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Back of the Bag - Variety

What does varietal/variety mean on the back of the retail bag?

Chris Mock


This is a very brief synopsis, and I could probably do pages more, but maybe at a later time!

In Arabica coffee (the species of coffee that almost all of specialty coffee is roasting and serving) you have subsets of that species called varieties. These varieties are all the same type of plant but have slightly different characteristics from taste, yield, pest resistance, etc. These traits come about from either natural genetic mutations or crossbreeding by agronomists. Some varieties are naturally occurring and have been around for centuries (Ethiopian Landrace/Heirloom Varieties), and others only for the past few years.

When growing coffee, producers sometimes choose this variety personally by purchasing seedlings, by “borrowing” seeds from neighboring farms, and sometimes it is just what has always been growing on the land they inherited.

Varieties that are chosen all offer different benefits and require different input costs that translate into risk on the producers end. While a variety like Gesha/Geisha may offer high cup quality, it is also highly susceptible to pests and coffee rust.

As a consumer - look at the coffee variety on the back of the bag as a hint of maybe what you’ll be tasting, but also as part of the story of the producer. Producers have to make decisions on what they are going to grow and why; and changing to growing a completely different variety that might be more popular in the market at the time is monumental and requires significant risk, work, and not selling any coffee until the crop matures.

Try the coffee. Hard work and risk was put into it regardless of the variety. If you like it, take some time looking up the variety and looking into the history of it and think about why the coffee producer might have grown it.
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