The Bourbon Coffee Plant Varietal

The Bourbon Coffee Plant Varietal

Brazil is the largest exporter in the world, supplying approximately 60% of the world’s coffee – this is due in part to the sheer size of the country. While Brazil is a prolific exporter, it’s average elevation for coffee production is only about 1,100 meters. This qualifies most of it as High Grown Coffee (900-1,200 meters), but some crops certainly fall below that threshold. Common Varieties: Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, Catuai, Acaia, Mundo Novo, Icatu.

Many high quality espresso blends are made from either Bourbon Santos or Brazil Cerrado due to the ability of Brazilian coffees to take dark roasts without turning overly bitter. This is due in part to the mild, balance flavour of Brazilian coffee beans.

The best Brazilian coffees have a relatively low acidity, and exhibits a nutty sweet flavor, often bittersweet with a chocolaty roast taste. Most unroasted Brazilian green coffee is dry processed (unwashed; natural). The most favorable quality of a Brazilian coffee is its price – but after that, the mildness helps to balance out more intense coffee beans, making it a feature of many blends.


Bourbon is the most famous of the Bourbon-descended varieties. It is a tall variety characterized by relatively low production, susceptibility to the major diseases, and excellent cup quality.

French missionaries introduced Bourbon from Yemen to Bourbon Island (now La Réunion)—giving it the name it has today—in the early 1700s. Until the mid-19th century, Bourbon did not leave the island. But beginning in the mid-1800s, the variety spread to new parts of the world as the missionaries moved to establish footholds in Africa and the Americas.

The Bourbon variety was introduced to Brazil around 1860, and from there rapidly spread north into other parts of South and Central America, where it is still cultivated today. Here it became mixed with other Bourbon-related varieties, introduced from India as well as Ethiopian landraces. Nowadays, there are many Bourbon-like varieties found in East Africa, but none exactly match the distinct Bourbon variety that can be found in Latin America.

Today in Latin America, Bourbon itself has largely been replaced by varieties that descend from it (notably including Caturra, Catuai, and Mundo Novo), although Bourbon itself it is still cultivated in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru.


Bourbon Santos is a medium to high quality, wet processed (washed) coffee from Brazil; usually shipped through the port of Santos. A good Brazilian Bourbon Santos has a light to medium body, yields a low acidity, and has a very pleasant aroma.

The Bourbon coffee plant varietal (Coffeaarabica var. bourbon) tends to produce coffees that are fruiter and brighter (more acidic) than other Brazil coffees. The low acidity of Brazilian Bourbon Santos derives from the region’s lower growing elevations. This is low relative to areas such as Central America where higher elevation plantations (e.g., 1,500 meters above sea level) produce premium gourmet coffees that are brighter (higher acidity).

Most Bourbon Santos is grown in northern Minas Gerais or in the State of Sao Paulo, in Brazil.

The size of the industry and volume output means that there’s more opportunity for grading and classifying Brazilian coffees. They take full advantage of this, sorting by screen (size), color and cupping (flavor).

This puts them into a few classifications (best to worse) – strictly soft, soft, softish, hard, riada, rio and rio zona. For this reason bringing the unroasted green coffee beans to a Medium-Dark Roast (Vienna Roast; Full City Roast) is recommended – though roasting too dark may still cause an ashy bitterness. The upside to the mellow flavor and high production levels is that Brazilian green coffee beans are typically very affordable, making it a great base a coffee or espresso blend. The flavors of the primary coffee are allowed to shine through, while keeping costs in check.

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