|Wine labels on coffee bags. Photo: biskuit, Flickr.
As oenophiles know, variety is everything.
OK, not everything, but definitely something. And the same goes for coffee.
Much as wine grapes come in different cultivars (as anyone who prefers a Cabernet Franc to a Cabernet Sauvignon can tell you), coffee can be born to one of thousands of types, both heirloom and hybrid, which can have an impact on a coffee's productivity, appearance and, certainly, flavor.
While much is made of the variety of a particular grape (or apple, for fruit fans; or rose, for gardeners; or rice, for starch lovers), a large percentage of coffee farmers don't grow any one single type on their land, and many can't even be sure how much of their farm is one variety or another. Largely for this reason, any coffee that can be identified, with certainty, by its type is often cause for celebration among bean heads. The famous Esmeralda coffee I mentioned last week, for instance, is special in part because it comprises an exotic, transplanted Ethiopian variety called Gesha or Geisha (likely named for a spot in Ethiopia -- many African coffee varieties are christened for their proximity to certain villages or regions, such as Harrar and Sidamo).
Read more about coffee varieties after the jump.
Of course, the way a coffee is processed can have as much, if not more, influence over the beans' flavor as their lineage, and the same is true with wine. But coffee today is kind of like New World vino in the '70s and '80s -- just coming into its own, with new discoveries, appreciations and considerations being unveiled every day. In fact, at Counter Culture, we utilize the same wrap-around labels used on wine bottles for our coffee bags, sharing information about the regions of origin, growing conditions, tasting notes and, whenever possible, varieties of the coffees inside.
For some experimentation with pure-variety coffees, check out the deliciously juicy, 100-percent Bourbon variety Finca Mauritania from El Salvador (available from Counter Culture Coffee and also London's Square Mile Coffee Roasters); or Stumptown Coffee Roasters' beautiful, sweet-savory Pacamara varietal Finca El Injerto from Guatemala.