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It isn't just Origin that brings flavour to a cup - introducing the Bennett's Varietal mini-series. Episode 1: Bourbon Coffee

These days it’s possible to forget amidst the enthusiasm for origin-focused coffee that the variety of coffee bean can be equally as important in terms of flavour as where the crop is grown. 

In a new Bennetts blog-series, we will be shining some light on the subject of Coffee Varietals; but first – a little background.

A farmer stands amongst Red Bourbon trees in Colombia

What does ‘varietal’ mean?

To start with, in Taxonomy- the jargon-packed science of grouping organisms based on shared genetic characteristics - all Coffee plants belong to the Family Rubiceae, and within this, to the Genus Coffea. 

Of the 103 types of coffee recognised by scientists today, the two main species, Arabica and Robusta, make up the vast majority of commercial production, and only a small handful of other types are cultivated for human consumption.  

It doesn’t end with ‘Species’ though; there are then further classifications known as ‘varietals’. These can occur either as a result of natural mutations, selective breeding, or a combination of both. Each varietal possesses a unique history and characteristics that can make them more or less appealing, such as efficiency of maturation, resilience to pests and environmental variables, and importantly for the consumer, taste.

In this series, we’ll narrow in on a few noteworthy examples. The first we’ll look at is one of the more popular types of Arabica- the Bourbon varietal. 

Bourbon coffee 

This species of bean takes its’ name from the formerly-named ‘Bourbon Island’ located to the east of Madagascar, where it was first planted. 

All Bourbon coffees are descended from a clipping that was introduced by French settlers in the early 18th Century under the orders of the caffeine-keen King Louis XIV.  The Island was originally named for the monarch’s noble family name, but was renamed Reunion Island after the French Revolution and the Royal Family’s sudden loss of popularity. The coffee, however, retained its’ ancient namesake.

Establishment of the plant on the island soon resulted in a number of notable mutations from previous Coffee types, such as faster-maturing fruit and increased yield. The cherries are reasonably small and dense, and by today’s standards the yield tends to be low, although the quality of the cup compensates for this amongst consumers and producers the world over. The best results with this coffee are achieved when it is grown between 3,500 and 6,500 feet. 

Eventually, the Bourbon’s agricultural advantages and very favourable taste led to its’ introduction to most coffee-growing areas of the world, until it became the highly popular and widely-produced coffee it is today. 

Orange Bourbon Cherries in Munchique, Colombia

Varieties of a Varietal

But wait – there’s more. 
There are a number of mutations within the Bourbon variety itself that varyingly affect the colour, productivity, and flavours found in the cups they produce. Two examples of these include the Red and Yellow Bourbons.

Red Bourbon
Red Bourbon is a sweet and clean member of the Bourbon family, and the most widely produced. Its silky mouth-feel pairs graciously with an understated tang of citrus and spice. These delicate flavours move gently into a smooth, dark chocolate accent, leaving behind a subtle cherry sweetness. 

Yellow Bourbon
The sub-varietal Yellow Bourbon earns its name from the brilliant colour the cherries achieve as they ripen. It is thought to be a natural hybrid between Yellow Botucatu and Red Bourbon, and generally claims greater acidity and brightness than its’ Red cousin. The earliest purported record of this species dates to 1930 in the Brazilian municipality of Pederneiras, São Paolo. Like most Bourbon varieties, Yellow Bourbon reaches maturity early at higher altitudes, making its’ mountainous Central and South American production particularly favourable to quality. 

To check out what Bourbon coffees we currently have on offer, click here.

In the coming months, we’ll be looking at more examples of Coffee Varieties, and what makes them special. Keep posted for our next blog post by signing up to the Newsletter here.

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