Coffee Varietals

When we speak about coffee in the specialty coffee industry, we typically refer to several details to identify each. This includes country, region, processing and importantly, varietal.  

The two most widely known coffee species are C. Arabica or C. Robusta, both part of the wider Rubicaea family of fauna. The hybrids, mutations and genetic variances within these species are what we refer to as varietals. 

Each coffee varietal has its own unique physical features, production yield and flavour profile – below we've listed some of the most common varietals we source, in order to help you better understand the coffee you're drinking. 


The Bourbon varietal is one of the most culturally and genetically important C. Arabica varieties in the world, as well as the parent of many new mutations.

Introduced by French missionaries to Bourbon Island (now known as La Réunion) from Yemen in the early 1700s, it spread throughout Africa and the Americas from the mid 1800s onwards.

There are now many Bourbon-like varieties and mutations found throughout coffee growing countries. However, in Latin America the Bourbon varietal has been largely replaced by varieties that descend from it (including Caturra, Catuai, and Mundo Novo).

Bourbon is typically characterised by medium to high body, sweet notes of chocolate and caramel, and low acidity.

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Caturra is a naturally occurring mutation of the Bourbon varietal, first identified in Brazil during the early 1900s.

This varietal has had immense success across much of Central and South America, favoured for its small size and the ability to produce a yield similar to that of larger trees. Considered to be a 'dwarf' variety, Caturra trees are able to be planted closely together without impeding on neighbouring trees. In countries such as Colombia, Caturra represents up to 50% of all coffee produced each year – however its high susceptibility to la roya (leaf rust) has led many to reconsider their reliance on it.

Caturra is usually very floral, sweet and has a complex acidity; however its sweetness and acidity greatly varies depending on origin and processing.

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Catuaí is a compact hybrid of the Caturra and Mundo Novo varieties, usually much more productive than plants of a similar composition, such as Bourbon.

This varietal was classified in Brazil during the early 1970s, after many years of pedigree selection through multiple generations. After being commerically released by the Honduran Institute of Coffee (IHCAFE), Catuaí grew to become one of the most commonly grown varietals in the Americas. Unfortunately, it also has a very high susceptibility to diseases, causing many producers to plant new varietals in its place.

Although the flavours may change depending on origin and processing, Catuaí typically has a medium to low body, notes of brown sugar and qualities of honey.

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IHCAFE-90 (or IH-90) is a dwarf variety produced by the Instituto Hondureño de Cafe (IHCAFE), Honduras' main governing body for coffee research and development.

A hybrid variety between Caturra and a Timor Hybrid (832/1), IHCAFE-90 was produced in order to provide a more disease-resistant varietal following a large outbreak of la roya (leaf rust) in the mid 2010's. With a high yield and potential for good quality at middle to high altitudes, this variety has been used throughout Honduras and several other Central American countries as an alternative to coffee trees susceptible to disease and rapid climate variances.

Recent research and trials of this varietal has shown that it is now susceptible to la roya and other dieseases. Despite this, IHCAFE-90 continues to be used in many farms, and has even been awarded in several auction programs for its unique florality and stone fruit sweetness.

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The Jimma Agricultural Research Centre (JARC) is a research and development centre focused on the classification of coffee varieties in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee.

Varieties are developed and researched by the centre for their desirable characteristics, including increased yield amd greater resistance to disease. They are distinct from landraces varieties, which are coffee trees that grow naturally in the wild.

Across the thousands of varieties that naturally exist in Ethiopia, there are varying characteristics in yield, quality, physical appearance and more. Due to these variances and the lack of resources to classify them, it is difficult to have a complete genetic understanding of all the coffee varieties in Ethiopia.



Typica is perhaps one of the most well-known descendants of its family, which includes all varieties in the Bourbon-Typica group, and is tied to the story of how coffee spread across the world.

Having originated in Ethiopia, Typica was taken to Yemen at the end of the 15th centurry. From there, it was spread to India and Indonesia, before several plants were taken to the Netherlands and France in the early 1700s. Over the next 100 years, these plants provided seeds to spread coffee throughout Central and South America. Today, Typica is one of the most dominant varieties in countries such as Brazil, Costa Rica and El Salvador.

Although it has a lower yield than some of its descendants, Typica has a good potential for production at high altitude. As such, it produces coffees that are sweet, full-bodied and well-balanced.

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SL varieties

Scott Agricultural Labs, or Scott Labs (SL) varieties are a family of pedigree coffees developed in Kenya during the mid to late 1930s. During this time, more than 40 trees were individually selected and studied for their quality of fruit, yield and resistance to drought and disease.

There are a number of SL varieties now grown throughout the world, including SL14, SL28 and SL34. These varieties make up the bulk of coffee production in Kenya, and in recent years have become popular in other producing countries for their sweet and complex fruit, yield potential, drought tolerance and relatively good resistance to disease.

Now known as the National Agricultural Laboratories (NARL), the former Scott Labs continue to study and develop these varieties in the hope of producing more hardy and climate change-resistant coffees to help producers in Kenya and across the world.

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Walichu, also known as Wolisho, is a Typica variety that originated in the highlands of Ethiopia. Named after an indigenous tree native to the southern Gedeo region, it is distinguished by large cherries, tall growth and canopy and long leaves. 

Walichu is usually grown and cultivated between 1,800 to 2,300 metres above sea level, which results in a longer maturation time for the cherries and high-quality, complex coffee. As a lot of coffee in Gedeo and surrounding regions is grown as 'garden coffee' in the backyards of smallholder farmers and combined at washing stations, it is often difficult to distinguish Walichu from other varietals in these combined lots.

This landrace varietal is known for a complex taste profile that includes citrus fruits, stone fruits, floral aromas and tastes, and a clean finish.

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