In the coffee world there are two types of commercially available species of coffee: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora. Multiple other species exist but are not commercially grown. Now, if you're a coffee connoisseur, you'll know that the best tasting coffee is made from Arabica beans, and most C. Canephora is used in instant coffee (you may have heard of Robusta or Conillon beans, which are the main varieties of C. Canephora).
However, within C. Arabica species, there's a whole world of varieties that can make your head spin! You see, over time, farmers have noticed natural mutations in coffee plants and have selected those seeds for reproduction. Then, research centres around the world have cross-bred certain varieties to produce new ones with specific characteristics.
For example, the Timor Hybrid was discovered in Indonesia and combines some of the quality of Arabica with the robustness and disease resistance of Robusta. This hybrid was formed naturally when an Arabica and a Robusta plant mated, and it was found to be resistant to coffee leaf rust (CLR), a major fungal disease that can devastate coffee crops.
Another examples are the Caturra, Catuai, or Pacas varieties, which were produced by crossing tall coffee plants with dwarf plants, resulting in a higher yielding varieties.
So, why does it matter? Well, certain varieties provide certain organoleptic
characteristics to the bean and eventually the cup. Some tend to be more vegetative, others more floral. Others may have more sweetness or acidity. Of course the location where the trees are grown also has an impact on quality and some varieties may thrive in certain places and falter in others. Thus, you will find a lot of SL-28 in Kenya, Catuai in Brazil, Caturra in Colombia, etc. Mainly due to historical farming practices where one farm introduced a certain variety and rest of farms followed, especially if production was higher.
So what do farmers do? Well, it comes down to the end goal of the farm. If it is high yield, the farmer may go with one variety that provides superb yields while minimizing care (natural resistance to certain diseases). If the goal is quality, the farmer may have a multitude of varieties that are more priced by roasters but will require more supervision.
Next time you're sipping your coffee, you may be wondering what variety you're drinking! So, now you know a bit more about the different types of coffee varieties, and how they can impact the taste of your cup. A one cup at a time, you'll be discovering which varieties are your favourites. Enjoy!