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Exploring Factors Influencing Coffee Flavor Part 1: Species and Variety

Posted on November 17 2023, By: Tim Wacker

Exploring Factors Influencing Coffee Flavor Part 1: Species and Variety

This is Part 1 of a series where we will explore the factors influencing coffee flavor. Our exploration kicks off with an examination of the species and variety of the coffee shrub. There are around 125 species of coffee, but when it comes down to coffee consumed worldwide, there are only two species to consider: Arabica and Robusta. Or if you want to get fancy, Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora, respectfully.

Let’s dig into how Arabica and Robusta differ:

  1. Origins and Growing Conditions:

    • Arabica: Known for its high-quality beans. It originates from the high-altitude regions of Ethiopia, and it thrives in cooler temperatures with elevations ranging from 2,000 to 6,000 feet. Arabica plants are more susceptible to pests and diseases, requiring specific care and attention.

    • Robusta: Hardier and more robust, as the name suggests. Originating from sub-Saharan Africa, Robusta is now cultivated in various regions worldwide. It is better adapted to lower altitudes and warmer climates, making it a popular choice for cultivation in regions like Vietnam, Brazil, and Indonesia. Robusta plants are known for their resilience against pests and diseases.

  2. Flavor Profiles:

    • Arabica: Arabica beans are celebrated for their complex flavor profile. They often boast a wide range of taste notes, including fruity, floral, and acidic undertones. The acidity in Arabica coffee is generally higher, providing a bright and lively taste that is less bitter than Robusta. It also has about twice the amount of sugar as Robusta.

    • Robusta: Robusta coffee is characterized by a stronger, more robust flavor. It tends to have a fuller body, earthier tones, and a distinct nutty or woody aftertaste. Robusta beans contain more bitter compounds, including a higher concentration of caffeine, contributing to a more intense and bolder flavor.

  3. Caffeine Content:

    • Arabica: Arabica coffee generally contains less caffeine than Robusta. The caffeine content in Arabica beans ranges from 1% to 1.5%.

    • Robusta: Robusta beans, conversely, contain a higher caffeine content, typically ranging from 2% to 2.7%.

  4. Acidity and Body:

    • Arabica: The acidity in Arabica coffee is often described as bright and crisp, providing a lively and refreshing experience. Additionally, Arabica coffee tends to have a smoother, more delicate body, contributing to a well-balanced and nuanced cup.

    • Robusta: Robusta coffee has a lower acidity level, resulting in a bolder and heavier taste.

Variety

The diversity among coffee shrub varieties significantly influences your daily brew's taste, aroma, and overall sensory experience. In botany, a variety is a classification below species and subspecies. We could get technical here and distinguish between variety, cultivar, and landrace, but that is beyond the scope of this article. I am going to use the term variety here.

Understanding how coffee varieties impact flavor is reminiscent of the distinct taste profiles found in different apple varieties. Just as a Granny Smith apple differs from a Gala or a Honey Crisp, each coffee variety offers unique levels of sweetness, complexity, and acidity, contributing to the rich and diverse world of coffee flavors.

Distinct coffee varieties yield a range of outcomes in terms of flavor and quality. While some are recognized for producing outstanding coffees, others offer consistently satisfying cups, and some may not stand out. Typica, Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Gesha, and Pacas are common coffee varieties. To discover the specific variety of our coffee, refer to the Product Info section on the coffee page. Occasionally, you may find more than one variety listed, indicating the potential presence of multiple varieties on the same farm or the collaborative efforts of local farmers in a Co-Op pooling their harvests together.

While there's an extensive array of coffee varieties with intricate details to delve into, my intention in sharing this isn't to inundate you with an abundance of data. Rather, I aim to elevate your awareness and prompt a moment of contemplation on how the specific coffee shrub that bore your coffee has shaped the flavors you're currently savoring. Consider taking a moment to research the variety or varieties of the coffee you are enjoying; a pause for reflection can add a deeper dimension to the simple act of enjoying your coffee. Ultimately, this is about embracing the Joy of Coffee.

In Part 2, we'll delve into the realm of environmental conditions, soil composition, and elevation, unraveling their profound impact on the flavors in your cup. Until then, drink good coffee with good company over great conversation. Cheers!

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