Gesha, Bourbon, Typica, Catimor – examples of the exotic-sounding names you often see on coffee bag labels. These are actually Coffee Varieties grown around the world.

Read on as we explore what is coffee variety and how it affects the taste of your brew.

This article is part of our series on Coffee Labels. If you haven’t caught on yet, check out our other articles in the series:

What is a Coffee Variety?

This infographic shows the taxonomic rank of coffee variety in the biological classification of the coffee plant.

Variety is a taxonomic rank below species in the biological classification of the coffee plant

Strictly speaking, varieties of coffee can be separated into two distinct types:

  • Varieties refer to coffee with characteristics that occur naturally in the wild.
  • Cultivars refer to coffee with characteristics that are cultivated by humans.

These terms are sometimes used interchangeably(albeit incorrectly) with varietals. If you are interested in this geeky debate, you can find out more here.

Does it Matter What Variety Your Coffee is?

The short answer is – Yes!

To understand the importance of varieties in determining the taste of a coffee, we can draw similar comparisons to other tastings.

Coffee tasting is commonly compared to wine tasting (for which many of the terms are borrowed).

Coffee tasting is commonly compared to wine tasting.

In wine tasting, varieties with unique taste that are identifiable and familiar are given prominence.

For example, Merlot and Pinot Noir are both wines but different in their own ways.

Similar to durian, coffee varieties affect the taste profile of a coffee.

Closer to home, we can draw similar comparison to durian tasting.

Die-hard aficionados of Musang King and D24 will swear by the different aroma, texture and taste of these durian varieties.

As with most agricultural produce, the variety of a coffee influences its characteristics and taste.

By discovering your favorite coffee variety, you can use it as a starting point to discover similar coffees that suit your preferences.

However, unlike wine and durian tasting, coffee needs to undergo the complex process of processing, roasting and brewing.

So, the long answer is – Coffee varieties are important but it shouldn’t be your only criteria to evaluate a coffee.

It is vital to keep in mind other details such as processing method, roast level and origin of your beans, which can affect the final outcome of your brew.

How Many Coffee Varieties are Out There?

Anatomy of a Coffee Bag Label

As “third wave” coffee hits our shore, most specialty roasters now label the varieties of their coffees. (Click to enlarge)

Currently, there are dozens of coffee varieties that are now available in our region.

However, these are actually just the tip of the iceberg with many more varieties that are not in our market yet.

In fact, the actual number of varieties that exist in the world is unknown. Ethiopia alone has more than 10,000 varieties collected and growing!

With this mind-boggling number and non-standardized coffee labeling, it is easy to lose track as you attempt to explore coffees by its variety.

How to Taste Coffee by Their Varieties?

In BrewersClub, we recommend a very simple and practical way to taste coffee by its variety.

We refer to the Coffee Family Tree designed by Cafe Imports below whenever we discover a new variety.

Coffee Varieties Family Tree 2.0 by Cafe Imports

The Coffee Family Tree (Click to enlarge)

By identifying a variety’s position in the Family Tree, you can compare similarities and differences to their closely-related varieties.

For starters, try exploring the large branches of the Tree before moving on to smaller branches. For example, you can compare the taste of Arabica vs Canephora vs Liberica before moving onto Bourbon vs Typica.

By training your palate to differentiate the  main varieties of coffee, your senses will be more adept to detect subtle nuances of flavors when you explore the finer branches of the Family Tree.

Last but not least, try to get a friend to join you as you discover new varieties. A different perspective and taste perception would definitely make tasting coffee more interesting.

Summary

  • Variety is a major but not the only factor in determining the taste of your brew.
  • There are many exciting varieties of coffee out there to try.
  • We recommend using the Coffee Family Tree as reference to understand coffee varieties.
  • Compare coffees from the large branches of the Family Tree before moving onto finer branches.
  • Don’t do it alone. Make discovering varieties fun by roping in a friend or two!

Discover the Coffee Varieties

In BrewersClub, our mission is to help you discover better coffee, together.

As we taste more coffee together as a Club, we will be exploring more Coffee Varieties!

BrewersClub Coffee Varieties List

You can click the links below to find coffees categorized by their Varieties: