Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, as we know it today. It was first found growing wild in the southwest highlands of Kaffa. The first species to be cultivated here was Coffea Arabica. Coffea Arabica was found in the Harar region [spelled ‘Harrar’ in the past] quite early on in the history of coffee. Harar was the first cultivated wild varietal, and is one of the oldest strains of coffee beans still being produced. Interested in trying one of the oldest coffees available. The coffee beans were then spread over time through migration.
Today, coffee is grown in Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, the islands of the Caribbean and Pacific, and all coffee varietals can trace their heritage to the trees in the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau. Over 1,000 known varieties of coffea cultivars exist in Ethiopia alone, many are wildly grown and not commercially cultivated.
Below is a list of cultivated coffea varietals and how each one was introduced via splicing different varieties together into hybrids or whether through mutation. Going left to right, the table displays varietals with origins more from Coffea Arabica or Coffea Robusta. Top to bottom, the table displays varietals in more original forms to those that have been hybrid or mutated more. In the bottom right corner, we have Charrieriana, a newly-found varietal that is currently being cultivated with unknown origin. This coffee variety is very important, as it will be the first commercially cultivated coffee plant that is naturally caffeine-free. Read more about all the varieties listed below or use the interactive periodic table above for more information.
Arabica: Accounts for seventy to seventy-five percent of the world’s coffee production. Indigenous to the mountains of the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia, it is also known as the “coffee shrub of Arabia”, “mountain coffee” or “Arabica coffee”. Coffea arabica is believed to be the first species of coffee to be cultivated. The earliest credible evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears in the middle of the 15th century, around Mocha in Yemen.
Robusta – Comes from the Coffea Robusta variety of the Coffea canephora plant (widely known itself by the synonym Coffea Robusta) which has its origins in central and western sub-Saharan Robusta is easy to care for, has a greater crop yield than arabica coffea, has almost double the amount of caffeine and more antioxidants than arabica coffea, and is less susceptible to disease. Roasted Robusta beans produce a strong, full-bodied coffee with a distinctive earthy flavor, but usually with more bitterness than Arabica due to its pyrazine content.