A Brief History on the Coffee Family Tree

When we think of wine, we think of all the available different varieties, where they originated from, and how they're distinct from other varieties. Did you know that there are more varieties of coffee than there are of wine? Yet we tend to know much less about the coffee we consume than say a glass of wine, especially when considering specific varietal types.

Cafe Imports created a coffee family tree to demonstrate the interrelated characteristics of different coffee varieties. Much like our genetic family trees, the coffee family tree can be a useful visual aid in spotting where certain coffee varieties have adapted to the environment.


How the Coffee Family Tree Differs From Ancestral Family Trees

While a family tree is the most comparable reference to the genetic similarity of coffee varietals, there are distinct differences. When it comes to humans, the family tree is considerably straightforward since every person is a hybrid of their mother and father.

However, it doesn't exactly work like that with coffee. In the coffee family tree, there are brief periods of straightforward function before it becomes difficult to describe how new significant lineages pop up from hybrids.


The Origins of Coffee

A Brief History on the Coffee Family Tree | Breeze Valley

The origin of the coffee family tree begins with the Rubiaceae, which is the family of flowering plants known as coffee. Research into coffee varieties has historically saved coffee production from disease and droughts. Understanding coffee variety is the key to coffee survival. A variety is the genetic makeup of a specific plant, while a varietal is how you would identify a product of a variety.

How did we end up with all these different coffee varieties? Like most things in nature, this was achieved through genetic mutation. Our modern coffee varieties mutated on their own to create new varieties or cross-pollinated in the wild, resulting in hybrids. In modern-day society, we also can now also genetically modify varieties to be disease resistant or to optimize flavour and yield.


The Common Coffee Varieties

You’ve likely heard of Arabica coffee beans because they’re easily the most popular coffee worldwide. All Arabica coffee varieties have origins from two other varieties, known as Typica and Bourbon. In the coffee family tree, these two are placed at the top.

While Typica coffee plants produce great tasting coffee, they produce low yields. On the flip side, Bourbon plants 20-30% more coffee than Typica, but are more subject to damage from harsh weather. Bourbon then mutated into Caturra, which requires extensive care. However, in turn for this care, the crop produces excellent flavour combined with a large yield. 

A natural hybrid of Typica and Bourbon is known as Mundo Novo, discovered in the 1940s. It has slow cherry maturation but results in high production and high-quality flavours. By the late 1950s, scientists decided to selectively breed a variety known as Catuai, which was a hybrid of Mundo Novo and Caturra. The result was a plant with all of the best attributes from the parent varieties, like being short and durable. They also matured quickly and were incredibly flavourful.


More Modern Varieties of Coffee

Three coffee varieties were created by Scott Labs in Kenya as an attempt to resist drought. They were known as SL29, SL34, and SL14, respectively. While SL28 was an accident, SL34 is considerably resistant to both disease and drought. The quick maturation of SL34 is of great utility to farmers who need to transition varieties without forfeiting excess profits.

In the 1940s, researchers discovered Timor, which was a natural hybrid of Arabica and Robusta. This variety has become well adapted to combat leaf rust disease The excellent flavour of Caturra and the disease resistance of Timor would make a worthy hybrid, so thought scientists in Portugal in the 1950's who decided to combine them.

The variety Catimor was created through selective breeding and contains floral coffee notes when grown in proper conditions. There are so many other coffee varieties obscured in the depths of Ethiopia, which is where coffee originated.

Ethiopia has an ideal agricultural landscape and climate for coffee production which is evident in the amount of biodiversity among coffee plants there. However, because of the endless amounts of varieties, plants that have not yet been formally identified are referred to as an Heirloom Variety by default. This makes it difficult to know for sure where they fall on the coffee family tree.


Bottom Line

The coffee family tree is vast and complex and can be overwhelming to look at, but it's just a way for Scientists to give a detailed illustration of coffee's journey from its first origin to the modern varieties we have today. No matter what the variety is, the long history of coffee’s lineage is what we have to thank for our delicious morning cup of coffee.

Breeze Valley offers various type of high quality coffee beans. Try one of our speciality coffee beans today!