With wine, we think of ordering by a specific variety alongside its origin. With coffee, I believe this will also eventually happen. The more we dig into where the coffee industry is heading, the more convinced I am that we are closely following the wine industry.
The cup characteristics of coffee are not only determined by the origin of the bean. Its varietal (variety or cultivar) plays a major role in this also. Varietal is a term generally used in the wine industry to describe a wine made from a specific variety of grape (example: Shiraz or Merlot); these varietals give the wine a particular taste and profile, and this also happens in the coffee.
So sweet, so complex and so delicate, this is the pinot noir of coffee. The plants are fragile and don’t produce as much cherry as some other varieties, but they’re worth the effort. A cup of Bourbon-type variety is lush and classic. It’s the coffee of coffee. It charms the snob and the rookie alike. And no, it has nothing to do with the delicious brown adult beverage, though we at Stumptown are big fans of that kind of bourbon, too.
This can be a problematic coffee bean—there’s Robusta influence in the Timor family, which often leads to low acidity and high bitterness. We love the Indonesian types though, which (when processed correctly) delivers piquant herbal and fruit-rind flavors.
Ripe Catuai cherry are red or yellow, and while they both have big acidity, the yellow beans, when cool, lead to an unclean, petroleum-like mouthfeel. These days, all our Catuai cherry are the red ones, found all over Latin America.
Caturra is distinguished by its bright acidity and low-to-medium body. It has less clarity and sweetness than its parent, Bourbon. First developed in Brazil, these small trees are found throughout Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Also known as Variedad Colombia, you’ll taste the classic caramel and chocolate with hints of cherry in the sweet, bright, full-bodied bean. This hybrid of the Caturra was developed in Colombia. It produces lots of cherry and resists disease well, making it very popular on small farms.
The beauty of these is in their mystery. They are the wildflower varieties, descended from the natural coffee forests of southwestern Ethiopia. Each village has its own variety, handed down over centuries and shaped by the soil, elevation and weather.
Think of Gesha as coffee from an alternate dimension. It’s like a Szechuan peppercorn, or the Sun Ra Arkestra, complex and otherworldly. It’s as far as can be from diner coffee, a delicate, black-tea body, with a zest of bergamot. Gesha is picky—it will only grow when, where and how it wants, in tiny microclimates. But whether you grow it in Indonesia or the Americas, it is always thoroughly itself.
We’ve found lovely sugar-browning notes of caramel, maple syrup and brown sugar itself in this Typica variety. It is now grown in Indonesia, having traveled through India, Yemen and Ethiopia.
The flavor profile is outstanding, with sweet citrus notes, wonderful balance and hints of floral aromas. We like to source Pacamara from the highest possible elevations, which leads to the highest cup quality.
Scott Laboratories (SL) was hired by the Kenyan government in the 1930s to develop stronger, drought-resistant varieties. With SL-28, they failed in their mission to create a high-yield tree, but succeeded in creating delicious beans, with an intensely citric, sweet, balanced and complex flavor.
Also from Scott Laboratories, this plant truly shines at medium-to-high altitudes. SL34’s flavor is characterized by its complex citric acidity, heavy mouthfeel and clean, sweet finish.
An offshoot of Bourbon, Tekisik produces exceptional flavor with layered acidity and a distinctly heavy mouthfeel. The sweetness of this coffee is intense, leaning towards flavors like caramel and brown sugar.
One of the grandaddies of all the varieties, Coffee Arabica Typica has been grown, hybridized and perfected for centuries. Cup quality is generally excellent, demonstrating outstanding sweetness, cleanliness and body.
This Bourbon mutation has elegant acidity, intense fruit tones and excellent sweetness. First grown in the Costa Rican town of Sarchi, this tree is sturdy, healthy and a top choice for organic farming.
This is an offshoot of the Typica family, which is delicate, floral, at times even citrusy. This variety was brought to Indonesia in the late 1600s by Dutch traders. We love it for its nuances and high, fine acidity. Villalobos in particular brings strong flavors of stone fruits like apricots, peaches and plums.