Before we go any further, we’ve got to dispel a point of confusion.
Some companies say coffee variety, some say varietal, and some say cultivar. What’s going on? Are they different? Let’s make this as simple as possible.
A variety is the plant classification that falls beneath species. It’s how you identify the genetic makeup of a specific plant.
The varietal is how you would identify a product of a variety. For example, a wine made from merlot variety grapes is considered a varietal wine. It’s not a merlot varietal. It’s a varietal wine because it’s made from a single grape variety.
Yeah, it confuses me too sometimes.
If you’re a botanist, you reserve the word variety for wild plants and use the word cultivar for crops created by human activity, such as plant breeding.
So, varietal is always incorrect when you’re talking about coffee beans. Cultivar is correct if you’re speaking to a botanist. But the rest of us mainly use variety.
Coffee varieties are created in a variety of ways.
The original varieties were formed naturally in the wild through ancient mutations, just like all other plants.
Out of modern varieties, some plants mutated on their own, creating new varieties. Some of the plants cross-pollinated in the wild to create hybrids. And some plants are cultivated in labs until the right varieties are formed to meet certain criteria, such as disease resistance, yield, or flavor.
Almost all arabica coffee varieties we know and love stem from two original varieties: Typica and Bourbon. These two are at the top of the family tree.
Underneath this umbrella we find dozens of other varieties and one on the side: Geisha. Since 15 years we saw a lot of talking about the geisha and the coffee family tree but that's not what i'm going to do here.
I encountered a couple of surprising and weird hybrid or cross overs and want to highlight them here.
TABI: At Caffenation we even launched a special info card when we bought our first TABI Variety coffee in May. It was a fantastic natural processed coffee by Juan Saldarriaga at Finca El Encanto.
TABI means “good” in the Guambiano (a native Colombian tribe) dialect.
It was the correct name for this coffee beans variety given by Cenicafe, the Colombia coffee research institute, after 25 years of research. Tabi specialty coffee beans were developed using the hybrid of Timor and the varieties Bourbon and Typica, which are tall plants and mainly produced in areas of less rain and more direct sun, while being more resistant to leaf rust.
SARCHIMOR: Is a ‘family’ of varieties that are hybrids of a coffee leaf rust (CLR) resistant hybrid from Timor-Leste and Villa Sarchi.
and since both contain Timor hybrids a bit of information is commendable:
TIMOR Hybrid is a natural cross between C. arabica and C. canephora (Robusta) that appeared spontaneously on the island of Timor (an island in Indonesia, Asia) in 1920s. It's Robusta genetics conferred rust resistance into the variety.
For many years i ensured people robusta was not going to make an entree into the specialty coffee scene, but see, with these two spectacular varieties you can say it entered the specialty world via a side door anyway.
Other not so well known Timor related varieties:
ARARA is a newer variety from Brazil that’s prized for its high scoring cup combined with resilience and productivity. The varieties is a cross between Yellow Catuai and Obatã, itself a Timor hybrid.
IAC 125 RN, also known as IBC12, is newer variety developed by the Instituto Agronômico de Campinas (IAC) in the mid-2010s in Brazil. IBC12 is a cross of Villa Sarchí and Timor. The plant is short with high yield and a high scoring cup. Cherry is dark red when ripe and the plant is resistant to coffee leaf rust (CLR).
Better known is COLOMBIA; this variety was developed by Cenicafe by crossing Caturra and the Timor Hybrid, in Colombia. Developed before the first leaf rust outbreak in Colombia in 1983 and is know that this variety helped save the country’s coffee industry. Colombia produces a high yield and is well resistant to diseases, making it very popular for small farms.
MANDELA is a self pollinated selection from Caturra x Caturra, choosing a bean that gave the best characteristics. This was then crossed with the Timor Hybrid in order to provide some resistance to rust, before being crossed again with Ethiopian landrace varietals such as Sudan Rume, Daleco, and Villa Sarchi. We find this rare variety back in Colombia, as well!
CENICAFé 1, is a cross between Caturra and the Timor Hybrid 1343. As part of its Coffee Breeding Strategy, Cenicafé in Colombia originally selected 116 advanced progenies from this cross. From these 116, they continued to narrow down the progenies until they had their new variety, recently made available for distribution.
Of course the Timor part in lots of these new varieties is not primordial and can be compared a little bit with the Ruiru 11 or Batian influence in Kenya.
Yes mainly in Colombia they are going wild with rare varieties, so here a last one you probably never heard of:
The PAPAYO variety is rare outside of Huila and little is known about how it arrived in Colombia. It was originally thought to be a Caturra mutation, but genetic testing by World Coffee Research indicates a close relationship with Ethiopian Landraces. Papayo cherries are distinctive, with an elongated shape. It is assumed that the local name comes from the papaya fruit.
Or Purple Bourbon, Pink Bourbon, Yellow Typica, San Bernardo or ......
Interested to taste some of these or other rare or new varieties? Please keep check of our 'What's in the bag' blog where we present most of our new coffees or inform you on other interesting finds. Good luck.