An Origin, Region, & Varietal Guide: Season 12



COLOMBIA is a large South American country and is one of the largest exporters of coffee. We see many grades of Colombian coffee around the world, ranging from the low end of commercial coffee all the way to award winning, competition grade specialty coffee. There are many regions to list for Colombia, but the slightly more common ones we see here in North America include: Antioquia, Cauca, Cundinamarca, Huila, Nariño, and Tolima. Regions we see slightly less of here include: Boyacá, Caldas, Cesar, Caquetá, Casanare, Guajira, Magdalena, Meta, Quindio, Risaralda, Santander, Valle. Colombia typically produces washed coffees historically, however we have been seeing more naturals and honeys from here, and spectacular experimental/innovative processing coming from various regions and producers. Identifying Colombian coffees may be one of the most difficult due to the many regions and profiles that exist as a result of the diverse terroir. We know it’s a tough one, so don’t be so hard on yourself if you can’t identify it!

COSTA RICA supplies a small portion (less than 1%!) of the world’s coffee supply. There are several regions that we see coffee from more often, including: Central Valley, West Valley, Turrialba, Orosi, and Tarrazú. Regions we see less coffee from include: Guanacaste, Tres Ríos, and Brunca. Costa Rica mainly processes their coffees as washed, or honey (which is more commonly distinguished between white, yellow, red, and black honey). We are also seeing natural process coffees coming out of Costa Rica. 

EL SALVADOR is the smallest country in Central America, yet has an incredibly sizeable coffee production. They produce about 85000 tons of coffee a year, and have about 20000 producers across the country. Research and estimates say that approximately 60% of all arabica grown in El Salvador is of the Bourbon variety, with Pacas being 25%, and Pacamara being the third-most popular varietal to grow. Salvadoran coffee-growing regions include: Ahuachapan, Chalatenango, La Libertad, Santa Ana, San Salvador, and Morazan. Coffee processing in El Salvador has changed in recent years, and we are seeing more and more honey, natural, and experimental/innovative processing emerge. 

ETHIOPIA is known to be the birthplace of coffee. The majority of coffee farmers and producers in Ethiopia are smallholder farmers, owning less than 1 hectare of land. Cherries are mostly picked and sold to a cooperative, or dried naturally and then sold to a cooperative. Many coffees you see from Ethiopia will not have a farmer or producer’s name for this reason. When you see one specific name, it is likely because they are a larger, privately owned estate, or a larger cooperative with one head manager or owner. Ethiopian regions sometimes shift to this day due to the political and social climate, though we do see the majority of coffees from the following regions and sub-regions: Guji, Sidama, Yirgacheffe, and Harrar. Other less common regions we see in North American coffee shops include: Djimma/Jimma, Limu/Limmu, Lekempti/Nekemte, Kaffa, Arsi, and Bale. Coffees from Ethiopia are usually washed or natural, and we may occasionally see a honey or experimental process coffee. 

GUATEMALA is in Central America, and has similar coffee growing conditions to Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and parts of Colombia. Guatemala has been growing coffee since the 1850s, and also has a long-standing Cup of Excellence competition. Guatemalan coffees are typically high grown, and most Guatemalan coffees are traditionally washed. We are seeing more and more natural and honey processed Guatemalan coffees, as well as experimental/innovative processing emerge. Guatemalan coffee growing regions include: Huehuetenango, Acatenango, Antigua, Nuevo Oriente, Fraijanes, Atitlan, Coban, and San Marcos. In Guatemala, many varietals are grown; these include: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Gesha/Geisha, Mundo Novo, Typica, Pache, Pacamara, Castillo, Tekisic, and more.  

KENYA joined the coffee exporting industry relatively late in the 1960s. Many farmers and producers, similar to Ethiopia, own small lots and sell cherry to a cooperative, where it is then further processed. Kenya has its own sales channels, mostly selling either in an auction, or direct to a buyer. You will see that most coffee varietals coming out of Kenya have the letters “SL” in front of them, an abbreviation for “Scott Laboratories”. Some other common varietals now grown and found in Kenya include Ruiru 11, Batian, and K7. There are many regions to list for Kenya, but the slightly more common ones we see here in North America include: Kericho, Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Kisii, Mt. Elgon, Murang’a, and Nyeri. Regions we see slightly less of here include: Bungoma, Embu, Machakos, Meru, Nakuru, Taita Taveta, Thika, Tran-Nzoia.



BOURBON is one of the main arabica varieties in the world. Bourbon was primarily introduced in Brazil, and it made its way through Latin America and East Africa. Known to be one of the most important varietals in the world, it is now commonly grown in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru. Bourbon is typically differentiated by peak ripeness colour (red, pink/orange, yellow). There is a lack of research regarding the many Bourbon-related varieties.

CATUAI (RED or YELLOW) is grown in many places around the world, most typically in Central and South America, including but not limited to: Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Catuai is a hybrid between Caturra and Mundo Novo, and grows as typically either red or yellow catuai. Catuai is 100% arabica due to the genetic lineage. Due to the different maturation colours, they can sometimes be mixed into the same lot if the specific lot is not separated/isolated. In some ways, this variety is slightly more difficult than others to identify via taste.

CASTILLO originated from and is typically only grown in Colombia, developed for its rust resistance by Cenicafé. Descended from the Colombia variety, it was released in 2005, and continues to provide good yield and production to date. Castillo is sometimes seen as less desirable compared to other varietals that have high cup quality and low yields, however there are certainly excellent Castillos out there. Flavour profile for a typical washed coffee is smooth body and citric acidity. 

CATURRA was originally discovered in Brazil, and is now widely grown in Latin American countries, including: Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru. Related to Bourbon plant as it is a natural mutation of Bourbon.

CHIROSO is a new varietal, originating from a specific region named Urrao in Antioquia. When it was first “identified” about 9 years ago, it was named Caturra Chiroso due to the oblong, Caturra-like shape. However, recent genetic studies have shown that it is actually a recent Ethiopian arrival, and has Ethiopian landrace genetics. Unfortunately there isn’t much more information on this varietal, though it is highly prized as a complex yet delicate coffee. Chiroso is currently only grown in Colombia.

LANDRACE/HEIRLOOM ETHIOPIAN varieties originate from Ethiopia with non-traceable specificity of varietals; also known as “heirloom varietals”. The Jimma Agricultural Research Center (JARC) is currently doing more research on Ethiopian varietals, finding and naming unique varietals or strains of coffee such as 74110, or Dega. Typically very small bean size after roasting, oftentimes has some variation in size, and can sometimes have longberries mixed in.

PACAS is a natural mutation of Bourbon, and the coffee plant grows smaller due to a single-gene mutation. One of the main benefits this provides is allowing more compacy growing, meaning higher potential yields on a small farm. It was originally found in 1949, in El Salvador, by the Pacas family in the Santa Ana region. In 1960, the Salvadoran Institute for Coffee Research (ISIC) began a program of pedigree selection for Pacas. It is still widely grown in the country, accounting for about 25% of the country's coffee production. It is also grown in Honduras.

SL-28 originated from Kenya’s Scott Laboratories, a research program that conducts coffee varietal research. SL-28 is a Bourbon-related varietal, and provides a great price for farmers & producers due to the market demand. This is grown most commonly in Kenya, but have recently been grown in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. This varietal can oftentimes taste of blackcurrant, tomato/red fruit, and/or black tea.

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