What is a coffee varietal?
This is Part Five in a series about the information on your coffee bag and what the heck it all means.
If you see information like Typica, Bourbon, or even Caturra and Catuai describing a coffee, this information is telling you the varietal of the coffee. Although you may have forgotten high school biology, a coffee’s varietal is a plant classification that tells you something about the species of coffee that make up the coffee. Most varieties are mutations and hybrids and many bagged coffee contain multiple varieties.
A familiar analog is wine. Wines may consist of a single or multiple grape varietals. For example, a red table wine may be made up 3 grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Grenache.
Coffee varieties have different characteristics, with most factors being more relevant to coffee producers rather than consumers. For example, varieties may differ in:
- Ideal growing environments, including altitude
- Plant shape and height, which impacts ease of hand harvesting
- Bean size
- Cherry color (red, orange, and yellow)
- Yield (amount of coffee fruit produced)
- Disease resistance and susceptibility
- Flavor characteristics
For example, Gesha is a coffee variety known for distinctive floral flavor notes.
Varietal at a glance
What it is: Variety describes a genetically distinct version of a coffee species.
Why you might care: Although some varieties are associated with specific taste characteristics, most of what is known about different varieties is more relevant to the coffee growers.
Sign up for Slow News and get new posts sent directly to your inbox!