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Coffee Types and varities

As with grapes for wine and hops for beer, coffee cherries come from a tree

that has numerous species and varieties. Although only a few of these

spread across the world, new varieties are continually being cultivated.

The genus of this flowering tree is called Coffea.

A modern way of classifying Coffea is evolving,

as scientists continually discover new species.

Nobody knows exactly how many there are,

but to date, around 124 species of Coffea have

been identified—more than double that of just

20 years ago.

Coffea species are found growing wild, mainly

in Madagascar and Africa, as well as in the

Mascarene Islands, Comoros, Asia, and Australia.

Only the species C. Arabica and C. Canephora

(commonly known as Arabica and Robusta)

are widely grown for commercial purposes,

representing around 99 percent of production

worldwide. It is believed that C. Arabica came

from a cross of C. Canephora and C. Eugenioides

that happened around the border of Ethiopia

and South Sudan. Some countries also grow

small amounts of C. Liberica and C. Excelsa

for local consumption.

There are many cultivated varieties of Arabica.

Records of how it spread around the world are

incomplete and sometimes conflicting, but of

the thousands of native varieties in Ethiopia

and South Sudan, only a few were taken out

of Africa, first to Yemen, and from there to

other countries (see pp10–11).

These trees were referred to as Typica, a

generalized name for “ordinary” coffee. Typica

trees planted in Java were the genetic starting

point for the trees that spread to the rest of the

world. Bourbon, another of our earliest known

varieties, was a natural mutation of Typica that

took place from around the mid-18th to the late

19th century on Bourbon Island, now known as

Réunion Island. Today, most varieties are natural

or cultivated mutations of these two varieties.

C. Canephora was native to West Africa.

From the Belgian Congo, seedlings were also planted

in Java. From there it spread across the world,

to nearly all of the Arabica-producing countries.

There are several varieties of the species, but they

are all commonly referred to as simply Robusta.

In addition, Arabica and Robusta have been

cultivated together to create new varieties.

The look and flavor of coffee is influenced

by many forces, such as soil, sun exposure,

rainfall patterns, wind patterns, pests, and

diseases. Many varieties are genetically similar,

but have acquired different regional or local

names. This makes it diicult to map accurately

the development of Arabica and Robusta, but the

family tree (overleaf) shows some of the most

commonly grown varieties of these species.

Coffee roasters nowdays know very well how to choose the best suitable type.

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