Over the holidays, Nossa Familia Coffee offered a cool opportunity (for $35) to taste 4 different types of coffee from a single farm, Finca San Jeronimo Miramar on the Volcano Atitlan in Guatemala. For me, and likely many other people, coffee purchasing decisions are primarily based on the country of origin and not the variety of coffee, so this was a great chance to learn more about varieties.
Speciality coffee drinkers are most interested in varieties and genetic variations within the species arabica. Much of the differentiation in the common varieties of specialty coffee would be considered cultivar varieties because they were selected through agricultural techniques.
In James Hoffmann’s The World Atlas of Coffee he states, “we still know relatively little about how much impact the variety of the tree can have on the taste of the cup of coffee.” His book describes 15 common varieties of coffee and in his recently published awesome Coffee Variety Family Tree there are 21 common varieties or types of coffee. Ethiopia
Tasting and drinking four different types of coffee from one farm seemed like a fun activity to subject my extended family and in-laws to and a great opportunity to taste how much impact variety has on coffee.
The different types of coffee beans (or different varieties of coffee) were:
- Often called “elephant bean” for the huge size. A natural mutation of Typica that produces low quantities of coffee.
- Brought to San Jeronimo from El Salvador back in the 1980s.
- BOURBON 300
- A smaller version of Bourbon, similar to Caturra but short and productive.
- CATURRA PEABERRY
- A natural mutation from Bourbon but higher yielding. Peaberry beans occur when only one bean forms instead of two increasing the density and spherical shape of the bean.
- Often prized for their taste.
- The smaller beans are selected through sorting and sieving.
All four different types of coffee were “from the same farm, similar altitudes, and similar processing.” The goal was to be able to directly compare the differences in taste between different varieties of coffee.
We used the AeroPress to make a consistent brew of each coffee and even tried cupping these coffees following the SCAA cupping protocol. The grind size was calibrated using sieves using the EK43 grinder. In the end, our goal was really just to see if there was a difference between these varieties and figure out what the average person needs to know about coffee beans and varieties to make and enjoy great tasting coffee at home.
So how did the different coffee types taste?
In our order of preference with combined notes:
- GEISHA (Our rating: 7/10)
- Tasting notes of lemon tea, light bright and floral, candy, honey, fruit->mango, lime seltzer
- CATURRA PEABERRY (Our rating: 6/10)
- Tasting notes of orange rind, sweet tobacco, carrot cake, honeysuckle, pineapple, butter
- BOURBON 300 (Our rating: 6/10)
- Tasting notes of dry tobacco, almond, sweet, smooth cola, touch of lemon rind w/ toothpaste aftertaste
- MARAGOGYPE (Our rating: 3.5/10)
- Tasting notes of dry coconut, leather, bitter tea, medicinal, smoke, ash, tree bark, vegetable body and sour
We found surprisingly large differences in taste from these four coffees from the same farm, same altitude and same/similar processing. Since we have nearly always ordered coffee based on the country of origin rather than the type or variety of coffee bean, this somewhat calls into question that behavior. At the same time, given that variety is tied to region (some regions produce more varieties than others), we’d still look at region first.
Cupping coffee at home!
This was a great set of coffees from Nossa Familia Farm and I am glad we got a chance to taste them all side by side. If you get the chance to try different varieties of coffee at the same time I would definitely give it a go.
An article on cupping about cupping hundreds of coffees in a row. It sure sounds horrible to us is to taste that many coffees in a row. No thanks, happy to leave that to the roasters and importers.