brazil between the 1950s and 1960s. Presenting yellow and red varieties, it has combined the dwarf characteristics of the Caturra with the yield and strength of the Mundo Novo
- Maragogype: A Mutation of Typica that has been dicsovered in Brazil as well, it is easy to recognise thanks to its unusually large beans, which lead to its referred name “elephant”.
- Gesha: This variety is believed to be originally from Ethiopia (Gesha being the name of a city in the western part of the country) and has been brought from Panama to Costa Rica. it became very popular in the 2000s thanks to its price rising to almost a hundred times more than an average commodity coffee, which pushed producers to plant more of this variety.
- Pacas: A natural mutation of the Bourbon, it’s been discovered in the 1940s in El Salvador. With a similar cup quality than Bourbon and its low-growing habits that make it easy to pick the cherries, it has become a very desirable variety.
- Villa Sarchi: Another natural mutation of the Bourbon, named after the city where it has been discovered, in Costa Rica. It presents dwarfism, its fruits ripen red and is capable of very good cup quality.
- Pacamara: A cross between the Pacas and the Maragogyp, the Pacamara has been created in El Salvador during the 1950s. It has large leaves, red fruits and coffee beans and a good cup quality.
- Kent: Created in the 1920s and named after one of the planters who worked on its development in India, it had been developed for resisting the “coffee leaf rust” disease.
Hopefully, this has given a clearer idea of the main varieties that are currently present. This is only the tip of the iceberg and there are many more, wild or not, present all around the world and with their own characteristics, even though the ones we have listed above all have fairly similar genetic structure as they are derived from the Typica variety.