Similarly to the wine industry, in the Specialty coffee industry, we have different varietals exhibiting different organoleptic profiles.
There are three ways to recognize a varietal: genetically, phenotypically, and by analyzing its organoleptic profile. Genetic tests are very expensive and not available in most of the coffee-producing countries. Therefore, not commonly used among farmers.
Instead, farmers identify their varietals phenotypically, (this means, by identifying certain characteristics of the plant) and by its organoleptic properties, (by identifying its profile flavor in a cupping session).
Let’s start by examining how we identify our plants phenotypically. We take into consideration the following aspect of the coffee tree:
- Stature (tall or compact)
- Color of leaf tips (green or bronze)
- The shape of the plant (conical or round)
- The shape of the leaves (elongated or broad)
- The shape and size of the cherries and green beans (elongated, round, or other, and small, medium, large, or very large)
- Color of cherries (red, yellow, orange, or even pink)
- The angle of the branches (45°, 90°, etc)
- Distances between branches (short or long)
- Distance between nodes in the same branches (short or long)
With all these features, it is possible to be very accurate regarding the varietal of the coffee we are assessing. However, the flavor profile assessed in a cupping session will be the ultimate test to define the type of coffee we are looking for.
Let’s give some examples so you can become more familiar with the different varietals and what to expect from them.
Let’s start with the varietal considered the Queen of Panama: Geisha varietal.
Geisha trees are tall and considered low-yield, usually with 45° angle branches, green and bronze leaf tips, big and elongated beans, with a sharp characteristic shape at the end of each bean.
One of the most characteristic features of this varietal, (and, probably, the reason why it became one of the most exotic and expensive coffees in the world), is its peculiar flavor profile!
Many people compare the Geisha profile with a delicate floral infusion. Its characteristic notes are jasmine, orange blossom, peach, and an intense citric acidity (increased by the altitude of the plantation). Of course, this profile can increase in intensity or complexity, depending on the altitude at which the trees are planted.
At Cuatro Caminos, so far we have two different Geishas profiles. One Geisha coming from the Horqueta Region (Horqueta Farms), and the other coming from Volcancito Region (Loma de Los Cedros Farm). Even though both farms share similar altitudes (1500 masl) their profile it’s different.
This is a perfect example of what the terroir can achieve in the development of a coffee cherry.
Now, let’s jump to a more classic, but highly productive varietal grown in Boquete: Catuai.
Catuai is one of the most common varietals planted in Panama. Yes!, it’s not Geisha, but it’s Catuai!
And, Why? Basically, because catuai is a high yield plant with citric acidity and full body that is appreciated by many palates around the world. If it is grown at high altitudes and processed correctly, catuai becomes an interesting and complex coffee.
At Cuatro Caminos, we have planted catuai in almost all 11 of our farms. From Cuatro Caminos Farm at 1,300 meters to the La India Farm at 1,700 meters.
Now, let’s present one of the most classic, and oldest varietals that arrived in Latin America a couple of hundred years ago: Typica.
This is a tall tree with a conical shape and brown leaf tips. Described as an elegant coffee with a smooth body, green tea notes, and balanced acidity.
Typica is highly appreciated in many ““consuming countries” in Asia, due to its elegant and green tea-like flavor profile.
But, if you want to try something more pungent, with a rich body and more intense notes, we dare you to try Pacamara. Personally, one of my favorite varietals!
This is a high yield plant, easily recognized by its massive leaves and cherries. Depending on the altitude and the region where it was planted, this varietal can show some “onion” notes. But, even if it’s hard to believe, those are “enjoyable onion notes”.
There are hundreds of varietals belonging to the Arabica species. However, each country in the world has its emblematic varietals that work well with their terroir. Panama has been recognized globally by its beautiful and unique Geisha. And, as you can see! Not only Geisha but many others as well.