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A journey through the world of coffee species

The coffee plant has existed for hundreds of thousands of years. But how long have humans actually known about this plant? According to legend, a goat discovered the coffee plant in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia in the 9th century. On the other hand, archaeologists have found 14,000-year-old remains of coffee beans in what is now Chad, which point to a distortion. Incidentally, the story of the goat has caught on. There are several amusing versions of it. It is also certain that the coffee plant originated in Ethiopia.

Coffea Arabica

The coffee plant or the genus Coffea belongs to the Rubiaceae family. To date, more than 120 Coffea species have been discovered. Some of these are Liberica, Eugeniodes, Arabica, Excelsa, Stenophylla and Canephora, which is known as Robusta.

You've probably already heard of Arabica and Robusta, as these two species cover around 98% of the world's coffee demand. In recent years, an average of 10 million tons of green coffee have been produced, with Arabica accounting for around two thirds and Robusta around one third.

However, this does not mean that other species of coffee are not grown. They are simply not intended for international trade, but are still consumed in very small quantities, usually in the same country of cultivation. In recent years, exotics such as Eugeniodes or Liberica have been brewed at the highest level in Barista Championships. I even had the pleasure of trying Eugeniodes once.

The price for this rarity was 500 euros per kilo! At the time, it was a limited lot of Five Elephants. Over 25,000 years ago, this original species mated with the over 100,000-year-old Robusta (actually Canephora) and created a new type of Coffea that is now celebrated for its complexity of taste: Coffea Arabica! Interestingly, the caffeine content of Eugeniodes lies exactly between Arabica and Robusta.

It was the Coffea Arabica, which was first discovered in Ethiopia and also has its origins there. Robusta was discovered in 1898 in the Congo under Belgian colonial rule. This happened when the fragile Arabica plant was severely affected by coffee rust and the search was on for an alternative coffee plant.

Robusta grows at lower altitudes, is more resistant to disease than Arabica due to its higher caffeine content and also tolerates more heat and humidity. So why does everyone talk about Robusta instead of Canephora? Robusta is actually a variety! The best known and most cultivated of all varieties under the species Coffea Canephora.

Another reality is that for a long time, no effort was made to exploit the potential of Canephoras. But things have changed in recent years. Specialty Canephoras, which can have significantly more complexity, are on the rise and have also been presented in Barista Championships.

On the one hand, the constant willingness to experiment is one reason for this, but the motivation to prefer higher quality Canephoras (or Robusta) also has to do with the well-known issue of climate change and global warming.

While the climatic conditions for Arabica are deteriorating, the demand for coffee continues to rise. For this reason, many resources have been invested in research for decades in order to discover or develop more resistant plant varieties for a specific terroir and climate. For example, Arabica and Canephora varieties have been crossed to achieve this effect. The Catimor variety is also known as a resistant variety. The Timor variety and the Caturra variety were artificially crossed. Both are officially Arabica varieties. However, Timor also contains Robusta genes. A variety that developed naturally from an Arabica and Robusta plant and was discovered on the island of Timor in 1920.

Stenophylla could also be a promising coffee species to meet future demand. Originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa, Stenophylla thrives at higher altitudes in a similar way to Arabica. Like Robusta, it shows remarkable resistance to disease. It also promises a lot in terms of taste. At present, this type of coffee is still in its infancy and it will take time for producers' confidence in Stenophylla to grow.

If you have the opportunity to try something other than the well-known Arabica, don't hesitate to do so. For example, you can start with a specialty Canephora, which is becoming more and more accessible.

Let us remain open and curious about what is happening in the world of coffees. Let's think and act sustainably and hope that our beloved coffee will be around for a long time to come. If you ever come across a coffee package with 100% Coffea Canephora or even Coffee Stenopfhylla, you will know what is behind it and that it really is still coffee.

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