October 4, 2022

What is Sidra coffee?


Over the past few years, there has been a growing trend of using rare coffee species and arabica varieties in World Coffee Championship (WCC) routines. While the highly-prized Gesha variety has long been a favourite of many competitors, more and more of them are now choosing lesser-known coffees.

One of these coffees is Sidra (also known as Sydra or Bourbon Sidra). While the variety itself is not especially well known, it is becoming increasingly prominent at WCC events – and was notably used by the 2019 World Barista Champion Jooyeon Jeon in her winning routine and the 2022 World Barista Championship winner Anthony Douglas.

To understand more about Sidra, I spoke with several coffee professionals. Read on for their insight about this unique arabica variety.

You may also like our article on excelsa coffee.

ripe sidra coffee cherries

Understanding the origins of Sidra

Sadly, there is little information available about Sidra; however, it is believed that the variety originally comes from the Pichincha province in Ecuador. Some people claim that Sidra originated from a Nestlé coffee breeding facility in the region, which developed hybrids using Ethiopian and Bourbon varieties. It is reported that Don Olger Rogel was the first person to introduce Sidra, as well as Typica Mejorada, to the Ecuadorian coffee sector.

Although the facility closed down some years ago, it’s believed that Sidra was one of “unreleased” varieties which was developed by Nestlé. Initially, it was reported that Sidra was produced by crossbreeding Typica with Bourbon – two high-quality varieties from which many coffee plants today can be traced back to.

However, some farmers and roasters have sent Sidra samples to research institutions for genetic testing, and have found that the samples were genetically similar to Ethiopian heirloom varieties – an overarching term used for the many wild or genetically unidentified varieties which are native to the East African country. Other tests, meanwhile, have revealed different parentage.

When contacted for comment, World Coffee Research said it’s possible that Sidra does not have a clear genetic identity. Instead, Sidra could be a few different varieties that farmers refer to under the same name – something the organisation says is not uncommon in the coffee industry given the lack of a formal seed sector.

Although it is difficult to universally determine the flavour profile of Ethiopian heirloom varieties, they generally have more floral and fruity characteristics. Sidra also has a similar cup profile, with high levels of sweetness.

green sidra coffee cherries

Where is Sidra grown?

Despite being genetically linked to Ethiopia, Sidra is mainly produced in South America – primarily in Ecuador and Colombia. The variety grows between 1,650 and 1,800 m.a.s.l. (metres above sea level).

One of the first coffee farms to commercially grow Sidra was La Palma y El Tucán in Cundinamarca, Colombia. Producers planted around 1,800 Sidra trees in 2012, followed by an additional 4,300 plants in 2015 after the variety became more popular in the specialty coffee sector.

Sidra plants have distinctively thick trunks and can grow up to four metres tall. They produce dark green leaves and have elongated five-petal flowers, with cherries that grow densely packed together along its branches. The cherries are also larger and rounder than other arabica varieties with pointed ends. The seeds (or beans) of the Sidra variety are generally longer and thinner than most arabica varieties – similar to Gesha. 

José Pepe Jijón is the owner of Finca Soledad – a coffee farm in the Imbabura province of Ecuador. He explains some of Sidra’s other similarities to Gesha.

“Just like Gesha, Sidra requires shade to grow successfully. Some say it originally grew in forests,” he tells me. “It requires an ecosystem, so it can’t be planted in full sun conditions.

“Sidra produces high yields and is resistant to several pests and diseases, but not coffee leaf rust,” he adds.

Coffee leaf rust is a common term for hamileia vastatrix, a fungus which prevents photosynthesis in the leaves of coffee plants. It appears as yellow spots on the underside of leaves, before developing into a yellow-orange powder that can easily transmit to other plants.

Producers at La Palma y el Tucán say that Sidra is also highly susceptible to diseases such as ceratocystis fimbriata and coffee berry disease – both of which are detrimental to plant growth and coffee quality.

Popularity in the specialty coffee sector

Although there is little information about Sidra available in the coffee industry, it has become increasingly popular over the past several years, mainly because of its high cup quality.

Cole Torode is the Head of Coffee and Operations at Forward Specialty Green Coffee Importers in Alberta, Canada.

“Sidra is one of the most exciting coffee varieties available,” he says. “It has dynamic flavours and an interesting mouthfeel. You can expect ripe stone fruit notes, such as nectarine, apricot, and peach.

“It also has some citrus notes; I notice a lot of orange or orange blossom flavours,” he adds. “It can have white grape and wine-like notes as well.”

Pepe agrees, saying: “After cupping hundreds of Sidra samples, we found it has botanical and mint flavours. 

“On a cupping table with 20 other coffees, we can usually recognise Sidra because of its botanical and mint notes,” he adds.

However, as with any other coffee variety, the processing method has a significant impact on flavour, aroma, and mouthfeel.

Arturo Arevalo is the founder of Selvadentro and previously worked at La Palma y El Tucán.

“In my experience, no matter which processing method you use for Sidra, the flavour profile is sweet, with notes of honey, malt, and red apple,” he says. “The acidity is mild, but with a citrus-like profile. 

“The mouthfeel is well-rounded and velvety,” he adds.

The fermentation technique used for Sidra grown at La Palma y El Tucán, known as the “bio innovation method”, has been used to further develop its flavours.

“The bio innovation method adds layers of complexity to the coffee, which enhances and deepens its flavour profile,” Arturo tells me. 

This is because the technique involves adding microorganisms which are native to the farm to the cherry, helping to break down sugars and produce more acids. The higher concentration of organic acids can often result in tropical fruit notes, as well creating a more intense and heavy mouthfeel.

Cole, meanwhile, tells me he prefers natural processed Sidra. He says that many producers who grow Sidra use this technique to highlight the variety’s fruit characteristics.

“It’s a playful, complex coffee,” he says. “It has a lot of different elements and it is very tactile.”

Don Francisco Serracin holding coffee cherries

Is there a wider market for Sidra?

As a result of its increasing popularity in the specialty coffee sector, Sidra has been used in several WCC events. At the 2019 World Barista Championships, Jooyeon Jeon placed first and Cole placed third using Sidra grown at La Palma y el Tucán. 

Sidra is currently commercially grown on a much lower scale than other arabica varieties – mainly because it results in the highest cup quality when grown above 1,700 m.a.s.l.

However, some coffee professionals believe this will change over the coming years.

“Sidra and Typica Mejorada could become more commonly grown in Ecuador,” Pepe tells me. “Young farmers in the country should plant more of these varieties; it’s a chance for Ecuador to establish itself more as an ‘exotic’ origin.”

Cole agrees, saying that there are several international markets for Sidra.

“The sensory profile of this variety is more suited to North American and Middle Eastern consumers, who prefer more intense and dominant flavours,” he says. “Fermented coffees with lots of flavour are popular in these markets.”

Pepe believes that Sidra is much more than just a “trending” competition coffee. He explains that because of the range of flavours it produces, he foresees that consumer demand for Sidra will increase over the next few years.

“Sidra, as well as Typica Mejorada, is a new variety in the Ecuadorian coffee industry, so it still has a lot of potential,” he adds. “For instance, it took around thirty years for Panamanian Gesha to become popular, and I think that Sidra could be on the same trajectory.”

It’s no secret that the specialty coffee sector prizes exclusive and unique coffee species and varieties, and Sidra certainly seems to have joined that category.

There’s no doubt that Sidra is becoming more popular among some third wave coffee roasters and coffee competitors.

We can expect to see more Sidra lots used at WCC events in the coming years, and who knows – it may well start to appear on certain specialty coffee shop menus. However, just how much production volumes will increase over the next few years remains to be seen.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on whether coffee competitions are moving away from Gesha.

Photo credits: @instintocoffee

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