There are more than 125 species of coffee known in the world today, though only two of them are commercially viable: Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora. In specialty coffee, we always say we focus on Arabica coffee—the species that is the grown at higher elevation, contains about half the caffeine, and is generally more nuanced, floral, and sweet than Canephora—but our focus doesn’t just stop there. Within the species Arabica there are hundreds, even thousands of varieties, each of which has the potential to look, grow, taste, and even breed distinct from the others.
Cultivars (cultivated varieties) in coffee are similar to those found in apples, grapes, olives, roses, you name it: They either naturally occur and are selected for propagation, or are man-made using science to express different characteristics, just like how Granny Smith apples were designed to be hardy and travel well, while Red Delicious were engineered for their sweetness.
Of the many variables that impact the ultimate taste and quality of a coffee, the plant’s botanical lineage and genetic heritage play a significant—but not solo—part. We know that in addition to the pedigree of the coffee itself, things like terroir, ripe picking, post-harvest processing, and even roasting and brewing will have considerable influence over how a coffee tastes.
That being said, botanical and genetic relationships between coffees can and do inform flavor to some extent, and we are better able now than perhaps ever in history to understand and even start to predict the influence of variety or cultivar on a coffee’s quality, resilience, productivity, and consistency.
There are many different scientific studies happening around the coffee world in order to catalog, qualify, develop, test, and unlock coffee’s myriad varieties, and we at Cafe Imports are interested in pursuing our own knowledge of how isolating individual types of coffee might impact flavor, as well as impact farmers (and consumers). We are happy to share that knowledge with you here, and to update it as we learn and grow in our understanding.