A general reference on the differences and origins of the various coffee beans around the world. The classification of each is not exact, as some institutes may call some plants a cultivar or a variety. There’s plenty of confusion and different takes on what is a proper species and what is a cultivar only of the main Coffea natural species.
The main species of coffee
Coffea Abbayesii. Found in Madagascar.
Coffea Affiniis. Found in tropical Africa, it is probably an interbreed between Coffea Liberica and Coffea Stenophylla.
Coffea Arabica. The most widely cultivated. Originally from Ethiopia, South Sudan and north Kenya.
Coffea Benghalensis. Distributed in the area between Nepal and southern China.
Coffea Canephora (“Robusta”). Originally from western and central sub-Saharan Africa, nowadays widespread in all continents. Robusta is actually the name of one cultivar of Coffea Canephora, with the other being called Nganda. Nowadays Robusta is used as a synonym of Coffea Canephora though.
Coffea Charrieriana. Found in the south of Cameroon. A natural caffeine-free species.
Coffea Eugenioides. Indigenous of the highlands of East Africa, along with Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
Coffea Liberica. Widely cultivated but originally from tropical west Africa till Uganda and Angola.
Coffea Magnistipula. From the African coast between Gabon and south Cameroon.
Coffea Stenophylla. Found in west African coast.
The main varieties of coffee
Bourbon. A widespread cultivar of Coffea Arabica, originated from coffee brought from Yemen to the island of Bourbon, nowadays Reunion, by the French. It is classified in two sub-groups according to the cherries’ colours, Vermelho (red) or Amarelo (yellow).
Gesha. A wild cultivar of Coffea Arabica, originated in the Gesha region of Western Ethiopia. It was brought from there to Costa Rica and then Panama, with great commercial success. Some of the most famous coffee are made from this variety, like Harrar, Yirgacheffe, Djimma, Lekempti, Sidamo, Agora, Longberry Harrar, Haru, Gera, Mettu, Alghe, Dalle, Gawe, Tegu, Rambung, Dega, Ennarea, Dilla, Barbuk and Rume Sudan.
Typica. A cultivar of Coffea Arabica, originated from the coffee brought from Yemen, through India, to the island of Java by the Dutch. Less productive than other Arabica varieties and prone to diseases and many pests.
Yemenia. A new cultivar of Coffea Arabica, recently discovered in Yemen. More info on Qima Coffee’s website.
The main cultivars of Bourbon
Batian. Similar to SL28, developed in Kenya as well. Tall and with medium purple/bronze young leaves.
Bourbon Pointu/Laurina. A natural mutation of Bourbon occurred on Reunion, it is a dwarf plant with a pointed shape. It is lower in caffeine compared to many other Coffea Arabica varieties.
Caturra. A dwarf mutation of red Bourbon, found in Brazil. Very similar to the original Bourbon plant.
Mocha/Mokka. A dwarf mutation of Bourbon. Round cherries and round seeds are characteristics of this cultivar. It was grown first in Yemen and then brought to Reunion.
Pacamara. A cross between Maragogype and Pacas, developed in El Salvador.
Pacas. A mutation of Bourbon found in El Salvador. It grows well at high elevations and has good yields. A dwarf plant.
SL28. Selected and bred in Kenya. It is a vigorous, with moderate yield, plant. Today is most widely grown in Zimbabwe.
SL34. Selected and bred in Kenya. Resistant to extreme climate conditions and with a high yield, is commonly cultivated in Kenya today.
Tekisic. Developed in El Salvador. Small fruits and seeds, with low productivity.
Villa Sarchi. A mutation of Bourbon found in Costa Rica. A dwarf plant.
Some common coffee that are related to Bourbon and its cultivars are:
- Bourbon Cocholà
- French Mission
- Yellow/Red/Orange/Pink Bourbon
The main cultivars of Typica
Java. With elongated fruits and seeds and bronze-colored young leaves, Java is now cultivated in Java itself, Timor and East Africa.
Kent. A Typica cultivar from coffee bred in the Kent Estate, India. The first coffee selected for rust resistance, is commonly cultivated in India and Kenya today.
Maragogype. A mutation of Typica, first recognized in Brazil, where it’s commonly grown to this day. Characteristics are large cherries, long and slightly twisted seeds and large leaves but with a relatively low yield.
Some common coffee that are related to Typica and its cultivars are:
- Blue Mountain
- Amarello de Botucatu
Main cultivars that are crosses of Typica and Bourbon
Acaia. Mainly grown in Brazil, a selected cultivar of Mundo Novo. Large fruits and seeds.
Catuai. Developed in Brazil, Catuai originated from a hybrid between Mundo Novo and yellow Caturra. A dwarf plant, with yellow or red cherries. Good productivity.
Mundo Novo. A tall cultivar and natural cross of Sumatra (Typica) and Red Bourbon. From Brazil.
Robusta and Arabica hybrids
Timor. A spontaneous cross, occurred naturally on the island of Timor. Introduced to nearby islands of Sumatra and Flores, nowadays it is being utilized in breeding programs to introduce rust resistance to new varieties.
Jember/S795. Developed in India by breeding Kent and Coffea Liberica plants. Widely grown in India and Indonesia.
Coffee descending from the Timor Hybrid
Anacafe 14. Maragogype and Pacamara cross with a Timor Hybrid.
Castillo. A selected Colombia cultivar, the most commonly grown coffee in Colombia today.
Catimor. A hybrid between Timor and Caturra. Highly productive and resistant to leaf rust.
Colombia. A breed of various Catimors. Popular in Colombia.
Icatú. A tall cultivar from Brazil. A hybrid plant between a Coffea Canephora hybrid and a red Bourbon, then back-crossed to Mundo Novo.
IHCAFE 90. A Catimor cultivar developed in Honduras.
Oro Azteca. A dwarf Catimor, selected in Mexico.
Ruiru 11. A dwarf hybrid produced in Kenya. It is a cross between Catimor and multiple varieties, including K7, Rume Sudan and SL28.
Sarchimor. A cross between Villa Sarchi and a Timor Hybrid.
Some common coffee that are related to Timor Hybrid and its descendants:
- Bogor Prada
For more, actually plenty more, of the Coffea species variants, check the WCSP (World Checklist of Selected Plant Families). Most have little to no interest to coffee aficionados but are of a scientific value.