Lempira 3

History of Arabica

Coffee’s move­ment around the globe

Cof­fea ara­bi­ca is native of Ethiopia, where the major genet­ic diver­si­ty of the species is found. His­to­ri­ans believe that cof­fee seeds were first tak­en from the cof­fee forests of South­west­ern Ethiopia to Yemen, where it was cul­ti­vat­ed as a crop. From these ear­ly plants, farm­ers and breed­ers have select­ed and cre­at­ed dozens of wide­ly cul­ti­vat­ed Ara­bi­ca cof­fee vari­eties, each unique in its per­for­mance and adap­ta­tion to local conditions.

Recent genet­ic tests have con­firmed that the main seeds tak­en from Ethiopia to Yemen were relat­ed to the Bour­bon and Typ­i­ca vari­eties. From Yemen, descen­dants of Bour­bon and Typ­i­ca spread around the world, form­ing the basis of most mod­ern ara­bi­ca cof­fee cultivation.

The Typ­i­ca lineage

By the late 1600s, cof­fee trees had left Yemen and were grow­ing in India. These seeds gave rise to cof­fee plan­ta­tions in the Mysore region known as Mal­abar at that time. Recent genet­ic fin­ger­print­ing results indi­cate that both Typ­i­ca- and Bour­bon-like vari­eties were includ­ed in this intro­duc­tion from Yemen to India. The Typ­i­ca branch like­ly sep­a­rat­ed from Bour­bon when the Dutch sent seeds in 1696 and 1699 from Mal­abar coast of India to Batavia, today called Jakar­ta, the cap­i­tal of Indone­sia, locat­ed on the pop­u­lous island of Java. The Dutch had attempt­ed to intro­duce seeds from Yemen direct­ly to Batavia in 1690, how­ev­er, the result­ing plants died in 1699 after an earth­quake. In oth­er words, the iso­la­tion of the Typ­i­ca branch and it’s sub­se­quent move­ment around the world like­ly orig­i­nat­ed when the seeds came to Indone­sia from India, not direct­ly from Yemen as is often told.

From this Typ­i­ca group intro­duced in Indone­sia, a sin­gle cof­fee plant was tak­en in 1706 from Java to Ams­ter­dam and giv­en a home in the botan­i­cal gar­dens. This sin­gle plant gave rise to the Typ­i­ca vari­ety (just one vari­ety among many in the Typ­i­ca genet­ic group) that col­o­nized the Amer­i­c­as dur­ing the 18th cen­tu­ry. In 1714, after the Utrecht peace treaty between the Nether­lands and France was signed, the may­or of Ams­ter­dam offered a cof­fee plant to King Louis XIV; it was plant­ed in the green­house of the Jardin des Plantes and quick­ly pro­duced seeds (Cheva­lier and Dagron, 1928).

From the Nether­lands, plants were sent in 1719 on colo­nial trade routes to Dutch Guiana (now Suri­name) and then on to Cayenne (French Guian­na) in 1722, and from there to the north­ern part of Brazil in 1727. It reached south­ern Brazil between 1760 and 1770.

From Paris, plants were sent to to Mar­tinique in the West Indies in 1723. The Eng­lish intro­duced the Typ­i­ca vari­ety from Mar­tinique to Jamaica in 1730. It reached San­to Domin­go in 1735. From San­to Domin­go, seeds were sent to Cuba in 1748. Lat­er on, Cos­ta Rica (1779) and El Sal­vador (1840) received seeds from Cuba.

From Brazil, the Typ­i­ca vari­ety moved to Peru and Paraguay. In the late eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, cul­ti­va­tion spread to the Caribbean (Cuba, Puer­to Rico, San­to Domin­go), Mex­i­co and Colom­bia, and from there across Cen­tral Amer­i­ca (it was grown in El Sal­vador as ear­ly as 1740). Until the 1940s, the major­i­ty of cof­fee plan­ta­tions in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca were plant­ed with Typ­i­ca. Because this vari­ety is both low yield­ing and high­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to major cof­fee dis­eases, it has grad­u­al­ly been replaced across much of the Amer­i­c­as with Bour­bon vari­eties, but is still wide­ly plant­ed in Peru, the Domini­can Repub­lic, and Jamaica.

The Bour­bon lineage

Records show that the French attempt­ed to intro­duce this cof­fee from Yemen to Bour­bon Island (now La Réu­nion) three times, in 1708, 1715 and 1718 ; recent genet­ic stud­ies have con­firmed this. Only a small num­ber of plants from the sec­ond intro­duc­tion and some from the third intro­duc­tion were suc­cess­ful. Until the mid-19th cen­tu­ry, Bour­bon cof­fee did not leave the island.

French mis­sion­ar­ies known as Spir­i­tans (from the Con­gre­ga­tion of the Holy Ghost) played a major role in the dis­sem­i­na­tion of Bour­bon in Africa. In 1841, the first mis­sion was estab­lished in La Reunion. From there, a mis­sion was estab­lished in Zanz­ibar in 1859. From Zanz­ibar, one mis­sion was estab­lished in 1862 in Bag­amoyo (coastal Tan­za­nia, called Tan­ganyi­ka at that time), anoth­er at St. Augus­tine (Kikuyu, Kenya), and anoth­er one in 1893 in Bura (Tai­ta Hills, Kenya). In each of the mis­sions, cof­fee seeds orig­i­nat­ing from La Réu­nion were planted.

The St. Augus­tine seedlings were used to plant large swaths of the Kenyan high­lands, while the Bag­amoyo seedlings were used to estab­lish sev­er­al plan­ta­tions in the Kil­i­man­jaro region on Tan­zan­ian side. As soon as 1930, a Tan­zan­ian research sta­tion at Lya­mun­go near Moshi began a for­mal cof­fee breed­ing pro­gram based on mass selec­tion” of out­stand­ing moth­er trees found in the neigh­bor­ing plan­ta­tions plant­ed with Bag­amoyo seeds. (Mass selec­tion is also called mas­sal selec­tion and means that a group of indi­vid­u­als are select­ed based on their supe­ri­or per­for­mance, seed from these plants is bulked to form a new gen­er­a­tion, and then the process is repeat­ed). This research sta­tion is the ances­tor of today’s Tan­zan­ian Cof­fee Research Insti­tute (TaCRI) main research station.

The seedlings from Bura were brought to anoth­er French Mis­sion in Saint Austin (near Nairo­bi) in 1899, and from there seeds were dis­trib­uted to set­tlers will­ing to grow cof­fee. These intro­duc­tions are the ori­gin of what became known as French Mis­sion” coffee.

Recent DNA fin­ger­print­ing has shown that old Indi­an vari­eties known as Coorg and Kent are relat­ed to the Bour­bon-descend­ed vari­eties. This indi­cates that in 1670, the first seeds sent out of Yemen to India by Baba Budan like­ly includ­ed both the Bour­bon and Typ­i­ca groups (see also Typ­i­ca below). This may mean the Typ­i­ca branch sep­a­rat­ed from Bour­bon when the Dutch brought seeds in 1696 and 1699 from India (not from Yemen, as is often told).

Bour­bon was first intro­duced to the Amer­i­c­as in 1860 to south­ern Brazil, near Camp­inas. From there, it spread north into Cen­tral America.

Main types of Ara­bi­ca coffee

Ethiopi­an Landrace

A lan­drace is a domes­ti­cat­ed, local­ly adapt­ed, tra­di­tion­al vari­ety of a species of ani­mal or plant that has devel­oped over time, through adap­ta­tion to its nat­ur­al and cul­tur­al envi­ron­ment of agri­cul­ture and pas­toral­ism, and due to iso­la­tion from oth­er pop­u­la­tions of the species.

In cof­fee, most lan­drace vari­eties orig­i­nate from the forests of Ethiopia, where C. ara­bi­ca evolved, through a process of human-led domes­ti­ca­tion. They are gen­er­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with very high cup qual­i­ty and low­er yields.

Bour­bon and Typ­i­ca Group

A small num­ber of cof­fee trees tak­en out of Yemen begin­ning in the late 17th cen­tu­ry form the basis of most world­wide ara­bi­ca cof­fee pro­duc­tion today, what we now call the Bour­bon and Typ­i­ca genet­ic groups” (so-called because of the names of the famous Bour­bon and Typ­i­ca vari­eties which are the prog­en­i­tors of this group). From Yemen, seeds were tak­en to India and then from India to the Indone­sian island of Java by the Dutch, which gave rise to the Typ­i­ca” lin­eage (also called Ara­bi­go or Indio). Typ­i­ca plants were tak­en to con­ser­va­to­ries in Europe and then spread across the Amer­i­can con­ti­nent along colo­nial trade routes dur­ing the 18th cen­tu­ry. Seeds were also intro­duced from Yemen to the island of Bour­bon, which gave rise to the Bour­bon” lin­eage. The first Bour­bon plants reached the Amer­i­can con­ti­nent through Brazil after 1850. Both Typ­i­ca and Bour­bon plants were intro­duced to Africa in the 19th cen­tu­ry through var­i­ous routes. For a detailed his­to­ry of how vari­eties in the Bour­bon and Typ­i­ca genet­ic group came to dom­i­nate glob­al cof­fee pro­duc­tion, see His­to­ry of Bour­bon and Typica.

These vari­eties are asso­ci­at­ed with stan­dard or high cup qual­i­ty, but are sus­cep­ti­ble to the major cof­fee dis­eases. Today, cof­fee pro­duc­tion in Latin Amer­i­ca is still based to a large extent on cul­ti­vars devel­oped from Typ­i­ca and Bour­bon vari­eties, con­tribut­ing to a sig­nif­i­cant genet­ic bot­tle­neck for C. ara­bi­ca. It Brazil, which accounts for 40% of world pro­duc­tion, 97.55% of cof­fee cul­ti­vars are derived from Typ­i­ca and Bourbon.

Intro­gressed (Catimor/​Sarchimor)

Intro­gressed vari­eties are those that pos­sess some genet­ic traits from anoth­er species — main­ly, C. canepho­ra (Robus­ta), but also some­times C. liber­i­ca. (“Intro­gressed” means brought over.”) In the 1920s, a C. ara­bi­ca and a C. canepho­ra plant on the island of East Tim­or sex­u­al­ly repro­duced to cre­ate a new cof­fee now known as the Tim­or Hybrid. This Ara­bi­ca vari­ety con­tains Robus­ta genet­ic mate­r­i­al that allowed the plant to resist cof­fee leaf rust. Cof­fee experts real­ized the val­ue of this dis­ease resis­tance and began using the Tim­or Hybrid in exper­i­ments to cre­ate new vari­eties that could resist leaf rust. They select­ed many dif­fer­ent lines of Tim­or Hybrid, and then crossed them with oth­er vari­eties, most com­mon­ly the high-yield­ing dwarf Ara­bi­ca vari­eties Catur­ra and Vil­la Sarchi. These cross­es (Tim­or Hybrid x Catur­ra, and Tim­or Hybrid x Vil­la Sarchi) led to the cre­ation of the two main groups of intro­gressed Ara­bi­ca vari­eties: Cati­mors and Sarchi­mors. It’s impor­tant to note that, con­trary to com­mon belief, nei­ther Cati­mors nor Sarchi­mors are them­selves dis­tinct vari­eties. Instead, they are groups of many dif­fer­ent dis­tinct vari­eties with sim­i­lar parent­age. Oth­er intro­gressed vari­eties, like Bat­ian, were cre­at­ed from com­plex mul­ti­ple cross­es involv­ing the Tim­or Hybrid; RAB C15 is the only intro­gressed Ara­bi­ca vari­ety in this cat­a­log that was not cre­at­ed using the Tim­or Hybrid — it orig­i­nates from a con­trolled cross made by Indi­an breed­ers between an Ara­bus­ta (a dif­fer­ent C. ara­bi­caC. robus­ta cross) and the Ara­bi­ca Kent vari­ety. Many intro­gressed vari­eties are cov­ered in this cat­a­log. These vari­eties have tra­di­tion­al­ly been asso­ci­at­ed with low­er cup qual­i­ty than oth­ers, but they have been essen­tial for cof­fee farm­ers for whom cof­fee leaf rust and cof­fee berry dis­ease are a major threat.


Cof­fee leaf rust is one of the most impor­tant threats to cof­fee pro­duc­tion glob­al­ly. Cof­fee rust is a dis­ease caused by the fun­gus Hemileia vas­ta­trix that caus­es defo­li­a­tion and may result in severe crop losses.

The emer­gence in the late 20th cen­tu­ry of intro­gressed ara­bi­ca vari­eties that were resis­tant to cof­fee leaf rust pro­vid­ed key pro­tec­tion against crop loss for many cof­fee pro­duc­ers for near­ly three decades. Start­ing in the ear­ly 21st cen­tu­ry, cof­fee experts in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca began to notice that some his­tor­i­cal­ly rust-resis­tant vari­eties were being infect­ed by rust, notably, Lem­pi­ra in Hon­duras and Cos­ta Rica 95 in Cos­ta Rica. Because most of the avail­able intro­gressed vari­eties obtained their rust resis­tance via a shared par­ent (the Tim­or Hybrid), it is believed by most experts that most exist­ing rust-resis­tant vari­eties will no longer be resis­tant in the near-to-medi­um term.

Data in the cat­a­log about spe­cif­ic vari­eties rust resis­tance sta­tus is based on val­i­dat­ed reports by sci­en­tif­ic enti­ties. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, because the cof­fee sec­tor is still in the very ear­ly phas­es of build­ing a good glob­al sys­tem for rust research, track­ing rust out­breaks, and fol­low­ing the break­down of resis­tance, it is not always easy to val­i­date when a vari­ety is being affect­ed by rust. In addi­tion, the impact of rust on a spe­cif­ic vari­ety can be dif­fer­ent in dif­fer­ent geo­gra­phies, and depend­ing on the race of rust (some­thing that is not easy to iden­ti­fy cur­rent­ly). The chal­lenge is made greater because many farm­ers don’t know for cer­tain what vari­eties they have; in such cas­es, reports of rust impact­ing a his­tor­i­cal­ly resis­tant vari­ety have to be care­ful­ly checked to ensure that the plants being affect­ed are indeed the sup­posed variety.

Even so, sig­nif­i­cant anec­do­tal evi­dence sup­ports the con­clu­sion that the break­down of rust resis­tance is accel­er­at­ing in many parts of the world, and World Cof­fee Research is work­ing close­ly with research bod­ies in var­i­ous coun­tries to under­stand the impact.

World Cof­fee Research will update the resis­tance sta­tus of a vari­ety in the fol­low­ing circumstances:

  • The breed­er of the vari­ety has issued an offi­cial state­ment announc­ing the break­down of resistance
  • World Cof­fee Research has val­i­dat­ed the appear­ance of rust on a his­tor­i­cal­ly resis­tant vari­ety using DNA fin­ger­print­ing and con­sul­ta­tion with the breed­er (if there is one), and local experts.
  • Con­fir­ma­tion of the break­down of resis­tance in one coun­try does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean that resis­tance is bro­ken in all coun­tries. Con­se­quent­ly, infor­ma­tion will be pro­vid­ed about where resis­tance break­downs have been confirmed.

F1 Hybrid

Hybrids gen­er­al­ly are off­spring result­ing from the cross­ing of two genet­i­cal­ly dis­tinct indi­vid­u­als. For the pur­pos­es of this cat­a­log, hybrids” refers to F1 hybrids, a new group of vari­eties cre­at­ed by cross­ing genet­i­cal­ly dis­tinct Ara­bi­ca par­ents and using the first-gen­er­a­tion off­spring. Many of these rel­a­tive­ly new vari­eties were cre­at­ed to com­bine the best char­ac­ter­is­tics of the two par­ents, includ­ing high cup qual­i­ty, high yield, and dis­ease resis­tance. F1 hybrids are notable because they tend to have sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er pro­duc­tion than non-hybrids.


Seeds tak­en from F1 hybrid plants will not have the same char­ac­ter­is­tics as the par­ent plants. This is called seg­re­ga­tion.” It means that the child plant will not look or behave the same as the par­ent, with poten­tial loss­es of yield, dis­ease resis­tance, qual­i­ty, or oth­er agro­nom­ic per­for­mance traits. The vari­ety should only be repro­duced through clon­al prop­a­ga­tion. It is there­fore impor­tant for farm­ers to know that F1 hybrids seedlings should be pur­chased from trust­ed nurseries.

World Coffee Research

World Coffee Research is a 501 (c)(5) non-profit, collaborative research and development program of the global coffee industry to grow, protect, and enhance supplies of quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of the families who produce it.

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