Coffee Basics: Coffee Varieties – What kinds of coffee varieties are there?

In the specialty coffee industry, we talk about “quality” all the time. The nuances of the flavors. What the flavors remind us off. Whether one coffee tastes better than another coffee. At Counter Culture, we can get pretty geeky when we talk about coffee quality, and we are always working with our sourcing partners to develop and push our quality standards even higher. But what are some of the aspects that make up the quality of a coffee?

We believe quality comes from the environment a coffee is grown in. That includes the health and richness of the soil, the altitude of the farm, the amount of rainfall, the processing practices that the coffee undergoes, and the variety of the coffee tree, among other factors.

In recent posts, we have talked about different processing techniques, but today we’re going to focus on one of the most important elements that affects coffee quality: variety.

What is a coffee variety?
For simplicity’s sake, variety is a rank in the taxonomy of plants as shown below.

Varieties play a significant role in other industries, as well. With wine, we are familiar with different varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot, Zinfandel, Merlot, and so on. In recent years, different varieties of hops for beer like the Centennial, Chinook, Mosaic, Citra, Cascade etc. have become more familiar to beer fans.

 

A coffee variety map

 

Sometimes the different varieties can look physically different like these two coffee trees

Why does it matter what variety my coffee is?
Coffee has different species and varieties, as well. Counter Culture only roasts the species coffea arabica, but, under the species of arabica, we buy dozens of different coffee varieties from around the world. Sometimes a coffee is a mix of varieties, and sometimes we are buying a coffee that is a from single variety. Regardless, these different varieties contribute to the important distinctions in flavor notes for each offering.

Just as those who find that they like the flavor of a certain wine variety can use that as a starting point to find similar wines, the same can be said for coffees: Often times, someone drawn to a certain coffee variety can use that insight to find to new and interesting coffees that suit their palate.

How many coffee varieties currently exist?
The number of different varieties that exist in the world is unknown. Ethiopia alone has more than 10,000 accessions collected and growing. Our coffees represent about 2–3 dozen varieties—with the exception of those from Ethiopia. Finding new varieties and taste testing them with our producing partners is one of the many ways we look to improve our coffees.

Where can I find the variety of coffee that I purchase?
You can find variety information on our coffees on the bottom half of our product pages under the “Notes” section:

 

Variety information is also included on the labels on our limited-release coffees and inside the box for our black box selections:

What is an example of an exceptional coffee variety?
Many people both in and out of the industry have been enchanted by one particular variety from Ethiopia known as the Gesha variety. Gesha is an Ethiopian coffee variety that became popular and famous in Central America for its super-sweet, complex flavor. Right now Counter Culture is offering three different Gesha variety coffees, with another to be released soon, that represent how amazing this unique variety can be.

While variety may not tell you everything about the flavor of your coffee, we know that it has a significant result in the end cup flavor and it might be something that can help you find that perfect coffee for your taste.