Coffea arabica is one of two species of coffee plants that are in wide cultivation globally. (The other is C. canephora, commonly called Robusta.) Arabica is by far the dominant species in Central America, and is considered to produce the highest cup quality. The Arabica species is made up of many varieties or cultivars—distinct types that are able to sexually reproduce with one another.
To be considered a distinct Arabica variety for inclusion in this catalog, varieties must meet the following standards (based on the definition of a variety as given by the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV)):
- The variety is homogenous. It can be precisely described by a set of characteristics and all the plants of this type look the same.
- The variety is different. It is distinguishable from other varieties based on the above set of characteristics.
- The variety is stable. The variety can be reproduced in such a manner that its characteristics are unchanged in the next generation.
Most commonly known varieties meet the above criteria. However, some do not. For example, Catimor and Sarchimor are not distinct varieties according to this definition (see below). Three coffees included in this catalog—T5175, T5296, and Pacamara—do not meet the above definition because they are neither uniform nor stable from one generation to the next. They are included here because they are commonly known to farmers and grown widely in the region, but it's important to know they lack uniformity and stability and therefore do not meet the definition of variety laid out here.
These are varieties that originate from Typica or Bourbon parentage (Typica and Bourbon are two distinct varieties within the Arabica species). C. arabica is native of Ethiopia, where the major genetic diversity of the species is found. In the 15th and 16th century, coffee trees were introduced from Ethiopia to Yemen. Then, in the early 18th century, a few seeds or trees were introduced from Yemen to Java, which gave rise to the “Typica” lineage (also called Arabigo or Indio). Typica plants reached the Caribbean and then spread across the American continent 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. They are associated with standard or high cup quality, but are susceptible to the major coffee diseases.
These are varieties that evolved in the forests of Ethiopia, where C. arabica originated, through a process of human-led domestication. They are generally associated with very high cup quality, but are susceptible to the major coffee diseases.
Introgressed varieties are those that possess some genetic traits from another species—in this case, C. canephora or Robusta. (“Introgressed” means “brought over.”) In the 1920s, a C. arabica and a C. robusta 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 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. Many of those 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 in the region for whom coffee leaf rust is a major threat.
Hybrids generally are offspring resulting from the breeding 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.
An important note about F1 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.