Coffee at mill station

Colombia Variety Explosion

As a young barista, I remember seeing the famous “variety tree” poster EVERYWHERE I turned. All my favorite coffee shops had one, all my favorite roasteries — I saw them for sale everywhere during my first trip to SCA Expo in Boston, 2013. As a big time “map guy”, I stared at the poster for a long while, tracing the roots of the “pure” Arabicas, and seeing where the Canephoras were sliding in, comparing the names on the poster with the names on my favorite roasters’ retail bags.

I recognized maybe four or five names on the tree out of the dozens listed, with nothing more than surface-level knowledge of what the differences meant. In that era, Gesha was still riding high as the GOAT variety, what with the legend of the record-breaking Best of Panama auction still fresh in minds of many. It may seem quaint now, but the arrival of Gesha, with its intense florality, lingering sweetness and depth of complexity marked a stark difference for coffee drinkers accustomed to referring to coffee as nutty, smoky or chocolatey.

Co-founder Joel Eastlick picking coffee cherries.

With the big coming-out party in the 2005 Best of Panama, the race was on. Variety selection and coffee genetics had long been the territory of agronomists looking hedge off disease and the difficulties within a changing climate, but now flavor was being prized not solely because of farm conditions or best practices, but because of previously-unknown-to-the-public genetics.

coffee cherry

Pink Bourbon variety.

Fast forward 10 or so years from 2005, which is when Pink Bourbon started to make its first regular appearance on roasters’ menus across the country, this time from Colombia instead of Panama. For many of us, it was like reliving our first experience with Gesha, captivated by the distinct aroma of the grounds, followed by a delicious tropical treat of a drink in the cup. Floral, of course, with an added layer of pineapple, papaya and mango in the best expressions of the variety.

“Fast forward 10 or so years from 2005, which is when Pink Bourbon started to make its first regular appearance on roasters’ menus across the country, this time from Colombia instead of Panama”

Well, here we are again, on another 10-year cycle, where Colombia continues to explode with varieties that most likely trace their roots back to what are called “Ethiopian Accessions”, that is, a grouping of genetically distinct plants that collectively are more closely related to heirloom varieties in the western Ethiopian highlands where Arabica coffee first evolved, as opposed to “legacy” varieties common to the Americas for centuries, which basically consist of some offshoot of Typica or Bourbon, bulwarked by Canephora. This list includes, but not limited to, varieties such as Chiroso, Papayo, Caturrón and Sidra.

Coffee at mill station

New coffee trees waiting to be planted.

And if you’re a roaster or barista who is paying attention even just a little bit, you’ve seen these names floating around… and I’m sure your curiosity has been piqued! Many of us are already accustomed to the seemingly endless advances in processing techniques and technology — and it’s my opinion that the exploration of variety is a perfect complement and parallel to the exploration of processing. Beyond perceiving these new names as trends, or as some sort of super-producer space race, it’s important to frame our mindset as positive towards these advances, as a way to continue into the new era of coffee that is producer-led and producer-positive. If attempting to plant new varieties that create distinction in the cup, while at the same time offering genetic diversity to combat the inherent weakness of the monoculture system, offers producers a better path forward while creating the next generation of coffee lovers, we are here to support it.

Text by: Joel Eastlick
Photo credits: Joel Eastlick

Text by: Joel Eastlick
Photo credits: Joel Eastlick

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

0
    0
    Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Offerings