Interpreting the Info on your Coffee Bag (Part Five - Varietal)

May 01, 2019

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.

Varietal

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.

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