VARIETALS is a botanical term describing forms and selections of coffee plant varieties that are derived either through natural selection or through selective breeding (for specific genetic traits) resulting in distinct genetic subspecies of the main coffee species (e.g., Arabica, Canephora, and Liberica).
One test of whether a particular plant is indeed a cultivar/varietal is if the plant variety can be reliably propagated.
About 70% of all coffee grown is Arabica, while Robusta coffee plants comprise only about 25% of the world's commercially grown coffee.
Coffea Arabica (Arabica Coffee)
Coffea Arabica (Arabica Coffee), a valuable species, has been grown and selected for several centuries, and represents three-quarters of world coffee production. As the name suggests, it comes from Arabia, and thrives in land rich in minerals. Its better-known sub-varieties are the Moka, Maragogipe, San Ramon, Columnaris, and Bourbon. The Arabica coffees produced in Brazil take the collective name of Brazilian Coffees; those from Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Guatemala, Salvador, Haiti and Santo Domingo are called Milds. There are also Arabica coffees that come from Africa.
The Arabica makes a flavoury full-bodied coffee, sharp in taste, with a rather low caffeine content. There are, however, different tastes, due to the different crop varieties.
There are so many varieties on the market that one can assert that some low-quality Arabica species are actually inferior to the best qualities of Coffea Robusta.
Arabica beans look slightly elongated, with greenish-blue shades.
The major Coffea Arabica varietals include:
Amarello, Arabusta (interspecific hybrid), Arusha, Bergendal, Blue Mountain, Bourbon, Catimor, Caturra, Catuai, Charrieriana, Columbian, Ethiopian Harrar, Ethiopian Sidamo, Ethiopian Sidamo, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, French Mission Bourbon, Hawaiian Kona, Java, K7, Kent, Maragogype, Marigojipe, Mayaguez, Mocha, Mundo Novo (hybrid), Pacamara (hybrid), Pacas, Pache Comum, Pache Colis (hybrid), Panama, Ruiri 11 (dwarf hybrid), San Ramon, Santos, Sarchimor, Sidikalang, SL28, SL34, Sumatra Mandheling, Sumatra Lintong, Sulawesi Toraja Kalossi, Timor (interspecific hybrid), Typica, and Uganda.
Coffea Robusta (Robusta Coffee)
Coffea Robusta (Robusta Coffee) is a variety that can be over 12 metres high. It grows quickly in altitudes up to 600 metres, and is more resistant to parasites. Discovered in the Congo in 1898, this hardy species is widely spread, especially in Africa, Asia and Indonesia, where the climate is unsuitable for Coffea Arabica. It represents about one quarter of total world production.
Because of their higher content of caffeine (about twice as much as Arabica) and strong character, Robustas are used mostly in specialty blends. Overuse and/or improper processing can result in cheap- and bitter-tasting coffee, with pronounced "woodiness", a typical characteristic of natural Robustas from Africa. Washed varieties from Indonesia are rare and particularly prized for use in certain blends.
Its beans are typically small, rounded and brownish-yellow in appearance.
Roasting Robusta – Favored for Espresso Coffee Blends
Before Robusta beans are roasted they conjure smells of peanuts or oats, giving off a nutty, grainy fragrance. Once they are roasted, Robusta beans often smell burnt (e.g., burnt rubber or plastic), and perhaps slightly woody. Robusta coffee tends to be bitter compared to Arabica. Robusta also has less pleasant acidity levels.
Though Robusta coffees have no significant presence in the gourmet coffee market, they are often used as a base in espresso blends to enhance the body of the espresso.
Robusta Coffee Growing Regions
Robusta plants are grown primarily in Central Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Southeast Asia, India, and Indonesia.
Robusta is also grown in Brazil, where it is called Conilon.