April 28, 2020

The Typica Coffee Variety: What Is It & Why Is It so Important?

Typica is one of the world’s most iconic coffee varieties. It can be traced back to the birthplace of Arabica coffee, Ethiopia, and is integral to understanding the coffees we drink today.

Its susceptibility to pests and diseases has made it a less popular option; however, its high-quality cup profile and ability to demand higher prices is something to be considered.

Join us as we discover the history of Typica, its characteristics, and considerations to make when choosing it as a variety to grow. 

Lee este artículo en español Variedad de Café Típica: ¿Qué es y Por Qué es Tan Importante?

Green cherries on a Typica tree at a arm in El Salvador

Green cherries on a Typica tree at a arm in El Salvador. Credit: Aguila Coffee 

What Is Typica?

Typica is one of the most important varieties of Arabica coffee. First, it’s a variety in itself. From Blue Mountain in Jamaica to Arábigo in Central America, you’ll find Typica varieties all around the world. Second, it’s a parent to some of today’s popular varieties such as Mundo Novo and Pacamara.

Hanna Neuschwander, Communications Director at World Coffee Research, based in the US, tells me, “It is known by many names, including most famously Jamaica Blue Mountain. Others include: Criollo (Creole), Indio (Indian), Arábigo (Arabica), Plume Hidalgo, and Sumatra.”

Typica is identifiable by its tall size, standing at around 5 metres/16.5 feet tall. It has a thin trunk, with thin branches which, due to its height, are spaced far apart. Typica can also be identified by its large leaves with bronze tips and elongated shape of its cherries.

It can have a sweet and clean cup. Heleanna Georgalis, co-founder at Moplaco based in Ethiopia, tells me Typica’s cup profile is “one of elegance, flowers and fruits, and complex flavours.”

Hanna also tells me, “It has the potential for very high cup quality when well managed well.”

Despite its high cup quality, Typica is also well-known for being both highly susceptible to pests and diseases, as well as having reasonably low yields. This can be a problem for many farmers who need to reduce risk when producing coffee. 

You may also like: Geisha, Bourbon, & More: How to Identify 6 Coffee Varieties

Typica tree leaves

Typica tree leaves. Credit: Aguila Coffee

History of Typica Coffee

Hanna says, “Typica is found in every major coffee-growing region of the world. This is because of its long history.”

The history of Typica can be traced back to southwestern Ethiopia, like other Arabica coffees. Arabica was taken to Yemen between the 15th and 16th centuries and on to India by 1700. The seeds that were sent to the Malabar coast in India and onto Java in Indonesia are what we know now as the Typica variety.

The Bourbon variety had followed a similar path to Typica until Yemen, and instead of being shipped further east, the seeds were introduced to Bourbon Island (now La Réunion) off the coast of Madagascar. Bourbon, like Typica, is integral to the coffee variety family tree. It’s still grown worldwide and is a parent to popular coffee varieties such as Mundo Novo (natural breeding of Typica and Bourbon) and Caturra, a natural mutation of Bourbon.

In 1706, a single Typical plant was sent from Java to the botanical gardens in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The plant was then shared with France. In 1722, both France and the Netherlands brought Typica plants over to their colonies in South America, Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) and then on to Cayenne (French Guiana). In 1727, the Typica plant reached northern Brazil.

Typica reached southern Brazil between 1760 and 1770. Over the next couple of centuries, different mutations of Typica were discovered. This includes the Maragogipe variety, the natural mutation of Typica which was used to develop the popular Pacamara variety. The Mundo Novo variety was also discovered and developed in Brazil.

By the late 1800s, Typica could be found all over Central and South America and across the Caribbean in Jamaica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Until around the 1940s, the majority of coffee farms in Central America grew Typica. Throughout its history, Typica has reached regions throughout the world, starting in Africa, moving to Asia, and then to the Americas. Because of this, different varieties and mutations of Typica are commonly grown all over the world.

60 year old Typica tree at Microbeneficio La Joya  in Veracruz Mexico

60 year old Typica tree at Microbeneficio La Joya  in Veracruz Mexico. Credit: Samuel Ronzón

Where Can You Find Typica Today?

Today, Typica is not as commonly grown due to its susceptibility to pests and diseases. As research into coffee varieties has become more in-depth, new varieties have been discovered and cultivars have been developed, which have qualities that make them more attractive as choices for producers.

However, Typica is still found in all coffee-producing countries, and depending on where it’s grown and how it’s developed, it has specific attributes to that location.

For example, Blue Mountain Coffee, produced in Jamaica, is a renowned Typica variety. It’s grown up to 1,800 m.a.s.l. and is usually processed using the washed method. It’s even transported in handmade barrels. Blue Mountain Coffee is a registered name, and coffee can only qualify if it follows specific regulations such as where it’s grown, how it’s processed, and how it’s transported. It scores very highly on quality score, and its cup profile is well-known for its sweet flavour and silky mouthfeel. Blue Mountain Coffee is considered an exclusive coffee that demands higher prices.

Although Peru had turned away from Typica in favour of planting more rust-resistant varieties, there has been a slow return to more quality-focused varieties such as Typica, Bourbon, and Caturra. 

Coffee flowers blooming on a Typica tree at Finca Oro Vivo in Veracruz

Coffee flowers blooming on a Typica tree at Finca Oro Vivo in Veracruz, Mexico 

Considerations For Growing Typica

If farmed correctly, it has the potential to be a very high-quality coffee, which can result in premiums paid to farmers. However, its susceptibility to pests and diseases make it a higher risk.

How can coffee producers know if Typica is a good choice for their farm? First, it’s important to recognise the strengths and limitations of your farm, and the budget and resources you have available.

Typica ideally needs to be grown at a high altitude. World Coffee Research suggests that the optimum altitude to grow Typica needs to be grown above 1600 m.a.s.l if it’s within 5° north or south of the equator, above 1,300 m.a.s.l if it’s within 5–15° of the equator, or above 1,000 m.a.s.l if it’s within further than 14° of the equator.

The Typica plants are also taller than some other varieties of coffee plants, with long branches that are spaced far apart. These plants are not compact so will take up more space, making less room for more coffee plants or other crops. This also must be considered as its height and size mean that tending to the plants may be more time and labour intensive.

Due to its susceptibility to pests and diseases, it’s important that you only plant it if you have the budget for fertiliser treatments. Gustavo Lima de Rocha, roastmaster at URITU Cafés Especiais, based in Brazil, has specialised in growing Typica in Mulungo in the state of Ceará. He tells me, “Typically, in the poorest, small towns, the production is very weak due to less treatments.”

The Typica variety has relatively low yields. It produces between 20–30% less coffee cherries than the Bourbon variety. Lower yields will result in less coffee to sell, which in itself can be risky if there are any problems that further affect the yield further such as climate, rust, and diseases.

Despite the risks, it can be worth it – especially for producers who can market themselves well and access a specialty market. Hanna emphasises the example of Blue Jamaica who “can command a premium price that may make it worthwhile for growers to have the added risk of high disease susceptibility.”

Typica plantation in Colombia

Typica plantation in Colombia. Credit: Olympia Coffee

Typica has a long history and is fundamental to understanding the coffee we grow and drink today.

Without it, we wouldn’t have the many much-loved varieties such as Pacamara or Mundo Novo. Plus, it’s a delicious coffee variety in its own right which is still grown around the world. Although it has been deemed a difficult plant to handle, growing and managing it well can be beneficial to farmers due to its high-quality.

There’s definitely space for the original coffee plant in our lives.

Enjoyed this? Check out Choosing The Right Coffee Varieties For Your Farm

Featured photo credit: Roberto Zapata. Featured photo caption: Typica cherries growing at Finca Oro Vivo in Veracruz, Mexico 

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