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This Week in Coffee: Farming – Varietals

This week in the cafe we are serving up some wonderful espresso from George Howell Coffee and delicious pourover options from our current guest roaster, Gracenote Coffee of Berlin, Massachusetts.

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Continuing from last week, the espresso currently in the hopper is George Howell’s La Soledad Espresso from Guatemala. This sweet and bright option presents with flavors of apple, pear, and brown sugar.

We are also continuing to serve Gracenote’s Bellavista-Cortes from Colombia. This microlot coffee is smooth and delicious with flavors of cherry cola, lemon, and cocoa. A new pourover option this week has been Finca Kassandra from Mexico. This unique coffee presents with complex and varied flavors of grape, caramel, cinnamon, sweet basil, floral, and pomegranate.

Focus on Farming: Varietals

Over the past few weeks we have been walking you through some basic information on the complex process of farming coffee. Beginning with an overview, we have since covered topics of soil characteristics, climate, and altitude. Today we turn to the characteristics of the plant itself, focusing on the many varieties of coffee plants.

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Photo Courtesey of George Howell Coffee

Coffee plants are part of the taxanomical family Rubiacea and genus Coffea. Within the coffea genus, there are over one hundred species, only a few of which produce coffee cherries for consumption. The most common species grown in the coffee industry is the arabica species which consistitute about 70% of the world’s coffee. Other less common species include canephora and liberica. Within a species, further differences exist between different varieties or varietals. The differences can evolve naturally but can also be created through cultivation. Different varieties within the same species share most characteristics, however there are small differences that, in the case of coffee, can require differences in growing techniques and contribute to differences in the taste and body of the roasted and brewed coffees.

Two common varieties of arabica coffee are typica and bourbon. Typica, the earliest discovered variety of the arabica species was first found in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia. Typica has served as the basis for many mutations and cultivations of further varietals. Though typica is a low yielding varietal, it is known for its excellent quality in the cup with rich sweet flavors and complex body. Bourbon is also a low yielding, high quality varietal. It is named for the Island of Bourbon off the coast of Madagascar and began being actively planted by the 1870s. This particular coffee varietal is highly regarded for its balance and acidity.

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Cherries of different coffee varietals- Photo Courtesey of George Howell Coffee

 

The  coffees that we serve here at RSC often involve these two varietals, as well as many others. Take this week’s coffees for instance…

La Soledad is a combination of yellow bourbon, caturra (a higher yeilding mutation of the bourbon variety), typica, and pache. Bellavista-Cortes is 80% castillo and %20 caturra. Finca Kassandra is a bit different from the others: a pacamara varietal. Pacamara is a hyrid of the maragogype (known for have large beans with low density) and pacas (a naturally occurring bourbon mutation with smaller beans). As you can taste in the basil notes of the Finca Kassandra, pacamara is unique with its herbal and savory flavors.

Want to learn more about particular varietitals? Former RSC guest roaster, Stumptown Coffee Roasters has a great guide to varieties that has served as a source for the information in this blog post. A second source is the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and the guiding information on their “A Botanist’s Guide to Specialty Coffee” page of their website.

You can also find more information on this topic and many other coffee details in the television broadcast of George Howell’s talk at the Studio from this past fall. Check out our post about the “What’s Brewing” series from Lex Media for more information.

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