There are at least 17 different known species of coffee plants, but commercial production of coffee is mainly limited to the Coffea Arabica (Arabica coffee) and Coffea Canephora (Robusta coffee) plants. In smaller amounts there is some production of two more species that are closely related: Coffee Excelsa, that is mostly found in northern Africa and Coffea Liberica, found in both western Africa and the Philippines.
For all species of coffee plants variations exists, so-called varietals. Some of those varietals are natural, but some have been made by crossing varietals in order to improve for instance harvest or resistance against diseases. Below is a far from complete listing of different varietals per coffee species.
Arabica plants are considered to give the best tasting beans from the main coffee species. The plants were discovered by Europeans in the Middle-East (hence the name Arabica). Arabica plants have very specific demands on their environment, which makes them more difficult to cultivate. The plants require soils rich on minerals (for instance volcanic soils) at at least 500m altitude, a moderate temperature around 20 degrees centigrade and sufficient rainfall.
Coffee was brought to the Jamaican Blue Mountain area from other Carabean islands by the English. It has turned into a whole new variety of high-quality coffee plants that produce excellent coffee.
Bourbon coffee plants are the descendants of the coffee plants the French planted on Bourbon Island (nowadays known as Reunion). In the late 19th century the Bourbon coffee plant was exported and planted in Brazil from where it spread over latin-america. Bourbon plants have a 20-30% higher production than Tipica plants but with equally good quality beans. Bourbon plants grow best at high altitudes, between 1200 and 2000 m.
A man-made hybrid between Caturra and Mundo Novo made in Brazil in the 1940s. It is a short strong plant that is favourite in areas with harsher climates.
Yellow and Red Catuaí refer to the distinct colours of the berries. Some Catuai is also grown in Asia, for instance in southern India.
Caturra is a mutation of the Bourbon plant that was discovered in Brazil in … The Caturra plant has a high production and good quality, but has the downside that it needs a very rich soil and more care. Caturra plants can grow on slightly lower altitudes than Bourbon plants; between 500 and 1800m.
A variation of Bourbon found in East Africa.
A hybrid of Mundo Novo and Caturra. Created by the Mexican Institute of Coffee (INMECAFE) in the 1960’s. Mostly grown in the Veracruz and Chiapas states in Mexico.
Originally a rather rare variety from Panama that around 2004 suddenly became a hype and prices rocketet. It is considered one of the best coffees with a very floral taste; more conservative coffee drinkers may claim it tastes more like Jasmin tea then like coffee though. By now Geisha is grown in other regions as well, for instance in Peru. However, the Peru geisha misses out on the strong floral taste.
Harar is one of the oldes coffee beans still in production and can be found almost exclusively in Ethiopia. Harar coffee has a typical mocha flavour, but due to very simple harvesting techniques Harar coffee varies a lot in quality.
A variety of Tipica discovered in Brazil. The plant is taller than the Tipica plant and has a low production. The exceptionally large beans give a coffee with a very particular taste.
A natural hybrid between Tipica and Bourbon created in the 1940s. Called after the town of Mundo Novo in Brazil.
There are two variations of the Pache plant, Pache comun and Pache colis. They are variations of the Tipica plant and were first discovered in Guatamala. The Pache plants grow on high altitudes (2000-3000m) and give a mild tasting coffee.
A man-made hybrid of Pacas and Maragogype from El Salvador.
A natural variety of Bourbon that is mainly found in El Salvador.
A natural variation of Tipica that originates from a region called Pluma in the southern part of Oaxaca state, Mexico.
SL varieties are created by Scott Laboratories in Kenya that operated from 1934 and 1936 to create hybrids with higher production and better resistance against diseases. Most of them are hybrids involving either Bourbon or French Mission varietals. Two of the more successful SL hybrids are:
SL 28 – The exact mixture is unknown, but it gives high quality beans but unfortunately low production and is still well cultivated in Kenya.
SL 34 – A mutation of French Mission also mostly found in Kenya. It has high productivity and high resistance both against diseases as well as drought.
Tipica is considered one of the oldes varieties of the coffee plant. The tipica plant is tall, up to 4m. The plant has a low production but the beans are of excellent quality.
A natural mutation of Bourbon. First found in Costa Rica near a village called Sarchi, hence its name.
Robusta coffee plants were discovered in Congo and are nowadays much cultivated. Though less rich in taste than Arabica, it has the commercial advantage that it grows well in easy-accessible lowlands in combination with being resistant agains many diseases. The beans are smaller than the Arabica beans and less rich in flavour.
The most famous Robusta from Indonesia. Collected from the droppings of the Civet cat.
Liberica coffee originates from the forests of Liberia (hence the name) and Ivory Coast. It’s beans are almost double the size of Arabica beans. Though the plant grows well in dry araes it is unfortunately very sensitive for diseases and therefore commercially less attractive.
This coffee is almost solely found in the Philippines where it is even preferred over Arabica coffee. It has very large beans and is known for its strong taste and pungent aroma.
Excelsa coffee was discovered in 1904 and originates from around Lake Chad, a shallow lake found on the borders of Chad, Nigeria and Niger in Africa. One of the big advantages of Excelsa coffee is that it grows well in dry areas and is resistant agains many diseases. It is now also found on the Philippines and Java (Indonesia) and sometimes mistakingly sold as Kape Barako coffee.
Arabica – Robusta hybrids
Some attempts have been made to create new coffee plants as hybrids from Arabica and Robusta plants in order to get Arabica quality beans but with the toughness and resistance of Robusta plants. Generally the taste of those hybrids is far better than the taste of Robusta coffee but not as good as pure Arabicas. Hybrids of Arabica and Robusta are referred to as Arabustas.
Catimor coffee is a hybrid between Timor and Caturra developed in Portugal. It has a rather sharp taste and smell and is therefore often used to spice up blends of coffee.
Costa Rica 95
A cross between Timor and Caturra. Made by the Instituto del Café de Costa Rica (ICAFE).
Variety obtained from the combining Sarchimor with Caturra. It is an increasingly popular varietal because if its high quality coffee and good resistance to leaf rust.
A hybrid between Catimor and Red Caturra. Developed in Mexico.
A hybrid of the Villa Sarchi and Timor. It’s mostly grown in Costa Rica but it is getting increasingly popular in Ecuador for its resistance against very wet conditions.
Timor is the original hybrid between Arabica Tipica and Robusta and it’s a natural hybrid that spontaneously formed on the island of Timor (Indonesia). It was discovered in the 1920’s.
Colombia, Castillo and Tabi
All 3 hybrids created in Colombia in an attempt to make a coffee plant that is more resistant against the leaf rust disease. They’re hybrids between Timor and Caturra.