As we continue to explore types of coffee plants, we will first visit Arabica coffee species. This species includes the Typica and Bourbon varieties. It also includes cultivars like Kent, Java, Caturra, and Maragogype, just to name a few. Much like the plant, this species has many branches.
Arabica’s first commercial variety to leave the Arabian Peninsula, Typica traces its lineage to an unknown landrace in Yemen, which grew and evolved there after originally arriving from Ethiopia likely after the middle of the 15th century.
Typica is a conical tree with narrow leaves and long, narrow berries and seeds.
Arabica’s second globally cultivated variety, Bourbon was “selected” from Yemen landraces. France targeted the island of Bourbon, now La Réunion, for coffee planting and obtained 60 trees from the Yemeni court.
Bourbon trees generally are rounder and shrubbier in appearance than Typica. Depending on the specific sub-group, this coffee can be red (Vermelho) or yellow (Amarelo). They have broader leaves and produce more spherical fruits and less ovoid seeds.
In 1911, one of coffee’s earliest known rust-resistant selections was made on Doddengooda Estate in Mysore, India, from a single Typica tree that showed an uncanny ability to withstand the fungus. Named Kent — the surname of the man who discovered it — the plant became popular in India, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya (all British colonies) in the 1920s and 1930s. However, in the hundred-or-so years since its selection, Kent has “lost” its resistance. It is no longer considered well-suited for the virulent strains of rust that have emerged in recent decades.
Java is a selection from one or more Ethiopian landraces with elongated fruit and seeds with bronze-colored young leaves. The best records indicate that what we know as Java was selected from a few mother trees in Ethiopia by a Dutch coffee researcher in 1928. He sent seeds to Java where the plants flourished and showed resistance to leaf rust. To this day, in Indonesia the plant is referred to as Abyssinia, the name of Ethiopia at the time.
A Brazilian contribution to arabica’s American catalog, Caturra is a single-gene mutation of Bourbon, first reported in 1937 along the border of Brazil. Its primary mutation characteristic is its short stature, which allows for denser planting and easier picking.
Not alone in its short stature mutation, Caturra shares genetic similarities with a number of other dwarf arabica varieties, including:
- Pacas, a Bourbon mutation first described in 1949 in El Salvador. It is named for the family that owned the farm.
- Pache, a Bourbon mutation first noticed in 1949 in Guatemala.
- Villalobos (a Typica mutation) and Villa Sarchi (a Bourbon mutation) first reported in the 1950s and 1960s in Costa Rica.
A mutant of Typica, first recognized in Brazil in 1870. It produces large cherries, long, slightly twisted seeds, long internodes, and large leaves, and a relatively lower yield.