Coffee Roast Styles

Home Coffee Roasting Basics. What are the different types of Coffee Roasts

Light, dark, medium, city, city plus, French, Vienna, Italian, American, espresso! What are we talking about? These are commonly used words to describe coffee roast levels. There is very little industry standardization for roasting which can cause confusion. In general, roasts fall into four color categories. We will explain and clarify what the common roasting levels are and their characteristics.

Light Roasts (aka Light, Cinnamon, Light City)

After a few minutes you will hear the first ‘crack’. The bean will have visibly expanded in size and will be light brown in color. There will be no visible oil on the surface because the beans are not roasted long enough for the oils to break through to the surface. These roasts are generally preferred for milder coffee varieties. Often this roast will exhibit more of its ‘origin flavor’. Beans from regions such as Java, Kenya, Ethiopia, Hawaii, and Jamaica are commonly roasted to this level so that their signature characteristics come through in the flavor. This roast tends to be higher in acidity and lighter in body.

Medium Roasts (aka City, American, Breakfast)

Shortly after the first ‘crack’ but before the ‘second crack’ occurs the beans are considered to be at a medium roast. Beans will be medium brown in color and still exhibit a non-oily surface. This roast is generally preferred in the United States. There will be sweeter tones than the light roast and the body will announce more balance in acidy, aroma, and flavor. This is a great starting point for coffees you’re roasting for the first time. Generally, most coffees taste good at this roast point and it will be easy to gauge whether a lighter or darker roast is needed to suit the bean or your own taste preferences.

Medium-Dark Roasts (aka Full City, Continental)

You will hear the bean begin its ‘second crack’ and you will see oils rise to the surface. The bean will become a rich, dark color and the surface of the bean will appear slightly shiny. Taste at this point will be spicy, chocolate, dark berries and less acidity. You will have a fuller bodied cup and aromas and flavors are more evident. Finishes tend to be drier, more like baker’s chocolate or dry wine. Central American, South American, and Indonesian coffees generally taste very good at this roast point.

Dark Roast (aka Italian, French, European)

Beans will be shiny and have an oily surface. The beans will begin to smoke and the sugars begin to carbonize. Tastes will be smoky/sweet with lighter body. The darker the roast the less acidity will be found in the cup. Here is a good place to note that there is no such thing as an “espresso roast.” Espresso is a beverage, not a roasting point. Beans intended for espresso are generally roasted Medium-dark to dark. We’ve found that Brazilian and Indonesian beans stand up well to a Dark Roast.


Guide to Coffee Processing Methods



Coffee flavor profiles vary so dramatically, that when searching for the perfect cup you never know where you may find it – understanding different Processing Methods is essential to understanding which beans are likely to carry your favorite types of flavors, as is basic knowledge of different Regions and different Strains or “Cultivars.

What do we mean by “Processing” ?

Several different processes are used to prepare raw coffee cherries for transport, storage, and roasting. The process used on each lot has a significant impact on possible cup characteristics. Each particular variety and each unique growing season yield their own special beans, and the varied soils and climates of widespread regions produce distinctive terroirs, just like fine wines. In addition to this basic palette of flavor profiles inherent in each raw coffee cherry, the most noticeable aspects in your cup will be determined by the processing method, and skilled producers know which processing will best complement each lot and bring it to its highest quality.

High-quality processing is meticulous and very labor-intensive, and is often one of the most influential factors on the higher prices of premium coffees. And in most cases, the processing method is the second most influential factor on final cup profile (your choice of roast level is number one), even more than region or cultivar. For new home coffee roasters, a basic understanding of the most common processing methods will make it easier to identify varieties that you may like, or in some cases dislike.

drying coffee beans in greenhouses

Drying coffee beans in greenhouses

Natural Processing (also known as Dry Processing)

Natural Processing is when coffee beans are dried within the coffee “cherry,” a thin coating of tart red fruit. This method is most common in arid regions, because it requires much less water, but nowadays many farms all over the world prepare special lots of Natural beans for the premium market.

There are many variations on this method, leading to incredibly diverse cups. The basic approach is to harvest ripe coffee cherries, then spread them out on a concrete patio (though there are still plenty of farms that are so small and impoverished that they cannot afford the concrete and simply lay the coffee cherries on the ground). They let them dry slowly, covering with tarps to block the sun and delay drying if necessary, for 2-3 weeks or more. When the fermenting fruit has imparted just the right amount of bright citrus and berry notes, then farmers use machines called “pulpers” or “hullers” to mechanically remove all fruit (or they may pound and winnow the beans the old-fashioned way). The final step is to give beans a little rinse, using only a tiny fraction of the amount of water needed for Washed Processing, and then they get graded and bagged for shipping.

Many people seek out Natural coffees not only because it is a fun flavor adventure to discover so many bright and exciting tones, but also because they use less local resources, making them more environmentally-friendly and sustainable.

natural process coffee beans

Natural Process beans tend to be more varied and
appear kind of brown/orange/yellow

Flavor profiles vary widely among Naturals, but the most important distinction is between two main categories – “fruity” vs “not fruity” (that’s not technical language! just the best way that we have found to explain clearly), also referred to as “ferment” vs “non-ferment” (but that can be confusing because “ferment” is also sometimes used to describe unpalatable flavors caused by processing defects).

Roasting Naturals can be a little more challenging because variations between individual beans are increased when dried in the cherries – each one ends up with slightly different moisture content and appearance. As a result, beans may roast unevenly and there will be more chaff. Historically considered an inferior process, over the last few decades more precise Natural Processing techniques have been dialed in to create unique products that often demand a premium over Washed coffees. Still, they can be a little unpredictable – adding that much more fun to your flavor adventure!

Fruity” (or Ferment) Natural:

Farmers pick ripe cherries and arrange them in a single layer to air-dry – not too fast, as they need time for the fruit to ferment and add sweet/sour/spicy layers to the beans – and then use a mechanical huller to remove the fruits when the beans are down to about 12% moisture content.

This process is very sensitive. The desired flavor profile usually contains a strong blueberry note, but actually achieving that is really quite rare. The darker fruit notes come from just a hint of fermentation – if coffee cherries are not fermented enough, flavor profiles tend to resemble the more traditional Brazil processing, or if fermented too much, undesirable tones resembling rotten fruit, almost boozy, will tend to develop. Over time, fermentation will begin by adding darker fruit tones and then as it progresses more cherry notes and then an almost strawberry aspect, and further from there to the boozy, over-fermented flavors. Although new technology allows much better control of Natural Processing and delivers more reliable products, this is the original way that coffee was produced and it still gives an artisanal cup with an old world style.

Conventional” (or Non-Ferment) Natural:

Brazil has made this process famous, and their weather has made it mandatory – most years the harvest season is extremely dry. So this process is similar to the above but the drying time passes very quickly. In some climates, this can even happen on its own – “Raisin Natural” coffees are left on the trees to dry. These varieties tend to come only from regions with dry climates and typically produce more traditional flavor profiles.

Combo of tones:

In practice, most naturals have a mix of fruity and conventional flavors. Some offerings will be powerfully fruity (Natural Ethiopias, Natural Panamas, or Bali Kintamani for example), some mildly fruity only detectable at lighter roasts, and some will have no detectable ferment (standard Brazil coffees). Remember to read the tasting notes to see what aspects of Natural Processing are detectable in each unique lot.

coffee processing machines
Coffee processing machines at Nicaragua’s
Selva Negra Estate

Washed Processing (also known as Wet Processing)

Washed Processing is the original premium processing method, developed in the early 19th century alongside Industrial Revolution advances in mechanical technology.

The first part of the process is called “wet milling.” Step one is to remove all of the fruit, usually within 24 hours of harvest. Immediately after fruit removal with a “pulper” that repeatedly washes and brushes the coffee cherries, mostly-clean beans are dumped into tanks/tubs of spring water where they soak for 12-48 hours. A tiny bit of fermentation happens to loosen any fruit left on the beans. Then farmers move beans through a channel system with fresh water continuously running over them (or in some cases specialized pressure-washer machines), until the water is clear and all remaining fruit has been removed. At the other end of the channel system, beans are hauled off to drying patios or huge rotating drum dryers called “gardiolas” until they reach 12% moisture. 

The second part is called “dry milling,” and involves passing beans through a series of machines that remove chaff and sort by size and density, leading to coffees that are very clean and consistent. This aspect of Washed Processing is what facilitates commercial roasters’ success with much larger batch sizes and darker roast points (too much chaff can be a fire hazard).

washed process coffee beans

Washed Process beans usually appear pale green
and very consistent

Because washing beans before and after minimal fermentation removes most of the fruit flavors and acidity, more subtle cocoa and spicy flavors often rise to the fore in “Fully Washed” coffees. They also tend to be much more reliable from lot to lot – a washed coffee is unlikely to bring too many surprises.

Hybrid Washed Processing:

There are countless variations on both Natural and Washed Processing – think of it more like a spectrum than a pair of opposites.

Nowadays, some farmers are experimenting with leaving beans in cherries for a short time before running through the washing process, which tends to impart a little consistent fruit note in the cup. These coffees are sometimes called “Double Washed” because cherries and beans go through multiple tubs to ensure that the fermentation process is expertly controlled. Some farms are even playing with enzymatic or yeast treatments during the soaking period, scientifically imparting very specific flavors in a fashion similar to craft beers. Or maybe they got the idea from the celebrated Kopi Luwak – now there is an unusual coffee processing method!

Back in the day, Washed coffee never had a fruit note in the cup. If it did, it was inconsistent and usually came from a couple of beans getting stuck in the soak tubs and over-fermenting. This is why the term “ferment” is sometimes used to describe a defect. But popular trends toward exciting and novel Natural coffees are dramatically changing the market demands, and so nowadays many farms purposely give their Washed beans a slight ferment treatment to produce a more interesting cup.

Next, we will look at some of the most popular hybrid processing methods…


Semi-Washed Processing

A few very different specialty techniques all fall under the broad category of Semi-Washed Processing. In most cases, these hybrid processing formulas are made necessary by regional climate variations, or may be new experimental methods employed in the pursuit of exciting new flavors.

“Pulped Natural” :

Common in Brazil and beginning to be adopted for boutique lots in other Latin American countries, this process uses slightly less water than traditional Fully Washed but minimizes the fermentation much more than a typical Natural. Basically, farmers just skip the soaking step (which produces a little fermentation) by using a special machine to remove just the outer skin of the coffee cherry, leaving most of the fruit or “pulp” still attached before they spread them out on the drying patio. Beans dry out significantly faster than in the normal Natural Process, gaining only minimal fruity notes, and then the pulp is blasted off the beans with a special pressurized-water pulper.

The biggest benefit of this method is that sorting out bad beans (ie, under- or over-ripe) before they go through the pulper is much easier, so the end result is significantly more controlled and consistent than other methods, while reducing at least some of the excessive water wastage commonly seen in Washed Processing. The flavor profiles will tend to be almost exactly like Washed Processing though, so the name can feel a little misleading.

Honey” :

“Honey” or “Miel” Processing is a trendy new technique becoming more popular in Central America, and it produces coffee with less acidity than natural or washed processes. Honey Processing involves stripping off the skin and outer layer of fruit right after picking, then beans are dried with some residual fruit, a sticky (“honey”) layer called “mucilage” still clinging to the thin seed skin that eventually becomes the chaff. Depending on the farmers’ desired outcome, they may leave more fruit on the beans and extend the dry times to get closer to a ferment Natural, or they may strip off all but a tiny bit and then rinse the beans in spring water, speed up dry times, and get a product much closer to Washed Process.

For farmers, the advantage of Honey Processing is an approximation of some of the interesting characteristics of Natural coffees with lower risk of mold and over-fermentation and a slightly shorter dry time. For consumers, the appeal lies in intensely sweet coffees that stand out from traditional Central American varietals.

honey process coffee beans

Honey Process beans often appear speckled or
two-toned due to inconsistencies in thickness of
mucilage layer on each bean

Again, be sure to read the tasting notes so that you will know what to expect with each distinct Honey Process coffee. Often times it is difficult to tell the difference between a Honey Process coffee at the natural end of the spectrum and a true “Full Natural,” and likewise between a Honey Process coffee at the washed end of the spectrum and a true “Fully Washed.” The Natural end of the spectrum may produce more uniform beans, or if closer to Washed the main perk is often raised acidity and sweetness (of course, many lots will fall around the middle of the spectrum and display a combination of both benefits). This may be contrary to your expectations – usually, Washed coffees are known for consistency, and Naturals are known for brighter flavors – but that is just part of what makes Honey coffees so fun to try!

Choosing between Honey Process coffees is made a little more confusing by a vague color-coding system used by some estates. Color codes are based simply on the look of the beans and are determined mostly by exposure to light. Yellow Honey has had the most light exposure, indicating that it dried quickly, in about 1 week (and therefore will tend to be closer to the Washed end of the spectrum). Red Honey is kept mostly in the shade to slow the drying time to about 2 weeks (and therefore will be in the middle of the spectrum). In sunny conditions, farmers will cover the drying coffee completely to reduce light exposure, and Black Honey coffees get the most shelter from the light, meaning they dry slowly, usually three weeks or more (and therefore will tend to be closer to the Natural end of the spectrum). This extremely labor-intensive method produces the rarest and most expensive of the Honey Process coffees.

Indo Wet-Hulled” :

indo wet hulled process coffee beans

Indo Wet-Hulled Process beans have an
attractive dark jade color but may appear
inconsistent and/or splotchy

Indonesia has an old-world process, used for 90% of their beans, which falls into the semi-washed category but has a very different result. Another tradition necessitated by regional climate, Indonesia’s harvest season is very wet, and the requirements of transportation between islands means that farmers needed to develop a technique that effectively preserved the beans even if it was impossible to dry them fully on the estate.

Usually a low-tech method, it begins with farmers stripping off some of the fruit and drying the beans down to about 20-30% moisture content, then they reintroduce water to the beans and wash off the fruit, and then clean beans are laid out on palm leaves on the ground (occasionally cement patios in some modern areas) and allowed to dry slowly. This special process greatly reduces acidity, and although these beans look a little splotchy in the roaster, they produce a cup full of rich body and robust earthiness, making them favorites for dark roasts.


Other Special Processing Methods

“Monsooned” :

This one is a real oddball, but we get questions about it so often that we figured that it just had to be listed here. “Monsooned” coffee, a specialty product coming only from India, first goes through a typical Washed Process. After that, things get really interesting…

monsooned process coffee beans

Monsooned Process beans look funny, but taste
delicious! They typically appear very pale yellow,
puffy and light

Historically, coffee grown in India spent weeks or months on ships crossing the wide oceans. Sometimes, the torrential downpours of the monsoon season trapped ships in harbor for an additional 3 months or more. Coffee beans on these ships absorbed water from the hot moist air, then dried again, repeatedly swelling in size and subtly changing chemistry and flavor profile.

Originally, this process was unintentional and undesirable, but it turned out that a lot of people really enjoyed the mild, low acidity, creamy and earthy body of this unique offering. So, over the generations Indian coffee farmers learned how to reproduce the effect consistently and called the distinctive puffy blonde beans “Monsooned.”

During the rainy season of June-August, coffee beans are spread out inside well-ventilated warehouses and allowed to slowly absorb moisture. After bloating in size, beans must be periodically bagged and stacked for a time, and then spread out again to ensure proper and uniform “monsooning.” That means that beans are frequently tested to ensure that they are retaining just the right moisture content, and makes this an extremely labor-intensive process.

After September, when rains finally subside and temperatures rise, ghostly pale beans are sent through the final grading (gravity tables and hand-sorting) to confirm consistency and quality, and then exported. This special processing method produces very low acidity, thick rich body, and subdued earthy and spicy tones, making an exceptional dark roast.

Decaffeination:

All decaffeinated coffee beans will first go through one of the above processing methods. After beans are fully prepared, they must go through an additional process to remove caffeine.

In the early days of decaffeination, concentrated chemical solvents were used to strip the caffeine out of the beans. At first it was primarily benzene, but although that process was easy and effective, it was undesirable because it sometimes made the beans taste bad and many consumers feared the carcinogenic effects of benzene in their coffee. In theory, 100% of chemical solvents were removed before sale, and even if not, the benzene would evaporate during roasting – but still, it made people worry.

Many other solvents have been tested, and today the two that are favored are methylene chloride or ethyl acetate, both cheap common industrial chemicals that leave no toxic residue. These chemical decaffeination processes are mostly conducted by factories in Europe – you might see the label KVW (Kaffee Veredelugs Werk) – and account for the vast majority of decaf coffees. These methods continue to be popular because they are relatively easy, requiring only that beans be soaked in large tanks filled with solvents diluted in water. The specialized solvents selectively leach out caffeine but leave most of the countless other natural chemicals that give the beans their unique flavors.

mountain water process decaf beans

Decaffeinated beans are often a rough brown color –
these beans have not yet been roasted!

It took over 50 years of research and experimentation, but finally in the 1980s, scientists had perfected a commercial-scale method which used water only to produce delicious, premium-quality decaffeinated coffees. Nowadays there are two competing but nearly identical proprietary processes. Both are trademarked and highly restricted to a single operation, making them relatively rare. You may have seen coffees labeled SWP (Swiss Water Process, made in British Columbia, Canada) or MWP (Mountain Water Process, made in Puebla, Mexico). We will focus on the Mountain Water Process, which is used for almost all of the decaf beans that we carry.

Basically, processors begin with one small batch of beans that are sacrificed – they are steamed or soaked in nearly-boiling water for many hours to leach out caffeine (and many other compounds with it) until the water is thick with oils, acids, alkaloids, etc. The caffeine is removed selectively by passing water through specialized charcoal filters, and then this water is reserved for the next batch of beans.

When the next batch is processed in essentially the same way, but using water already dark with coffee compounds, this causes the caffeine to leach out, but most of the other chemicals – the oils, acids, and alkaloids that give coffee all of its diverse flavors – are already at maximum saturation so they just stay in the beans. Once again, the water is passed through caffeine filters and then reused on the following batch.

The suppliers of both Mountain Water Process and Swiss Water Process coffees claim that 99.9% of caffeine is removed, easily surpassing the FDA requirement of 97% removal. And they produce decaf coffees that are exceptionally tasty, retaining the unique flavors of regional terroir and premium processing methods. But they do give the beans a rough brown appearance, and therefore only lots that already look imperfect are sent to decaffeinated batches.

Coffee chemistry sure is fascinating, and we look forward to learning more as new techniques are developed. Some recent variations on Mountain Water Process involve percolating carbon dioxide through lower-temperature water – this is supposedly even better at preserving flavors. And scientists are now experimenting with innovative “Supercritical CO2 Processes” which almost completely avoid using water at all! And just like every other aspect of the coffee industry, we expect to see increasingly clever and effective ways of producing top-notch delicious specialty coffees in generations to come.


A note about “Peaberries” :

"flat beans" v. "peaberries"

“Flat Beans” (right) and “Peaberries” (left) are
separated for more predictable and consistent
roasting – both lots are from PNG’s Carpenter Estate

Most coffee cherries contain two seeds; these double seeds grow round on the outsides and flatten against each other on the inside, creating the distinctive shape of normal coffee beans. A small percentage of the time, only one seed gets fertilized, and it grows into a round shape – these abnormal beans are called “Peaberries.”

Peaberries are initially mixed in with normal beans and go through all the same processing methods, but at the end of processing they are very often sorted out into a separate “PB” lot. This is easy to do automatically because they tend to be more dense than the other beans, and is desirable because peaberries may roast unevenly when not separated. Because they roast differently, peaberries may present a slightly different flavor profile than normal beans from the same harvest, even if they went through an identical processing method.


Remember, all of the beans that we carry are superior quality and delicious. We collect the best examples of a wide variety of different processing methods in order to appeal to a wide variety of different tastes. Although processing method is the primary influence on the cup profile, it is also affected by the soil and climate of the growing region as well as the cultivar – compare a Brazil Caturra with a Colombia Caturra, or a Colombia Caturra with a Colombia Gesha, and you may find that they are incredibly different even if they are all “Fully Washed.” Be sure to always consult tasting and roasting notes to better understand the potential of each unique lot.


SEE OUR FULL COFFEE LIST

Read our other Primers: Coffee Regions, Coffee Cultivars, and Coffee Roast Styles


Intro to Home Coffee Roasting



Are you considering taking up a new hobby in home coffee roasting? This article is a great place to start! Are you ready to roast your first batch? “Home Roasting for Beginners” is the one that you want!

What is Home Coffee Roasting?

Roasting coffee at home is much easier than you might think! There are 3 big benefits:

  1. Fresh coffee tastes better! Unroasted coffee beans stay fresh for a year or more, and require no refrigeration
  2. Green coffee beans are much cheaper, so you can purchase larger amounts of your favorite specialty top lots and treat your friends!
  3. A much more diverse and superb selection of raw coffee beans – far beyond the limited and often already-stale bagged coffees that we find in supermarkets – makes for many opportunities to discover exciting and exotic new flavors!

Many coffee connoisseurs view home roasting as the next level of their love for this “magic bean” – a passionate hobby and daily ritual of close attention and appreciation of nuanced aromas and flavors. A wide spectrum of roast styles can draw different flavor notes out of every freshly roasted batch, and you can taste a different cup every day if you like – more and more people are excited to embark on the flavor adventures of home coffee roasting!

If you would like to roast your own coffee at home, you can get started with only 3 things:

1. Green (unroasted) Coffee Beans

Ethiopean Natural Coffee Beans
Green Coffee Beans

The world of coffee is huge. Cultivated in 50 nations, with often thousands of farms in each, today’s coffee selections encompass nearly 40 strains of Arabica, plus new hybrids and undocumented varietals being discovered every day. Different processing methods produce very different beans to suit everyone’s varied tastes, and the possibilities in your morning cup can be quite infinite!

Flame
Heat

2. Heat

Heat is essential to roasting coffee. Target internal temperature for roasted beans ranges from about 390-460 F, so usually folks use heat sources that go above 450 F. This means that there are many options for heating your beans!

roasting coffee in large pan
Roasting coffee in a large pan is much easier on a
gas burner, but even an electric range can suffice –
stir, stir, stir!
finished roasting
Roasted beans go into an open container for a
few days of “set-up”

3. Something to Roast On or In

Parts 1 & 2 are easy, but the challenge lies in roasting your beans evenly without scorching any of them. Fortunately, there are numerous simple and low-tech methods.

Most Americans do not realize that in past generations nearly everyone was a home-roaster! In the 19th century nobody was selling roasted coffee in plastic bags, only green coffee by the pound (just like we still do today!). You can roast your coffee the old-fashioned way too – simply place the beans in any sturdy metal container and set it over/in a flame (in the old days, this may have meant shaking beans in a soup can over a campfire); stir and mix well throughout the duration of the roast. When it is roasted dark enough for your taste (and before it is on fire), remove from heat and cool by shaking in a strainer or placing in front of a fan.

Feeling a little silly roasting your coffee in a soup can? Many find that non-stick pots and pans work well, with heavy cast iron favored because it can be preheated and roast much faster. Mixing is the key with these methods – stir very often, almost constantly. Don’t worry too much if it gets a little smoky, that is normal (but you may need to stir faster!).

Some folks get tired of so much stirring – a Whirley Pop can help with that. Or in the oven, perforated trays produce the least scorching.

For those uninterested in playing with fire, electrical automatic heating devices drastically reduce the amount of work and attention required. Some use old popcorn poppers, rotisserie ovens, electric woks, etc. These devices are rarely advertised as coffee roasting tools, but a quick google or youtube search can yield loads of successful roaster hacks and other creative ideas that make home coffee roasting accessible to all.

Please note that you may need to modify these appliances, adding a thermometer to monitor the roasting temperature. There are also some special procedures and limitations to these methods. If you want to experiment we advise getting a good book on Home Coffee Roasting like the one by Kenneth Davids. He has some detailed tips on making the most of various roaster hacks.

FreshRoast SR500 Electronic Roaster
Fresh Roast SR500 Electronic Roaster

All-in-One: Home Coffee Roasters

For those whose home coffee roasting experience is focused on the luxury of that perfect cup or on the fulfillment that comes with mastery of new skills, consider investing in specially designed counter-top Home Coffee Roasters. We have affordable family-size machines for beginners, and for hardcore coffee fanatics we have powerful and elegant semi-pro machines that can be used at home or as small commercial units. There are two types of roasters:

Fluid Bed Roasters such as the FreshRoast SR models are similar in design to hot-air popcorn poppers. They have a glass roasting chamber that allows you to watch and stop the cycle when beans reach the desired roast level. These popular roasters are very economical, lower priced and able to roast a modest batch in a speedy 7-20 minutes, and they are easy to clean and maintain.

Drum Roasters such as the Behmor 1600 Plus and the  Gene Café Roasters have a rotating screen drum that tumbles the beans as they are roasting. These models allow larger batches and roast beans more evenly and consistently, and they give more control over the entire process than the simple fluid bed roasters.

All of the home roasting equipment carried at Burman Coffee Traders is top quality, just different volumes and mechanisms to suit different needs. Please keep in mind that just because it costs more and looks fancier, that doesn’t necessarily mean your cup of coffee will be better. In every roast, the most important ingredients are the beans and the roastmaster – YOU!

For beginners, we recommend the easy and affordable FreshRoast SR500 – if you are considering buying a new roaster, please read our guide to using the SR500 and watch the video demo.


An important note about “Set-up”:

Please remember that regardless of what roasting method you choose, freshly roasted beans will be at their peak of flavor only after they have “set-up” for a day or more. Read our primer about roasting styles to learn more.


Are you ready to begin your home-roasting adventure? Read more here!


Want to learn more about Green Coffee before diving in? Follow these links:

What is Green Coffee? What are Green Coffee Beans?

Understanding the Taste Characteristics of Good Coffee: How do Burman Coffee Traders evaluate coffee beans from growers all across the world? What are the characteristics we use to judge quality and how do we ensure a wide variety to suit many different tastes?

Choosing Premium Green Coffees: Our recommendations for beginning to explore our diverse selection: 3 lb Bundles and Sales.

Learn How to Use a Home Coffee Roaster

Learn what to expect from different roast levels and the wide Spectrum of Roast Styles

Learn how the terroirs of Growing Regions, specific Strains or Cultivars, and the Processing Methods used after harvesting – all affect the taste and roast characteristics of each unique green coffee.


Ready to get started?



Guide to Coffee Regions



Coffee flavor profiles vary so dramatically, that when searching for the perfect cup you never know where you may find it – basic understandings of variations between different Regions, different Strains or “Cultivars,” and different Processing Methods are essential to finding your favorite coffees.


Where does coffee grow?

Coffee trees are able to grow only at relatively higher altitudes within the tropics (specifically, between 25 degrees north and 30 degrees south, and between 1000-3000 feet for Robusta or 2000-6000 feet for Arabica), and because most high-quality Arabica strains are very sensitive and finicky, cultivation opportunities for premium coffees are really very limited (you will never ever get that Norwegian or Floridian coffee you’ve been dreaming about – sorry!).

mountainous coffee plantation
Steep slopes of Guatemala’s Finca Vista Hermosa

Several distinct species of Coffea trees are all native to Africa – some of the beans harvested in Ethiopia still come from naturally-occurring wild coffee forests! – but farmers have successfully cultivated coffee in over 50 countries all over the world. The two commercially farmed species evolved in different climates, and therefore they have different cultivation needs: Coffea arabica is native to mountainous regions of Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya. Coffea canephora (commonly known as Robusta) is endemic throughout Sub Saharan Africa, meaning that it grows more easily in adverse conditions and lower altitudes.

Each distinct variety and each particular growing season yield their own special beans, but even more importantly the unique soils and climates of widespread regions produce distinctive terroirs, just like fine wines. For new home coffee roasters, a basic understanding of the tendencies of major coffee-producing regions is essential, as it will make it easier to identify varieties that you may like, or in some cases dislike.

Here is a simple list to help you get started. As always, be sure to read the tasting and roasting notes for each lot – these broad descriptions are just general trends, and many of the boutique micro-lots that we carry really break all the rules!


Africa

AFRICA tends to produce coffees that are very bright and spicy, with big bold juicy flavors. Many conventional coffee drinkers are shocked by the unexpected flavors in their first African cup!

Kenyan coffee

Sacks of coffee from Kenya proudly proclaim their
African origin

Ethiopia (Natural): The strongest fruity flavors tend to be found in Ethiopian Naturals; that elusive “blueberry note” is rarely present in beans from other regions. Many claim that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, and when villagers collect wild beans from uncultivated coffee forests to this day, it is hard to refute. Ethiopian coffees often have these wild unpredictable beans thrown into the mix, meaning that Ethiopian Naturals are sometimes strange and very inconsistent. Other unique and elusive flavor notes to look for in Ethiopian Naturals include pear, prune, jasmine, lavender, rose, cinnamon and/or clove!

Ethiopia (Washed): Dramatically different from naturals, Washed Ethiopians are much more reliable but still pretty flashy and novel compared to many other regions, dominated by subtle aromatic citrus and floral flavors, often presenting lemon, bergamot, tea, peach, and/or honeysuckle notes.

Kenya: Intense and distinctive, Kenyan coffees offer very high acidity, syrupy body, powerful aromas, and tend toward grapefruit, strawberry, cocoa, molasses, and a variety of floral and herbal notes (these herbal notes can tend toward grassy/vegetative when under-developed, but add depth to the bright acidic qualities when roasted just right).

Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and other African regions: Similar yet less intense than Kenyans, African coffees generally tend to be described as offering above-average acidity coupled with floral vanilla, chocolate, raisin and berry notes. Kenya’s high standards are unmatched in other African countries, so the quality and consistency of these coffees may be less reliable.


Americas

THE AMERICAS include many locations with fertile volcanic soils that are ideal for coffee trees, but each is unique and coffee flavor profiles vary significantly from one micro-region to the next. Compared to African coffees, American coffees are generally more mild and balanced, making them very popular.

mechanical coffee harvester

Mechanical Harvester on Brazil’s Sao Francisco Estate

Brazil: With a long tradition of coffee cultivation and enormous plantations, Brazil easily leads in overall coffee production with a whopping 30% of the global total! Descriptors often attached to Brazil coffees include clean, sweet, mild, caramel, peanut and cinnamon.

Colombia, etc: Offering what are arguably the best-balanced cup profiles in the world, Colombia has become almost synonymous with coffee, and it ranks third in total production. The Colombian tradition is very different than that of Brazil, because it is composed mostly of tiny fincas (family farms) rather than vast plantations. This means that artisanal micro-lots can vary somewhat due to each farm’s preferred growing and processing methods, but in general Colombian coffees are known for mild, sweet, nutty, medium-acidity flavors. Coffees from Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia are usually similar.

Costa Rica and Panama: These tiny countries are full of steep mountains that create distinctive micro-climates, meaning that coffees can vary considerably even when grown just a few miles apart. Common descriptors include crisp, spicy, floral, lemongrass, chocolate, and honey. But there is astounding variety – though small, this isthmus region stands out because of so many producers who are on the cutting edge of experimentation with innovative coffee processing techniques.

Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and other Central American Regions: Not far away, yet differing significantly due to mountainous micro-climates, many Central American coffees are labeled by local region; some of these regions, like Guatemala’s Huehuetanango or Antigua, have become world famous for their superior artisanal coffees. Honduras and Nicaragua are similarly loved for their rich history of coffee cultivation, and many coffee connoisseurs will recognize regional names like Copán and Matagalpa. Though flavor profiles can vary widely, most Central American coffees are generally described as delicate, lightly spicy and floral with medium acidity, and may present pear, honey, hazelnut, chocolate, and vanilla notes. Coffees from El Salvador or Belize may be similar.



Mexico: The largest producer in North America, Mexico has a coffee industry based mostly on small family farms. Rarely practicing the meticulous quality-control that is seen in other countries, Mexican coffee farmers usually sell bargain beans. But a good boutique lot can be really lovely, brewing a light and clear sweet cup similar to Brazilian.

Jamaica, Haiti, and other Caribbean Regions: Some Caribbean islands have towering volcanic mountains with beautiful abundant soil, perfect for coffee cultivation. Because of limits to scale, the total volume of Caribbean coffees is quite small, which tends to raise prices – authentic Jamaican Blue Mountain beans are among the most expensive in the world! Caribbean coffees tend to have full yet subdued flavor profiles. There is a lot going on in that cup – cocoa, dark fruit, floral, spicy, nutty, maybe a little earthy too – yet it remains overall very mellow and soft, with a rich mouth feel and a pleasant balance.

Hawaii: Similar to the Caribbean nations, tiny islands severely limit the scale of Hawaiian coffee production but the fertile soil and predictable rainy/dry seasonal cycles seem to be pretty ideal for coffee cultivation. Hawaii boasts some of the most well-loved (and expensive!) coffees in the world, like Kona and Blue Mountain (Hawaii’s big island is one of only three places in the world that this finicky cultivar can tolerate). Hawaiian coffees tend to be medium-acidity, diverse and well-balanced but tending toward darker tones, resembling Caribbean cup profiles but a little more delicate.


Asia (West)

ASIA is the largest continent, and though most of it is well outside of the “bean belt,” the widely-spread and climatically-diverse growing regions which surround the Indian Ocean yield a very wide range of coffees. We have separated Asia into West and East to make it easier to grasp the general tendencies of two distinctly different types of climates.

Yemen: Some say that this is the birthplace of coffee, though most give that credit to Ethiopia. The frequency with which one finds ancient coffee trees planted in the gardens of old family estates makes it clear that Yemen has been a leader in cultivation and improvement from the very beginning – the first carefully bred commercial cultivars (Typica, Bourbon, and Mocha) all originated in Yemen. Due to very dry climate, Yemen coffee beans tend to be small and maybe a little ugly, and they are always natural processed. Letting fruit dry and ferment on the beans gives them surprisingly diverse, yet well-rounded and delicate flavors, and many coffee connoisseurs get very excited about boutique Yemen beans. Relatively rare nowadays, Yemen coffees tend to sell quickly because they are prized for unique spicy nutmeg and cinnamon tones, as well as the rich, powerfully sweet chocolate flavors that made “Mocha” world-famous.

India: Some regions of South India have steep volcanic slopes that support biodiverse rainforests and are suitable for growing both tea and coffee, as well as spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and pepper (sometimes all on one farm!). It seems appropriate that Indian coffees are known for aromatic, spicy, robust and intense dark fruit flavors.


Asia (East) & Oceania

OCEANIA includes Australia and some portions of that big mess of islands that is mostly considered part of Asia. It is always a little difficult to decide where one continent ends and another begins (geographers have been arguing over such things for centuries!), but for the purposes of this primer, separating East Asia countries like Vietnam and Indonesia and comparing them with Oceania countries like Papua New Guinea makes a lot of sense.

hand-sorting coffee beans

Jon learns about hand-sorting methods in
Java, Indonesia

Indonesia, etc: The 17,000 volcanic islands that make up the vast country of Indonesia are perfect for coffee cultivation, and it ranks fourth in overall production, just a hair behind Colombia. Different islands impart different nuances, and many coffee aficionados are familiar with names like Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi. In general, most Indonesian coffees are in the same ballpark though. Their distinctive flavor profile is due mostly to a special artisanal processing method adapted to the extremely wet local climate and the transportation challenges posed by island life. With very low acidity, taste descriptors are significantly different than most regions, like earthy, woody, caramel, creamy, rich and full-bodied. Indonesian coffees are almost always dark-roasted, producing a velvety mouthfeel that is unparalleled in other cups. Coffees from Malaysia or other nearby islands like Timor-Leste may be similar.

Papua New Guinea: With their own unique growing regions and processing methods, PNG coffees may be significantly different than Indonesians. Sweetness stands out, and common descriptors include bright, syrupy or “full-bodied,” notes of honey, melon, cocoa. Papua New Guinea’s Wahgi Valley is one of only three places in the world where the famous Blue Mountain cultivar can grow.


Vietnam, etc: It may be surprising to learn that the second-largest coffee producing nation is Vietnam. Robusta or Robusta-Arabica hybrids make up the vast majority of coffee produced in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries like Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar, meaning that they mostly get blended into bargain coffees. The strong pungent flavors of Robusta are why the Vietnamese style of coffee preparation is always insistent on copious sugar and condensed milk! But don’t just write it off – we seldom carry Vietnamese coffees, but once in a while we may be pleasantly surprised by a really special top lot displaying strong dark tones and rich robust body, perfect for dark roasts.

China, etc: We very rarely see coffees coming from other East Asian countries like China, Taiwan, and the Philippines. This is partly because coffee cultivation is a relatively recent development in East Asia (but is now growing very rapidly, as evidenced by Vietnam). China also produces a surprising volume of coffee nowadays (it falls just a little short of being in the top 10!), but almost all of it gets consumed domestically, and they snap up most everything from nearby countries too. However, we do occasionally see special top lots exported from these regions. Earthy, malty, and bitter baker’s chocolate tones tend to dominate, making these coffees good for dark roasts.


Remember, many regions produce excellent coffees – it’s really just a matter of taste! The most important factors going into an exceptional cup are attentive farming and expert processing, freshness, and that perfect roast that brings out each bean’s unique strengths. Be sure to always consult tasting and roasting notes to better understand the potential of each unique lot.


SEE OUR FULL COFFEE LIST

Read our other primers: Coffee Cultivars, Coffee Processing Methods, and Coffee Roast Styles


NEW! Sikkim Temi Tea Garden B.O.P. Black Tea

Sikkim Temi Tea Garden "Broken Orange Pekoe" Black Tea

We just got our hands on a really special micro-lot, and we are excited to pass it along to all of our tea fans at a discount price! 

This high-quality single-estate black tea is very sweet, malty and mild, with honey notes up front and a moderate astringency that builds complexity with longer steeping, to eventually deliver a sharper mouth-feel and more robust profile, but still notably sweet and pleasant.  It is just as perfect for a rich, fully steeped milk-and-sugar tea time energizer (British style) as it is for a more delicate treatment that produces a pretty peach-colored liquor and an enticing floral-malty aroma (Chinese style).  A classic, perfectly-processed black tea, this sweet Sikkim is comparable to our popular Grand Keemun.

Temi Tea Garden is the only tea estate in the tiny province of Sikkim in Northeast India.  Squeezed between Nepal and Bhutan and neighboring famous tea-producing regions Assam and Darjeeling, the estate sprawls over mountainous slopes surrounding an old Sherpa village.  It is state-owned and is considered to produce some of the finest black teas in the world.  Winner of several prestigious awards from the Tea Board of India, they now employ entirely organic cultivation methods.

“Orange Pekoe” is a confusing label for tea. It is very important to note that there is nothing related to the orange fruit or flower in this tea.   The old-fashioned British term simply indicates mid-grade tea leaves grown in ideal conditions (compare to “Pekoe” grown in lower-quality regions like Sri Lanka or Kenya) but harvested later in the season and therefore containing few of the prized young buds or “tips” (compare to a high-grade early harvest, which might be called “Supreme Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe,” and be labeled with the ridiculous acronym “SFTGFOP”).  “Broken” indicates that the leaves have been chopped to make them easier to put into convenient tea bags.  It does not mean that the quality of the tea is less, but it does again significantly reduce the price simply because the tea does not look as attractive. 

On close inspection of this “Broken Orange Pekoe” tea, you will notice that many of the leaves are orange-tan, golden, or even silver colored, indicating relatively young leaves, minimal oxidation, and fresh mild flavors.  You will never find another BOP like this one – even though this tea is considered mid-grade by the growers at Temi, it is one of the finest cups we have ever tasted. 

Try this special tea while it is still in stock!  And check back later – we look forward to trying to track down more premium products from this exceptional estate!


Steeping Time: 3 minutes

Water Temp: 212 F

Sikkim “Broken Orange Pekoe” tea

Buy Sikkim Temi Tea Garden B.O.P. Black Tea


NEW! Smoky Grey BCT Blend

"Smoky Grey" black tea

Two classic flavored teas taste even better when blended together! Earl Grey is revered for its crisp fresh citrus peel zip, while Lapsang Souchong is famous for its highly warming liquor whose silky body is beyond compare. Put them together and you have a cup that is amazingly cool and warm at the same time, with bergamot and pine smoke aromas hinting at winter potpourri warming on a wood stove, and with a pleasing mouth-feel and mild sweet and malty tones that infuse the spirit with calm, gentle energy.

This blend of two quite different teas creates an entirely new flavor profile! With a hint of astringency adding crispness at the same time that the pine smoke mellows and warms all flavors, the mild teas are very refreshing and easy to drink. The tea leaves’ rich sweet malty tones hold up the exciting added flavors and make this a delightful cup for anyone who prefers pure tea without milk, sugar, etc. A squeeze of lemon will amplify bergamot flavors, and a dab of honey will warm you up even more. For those who do like milk, this blend would be a delightful alternative in our Recipe for a London Fog (Earl Grey Latte).


Steeping Time: 3 minutes

Water Temp: 212 F

Black tea, natural and artificial flavorings

Buy Smoky Grey BCT Blend


NEW! Toasty Apple Tart BCT Premium Blend

Toasty Apple Tart BCT Premium Blend

Warming up with a steaming mug of Toasty Apple Tart, you may find yourself drifting back to memories of grandma’s kitchen, gleefully savoring home-baked goodies around the wood stove. This unique blend combines malty Sri Lankan Pekoe with smoky Chinese Lapsang Souchong and a variety of sweet zesty fruits and spices, producing lovely apple pie aromas and a charming pink liquor.

Lapsang Souchong is famous for its silky body, and when combined with fruit and floral elements it produces a highly stimulating mouth-feel and a cornucopia of flavors and aromas all over the tongue. The first and most obvious descriptors for this blend are “sweet” and “tart” – but the rich and surprisingly wide-ranging flavor profile also includes subtle floral notes, a prominent malty element, a moderate astringency hidden under the sweetness, and a light smokiness that warms and slightly softens the more robust tones.

Because of the diverse ingredients, there are several different scrumptious flavor profiles that can be achieved, depending on your preference. At a quicker steep, subtly floral vanilla is not yet overpowered by smoky and malty notes. At a longer steep, hibiscus and orange peel turn the cup a brighter red and begin to dominate with strong syrupy sour tones.

Perfect for a gentle evening pick-me-up, the fruits and spices bulking up this blend mean that there is relatively less tea in it, and consequently less caffeine, making it a very mild feel-good cup.

Please Note: Teas in this blend have some strong bitter/astringent notes when steeped too much. Therefore we recommend using 1.5 grams (or about ¾ teaspoon) of tea for every 6 ounces of water and steeping for 3 minutes or less.


Steeping Time: 2-3 minutes

Water Temp: 212 F

Pekoe and Lapsang Souchong black teas, apple, hibiscus, rose hips, orange peel, pine smoke and vanilla natural flavorings

Buy Toasty Apple Tart BCT Premium Blend


How to make a Matcha Latte

matcha instant tea powder

Matcha is used in numerous special drinks and baked goods – really you can add it to just about anything! If matcha is new to you, this simple yummy recipe is a great place to start.

Matcha Latte

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 Cup boiling water
  • 3/4 Cup unsweetened almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, or cow milk
  • 1 teaspoon matcha powder
  • Honey, agave syrup, or other liquid sweetener

Bring milk to a simmer in a small pot over medium-high heat. If using cow milk, take care, as it may boil over very suddenly.

Place 1 teaspoon matcha powder in a large cup, then gradually whisk in 1/4 cup boiling water, then 3/4 cup hot milk, tipping your vessel slightly to help create more foam.

Sweeten to taste with honey or agave syrup, as crystal sugar may not dissolve completely.

Also delicious iced – just put all ingredients (cold water & milk, not hot) into a cocktail mixer with a few ice cubes and shake very vigorously – or as a smoothie – just add 4-6 ice cubes and a handful of your favorite fruits, then mix in a blender for 2-3 minutes. Feel free to experiment with added flavors such as coconut, mint, or other fragrant herbs such as basil or rosemary.

Buy Organic Chinese Matcha


Guide to Coffee Cultivars



Coffees vary so dramatically that it is sometimes hard to know how to choose – but you can be confident that you are pointing yourself in the premium direction with knowledge of common Strains or “Cultivars.” Check out 2 more primers in this set: basic knowledge about coffee-growing Regions and why producers choose different Processing Methods is, in most cases, even more important than identifying the specific cultivar.

What do we mean by “Cultivars” ?

Coffee plants are small trees that can grow over 15 feet high, but are usually pruned shorter to facilitate easy harvest. They have delicate white jasmine-like flowers and plump oval berries that change as they mature from green to yellow, pink, red, or purple when ripe. There are several related species; the two commercially cultivated are Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora (commonly known as Robusta).

Arabica coffee is native to mountainous regions of Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya. Robusta coffee, which grows more easily in adverse conditions and lower altitudes, is endemic throughout Sub Saharan Africa. Something like 30-40% of coffee grown around the world is Robusta – although it has a very high caffeine content, the strong pungent flavors of these beans are intolerable to many. Robusta is commonly blended into Arabica coffees to boost caffeine and reduce price (think Folgers).

All premium coffees are varieties of Arabica. Over the generations, many distinct cultivars have been bred to meet the needs of different regions. For most farmers, considerations like adequate yield and disease resistance are the main factors in choosing which cultivars to plant. Any variety of coffee may make an excellent cup, if it can survive rough weather and pests and other challenges that farmers of this sensitive species must overcome.

“Cultivar” means a specific variety which was intentionally bred for optimum potential in commercial cultivation. Related terms like “varietal,” “strain,” or “hybrid” may be used to mean essentially the same thing. Or they may mean a newly discovered wild mutation, or a mix (“hybrid”) of both – the world of coffee is increasingly diverse with each new day! And we sure are excited to explore it with you…

But it can be overwhelming to try to understand the differences between nearly 100 widely known cultivars. Because of frequent intentional hybridization as well as unintentional cross-pollination, it is not a straightforward family tree, but a big messy pool of diverse genetics evolving constantly. For the purposes of this primer, we will stick to just the most well-established cultivars; you will see all of these names in our coffee lists from time to time.


Old-World Origins:

Typica coffee plants
Typica coffee seedlings at Carpenter Estate, PNG

Typica – The original coffee cultivar isolated from diverse semi-wild coffee trees in Yemen, Typica beans were bred for excellent quality (but low yield) and were the first coffees planted in Indonesia and the Americas.

Bourbon – Also bred very early by farmers in Yemen, this cultivar was named after an island off of Madagascar where it was first grown on a large scale. Bourbon trees produce about 30% more than Typica trees, with comparably high-quality beans. These plants were put to work in many locations around Africa and Latin America, and today almost all existing Arabica cultivars are descendants of either Typica or Bourbon plants.

Mocha (sometimes Mocca, Mokka, or Moka) – Another old cultivar originating in Yemen, it is named after the port city from which it was exported all over the world. A unique potential for a smooth, clean, sweet and rich chocolate-like flavor made this variety famous. The original “Mocha” was an early premium-quality single-origin cup, not a chocolate flavored sugar bomb from Starbucks!  More recently, farmers in various locations have bred many specialized derivatives and replicas of this original cultivar, so sometimes you may see a “Mokka” that will claim Brazilian origins – we don’t want to quibble over histories which are often fuzzy, because whether it is the original strain or a more recent replication, we still get to enjoy that lovely chocolatey cup.


Natural Mutations:

Maragogipe (sometimes Maragogype) – A natural mutation of Typica discovered 150 years ago in Maragogipe village in Brazil, these giant coffee beans are sometimes known as “elephant beans.” The trees themselves are extra tall and lanky too, and although the beans are big, they are few and the average yield is considered “very low.” Flavor profiles are surprisingly flexible, changing dependent on soil and really highlighting the local terroir. Because of low yields and flat unimpressive flavors when grown in poor soils, Maragogipe trees are only rarely cultivated today, but there is still some market for them due to their novelty.

coffee trees, planted indoors
BCT’s pet coffee trees have not yet mutated to suit
the frigid Wisconsin weather! We bring them inside
for about half of each year, but it sure cheers us up
to see a little green in our warehouse!

Caturra – An early fork of the Bourbon family tree originated in a natural mutation discovered 100 years ago in the town of Caturra, Brazil, then was intentionally bred because its short stature and thick trunk led to a hardiness that combined high yield and high quality. Caturra thrives at lower altitudes and is relatively more disease- and pest-resistant, but its limiting factor is a need for close attention and lots of fertilizer. Very popular in Latin America, these beans are known for the mild well-rounded flavors commonly associated with Colombian coffees.

Pacas – A more recent derivative of Bourbon, this variety is named after the Salvadoran family who noticed that one of their coffee trees was unusually short (or “dwarf”), which led to significantly higher yields because the plant was able to direct more of its energy into beans. This also makes it possible to plant the trees closer together, meaning that farmers utilizing Pacas can get much more production per acre. These beans tend to produce a cup that is well balanced with lots of spicy and floral aromas.

SL28 – Very popular throughout Africa, this cultivar was carefully bred from naturally-mutating Bourbon trees at a coffee research center in Kenya (of course it was a scientist who gave these awesome beans a totally boring name!). SL28 has many positive attributes, primarily an exceptionally high yield coupled with good drought resistance and very little need for fertilizers. This characteristic is sometimes called “rusticity” – these trees can survive for decades without any human intervention – some Kenyan farms have SL28 trees that are still very productive after 80 years! These beans are known for the big bright flavors that we have come to expect from Kenya.

Timor Hybrid (aka Indo Hybrid) – Stemming from natural cross-pollination between Arabicas and Robustas, by now a large family of varietals have branched off from this very successful cultivar. The Timor Hybrid took off in the early 1900’s after rampant coffee leaf rust disease devastated almost all Arabica trees planted in Indonesia and neighboring islands like Timor. Robusta trees are much hardier, capable of withstanding many pests, harsh weather, and other stresses that often afflict Arabica trees. And because of the rainy climate in the region, many trees produce beans all year round, which makes for a lot more harvesting work. This has prompted farmers to focus on varieties that require very little attention – “plant it and forget it” is the hallmark of the Timor Hybrid. Many Robusta-Arabica hybrids are capable of producing a very nice cup, but will tend more toward dark, woody and earthy flavors.


Intentional Hybrids:

Pacamara – Combining the best aspects of both Pacas and Maragogipe, this excellent and very popular cultivar displays attributes of both dwarfism and gigantism – the trees are short, but the beans are huge! Pacamara trees are still very susceptible to diseases and pests, but they require less fertilizer and attention than other popular breeds. They are known for producing exceptional beans that give a spicy, aromatic cup.

Catua coffee plants
Catuai coffee fields at Fazenda Sao Fancisco, Brazil

Catuai – A hybrid of Caturra and Mundo Novo (a naturally-occurring cross-pollination between Bourbon and Typica trees), Catuai plants are extra-hardy, with sturdy fruit that do not fall off in storms, making them a reliable investment for farmers in many locations. Many coffee connoisseurs consider the flavor of these beans to be “good but not great,” so Catuai beans are less often separated into boutique micro-lots. However, there is a good chance that Catuai beans are included in many estate-wide blends, because these trees are ideally suited for planting on high ridges and other marginal lands that experience more extreme weather.

Catimor – A cross between Caturra and Timor Hybrid which is highly resistant to common diseases like rust and yields an impressive abundance of beans. The Timor Hybrid’s partial Robusta heritage makes the plant much stronger but the flavor of the beans less appealing. Catimor, hybridized again to move the cup more toward Arabica quality while still retaining the benefits of hardy Robusta, is very popular world-wide due to its early maturation and abundant production even in harsh conditions or lower altitudes. Similar to Catuai, we see micro-lots of this variety less often but can assume that it is present in many estate-wide blends.


Rare Varietals:

Blue Mountain (aka Caribbean Strain) – A very famous cultivar selectively bred from Typica, primarily for resistance to coffee berry disease and increased yields at high altitudes, and first grown in Jamaica on the mountain from which it gets its name. The premium prices fetched for Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee are primarily due to its rarity – only very specific climates and soil types can support this cultivar, and the only successful crops outside of Jamaica are in Papua New Guinea’s Wahgi Valley and the Kona micro-region of Hawaii (which also has its own unique, though closely related, Typica variant called Kona). Blue Mountain and Kona coffees are known for complex and rich flavor profiles, but they may not be 10x yummier than an artisanal single-origin Bourbon or Caturra, as a 10x higher price tag might suggest.

Gesha (sometimes Geisha) – Believed to have originated from a wild mutation discovered on Gesha Mountain, Ethiopia, in recent years it has been established as a distinctive new cultivar. It is known for unusually elongated beans and very low yields (which means it’s pricey!), and a remarkable unique flavor profile with complex aromatic floral and spicy notes. A handful of specially-processed Gesha beans coming from Panama are the trendiest thing in the premium coffee market today – when you see them come into our stock, be sure to order right away because they sell out very quickly!


Remember, almost any cultivar can produce an excellent cup – the most important factors are attentive farming and expert processing, freshness, and that perfect roast that brings out each bean’s unique strengths. The wide range of possible flavor profiles are also affected by the soil and climate of the growing region as well as each lot’s specific processing methods – a Brazil Caturra and a Colombia Caturra may look and taste very different, and the effects of Natural or Washed processing methods may produce widely divergent flavor profiles even in beans coming from the exact same fields. Be sure to always consult tasting and roasting notes to better understand the potential of each unique lot.


SEE OUR FULL COFFEE LIST

Read our other primers: Coffee Regions, Coffee Processing Methods, and Coffee Roast Styles