The Ultimate Coffee Glossary


What is a coffee varietal?

Varietal is a term commonly used in the wine industry to indicate the variety of a particular plant material, a type that results in specific flavors. In coffee, the term cultivar is preferred over varietal or variety, as it implies intentional cultivation for organoleptic and production results. A cultivar is a plant that has been bred deliberately, selected from plants in cultivation.
Varietal does not refer to the region of origin, but rather the botanical variety (or cultivar) of the coffee tree. It is not easy to gather information on the varietal of a coffee, and it has some bearing on the cup but not a lot. Ideally, coffee is grown using old arabica varietals such as Bourbon and Typica, or Kent in India.
Controversial varietals such as Ruiri 11 in Kenya and other high-yield, disease resistant hybrids can produce a diminished cup, but growing conditions and processing play a much greater role than the varietal. Varietal is a useful category header for coffee reviews, as it can provide some insight into the cup profile. However, it is important to note that the varietal is only one factor in the overall cup profile, and that other factors such as growing conditions and processing are much more influential.
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