History of Bourbon and Typica

Coffee’s movement around the globe

Bourbon and Typica compose the most culturally and genetically important groups of C. arabica coffees in the world. Historical records indicate that coffee seeds were taken from the coffee forests of Southwestern Ethiopia to Yemen, where it was cultivated as a crop. Recent genetic tests have confirmed that Bourbon and Typica were the main seeds taken from Ethiopia to Yemen.

The small number of Bourbon and Typica plants taken out of Yemen contributed a genetic bottleneck for C. arabica. Today, coffee production in Latin America is still based to a large extent on cultivars developed from Typica and Bourbon varieties. It Brazil, which accounts for 40% of world production, 97.55% of coffee cultivars are derived from Typica and Bourbon.

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.

The Typica lineage

Typica varieties, together with Bourbon ones, constitute one of the most culturally and genetically important C. arabica coffees in the world. In 1670, the first seeds out of Yemen were sent to India by Baba Budan. 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 including 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 IV; 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 1660 and 1670.

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.