Coffea Arabica

Coffea arabica, var. Bourbon

This is the third article in our series by coffee expert Mr. Robert Barker.

Bourbon and Typica varieties are considered to be the two “Heirloom” or “Heritage” Arabica cultivars. Typica originated in Ethiopia and was one of the first coffees introduced into Yemen. The Bourbon variety could have had the same beginnings or it may have actually originated in Yemen from Typica.

Strangely enough, we actually don’t know for sure, as early records are nonexistent.

It is commonly accepted that the Bourbon variety of coffee tree is a natural or so called “spontaneous mutant” variety of Typica that found its way into cultivation on the Indian Ocean island of what was once called Île Bourbon, so named by its French occupiers.

The original Typica that was introduced to the island was possibly progeny of a selection previously gifted to the French by the Dutch, although some think it an Ethiopian variety introduced through Yemen then on to the island of Bourbon. Exactly when this variety was recognized is also vague.

What is more important is that coffee growers recognized Bourbon’s unusual characteristics and it was conserved and put into separate production because it had traits that were in some way superior to its progenitor, Typica. Both Bourbon and Typica were later introduced to mainland Africa as well as into French holdings in the Caribbean and South America.

Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus described Coffea arabica in 1753.

Typica – This is the base from which many modern coffee varietals have been developed. Like the other Coffea arabica varietals that have been developed from it, Typica coffee plants have a conical shape with a main vertical trunk and secondary verticals that grow at a slight slant. Typica is a tall plant reaching 3.5-4 m in height. The lateral branches form 50-70° angles with the vertical stem. Typica coffee has a very low production, but probably the best cup quality of all coffees.

The main differences between the original variety of Typica and Bourbon are:

The tree shows exceptional vigor
Bourbon is considered hardier than Typica
New leaves are usually green but sometimes bronze
Leaves are larger and broader than Typica
Cherries are more round than Typica
Branches are thicker and less flexible than Typica
Stem larger and branching more erect
Branching is 60 degrees off stem by one account
Branching is upward 45 degrees by another
Bourbon is considered higher yielding than Typica

Bourbon – Bourbon coffee plants produce 20-30% more coffee than Typica, but have a smaller harvest than many other coffee varietals. Bourbon has less of a conical shape than Typica coffee plants, but has more secondary branches. The angles between the secondary branches and the main stem are smaller, and the branch points on the main stem are closely spaced. The leaves are broad and wavy on the edges. The fruit is relatively small and dense. The cherries mature quickly and are at a risk of falling off during high winds or rains. The best results for Bourbon coffee are realized between 3,500-6,500 feet. Cup quality is excellent and similar to Typica.

This article was kindly provided by Mr. Robert Barker. Mr. Barker has over 35 years experience in all fields of Commercial and Specialty Coffee. Starting in 1976 as a coffee producer in Colombia, green buyer for several roasting companies, green coffee importer and trader and most recently coffee production consultant and QA manager in Papua, New Guinea. Mr. Barker has contributed essays to trade journals on the subjects of coffee grading, cupping and roasting. He has served for a number of years on the arbitration panel for the Specialty Coffee Association of America and on the cupping panel of The Coffee Review.

The leas photo is of coffee freshly picked prior to cleaning.