What is Caturra Coffee? Learn About This Bourbon Varietal

caturra coffee

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As a long-time barista turned professional coffee blogger, I’m often asked about the different types of coffee beans. One variety that generates both interest and confusion is caturra coffee. Where does this coffee come from? What sets it apart from other varietals?

In this beginner-friendly guide, I’ll answer all your questions about caturra. I’ll cover everything from how it’s grown and produced to the characteristics of the caturra bean and the best way to brew it.

So if you’re ready, let’s unravel the story behind this unique coffee!

✔ Quick Answer

Caturra coffee is a high yielding, smooth tasting coffee cultivar that originated in the early 20th century as a natural mutation of bourbon Arabica trees in Brazil, becoming prized for its resistance and exceptional bean quality.

What is the Caturra Coffee Variety?

When I first heard the term “caturra” used to describe coffee, I’ll admit I had no idea what it meant. Was it a brand? A special roast? But as I later found out, It turns out caturra refers to a specific cultivar or variety of coffee plant.

Brief History of The Caturra Variety

Caturra first appeared in the early 20th century in Brazil as a spontaneous mutation of the bourbon coffee plant. At first, farmers didn’t think much of these strange bourbon variants. However, over time it became clear that the caturra mutation produced higher yields while preserving the acclaimed flavor profile of bourbon beans.

Before long, caturra caught the eye of coffee researchers seeking to combat the devastating coffee leaf rust epidemic. They saw caturra’s potential and began cultivating this variety for commercial farms across Central and South America.

Today, caturra is responsible for nearly half of Brazil’s coffee production and remains an economically vital coffee varietal.

Its taste, resilience, and high productivity have earned caturra a permanent place among coffee lovers and producers alike.

half of the country’s production

Coffee Cultivation

Growing the perfect coffee is almost an art form. Much like cultivating grapes or crafting wine, expert farmers must carefully tend to their coffee crop through every stage – sowing, nurturing the seedlings, transplanting, flowering, coffee cherry growth, harvesting, and post-harvest processing.

At each phase, the cultivar variety makes all the difference. The two commercially dominant coffee species are Coffea arabica (accounting for 60% of global production) and Coffea canephora, known as robusta. But even within those species, individual varieties have their own ideal growing conditions, vulnerabilities to diseases and pests, ripeness patterns, yields, and of course – flavor profiles.

▶ If you want to know more about Arabica and Robusta, head on over here: Arabica vs Robusta Beans: What’s The Difference?

For example, within Arabica alone, each cultivar has distinguishing traits that farmers must accommodate:

  • Typica: Tall, open canopy, low yielding, susceptible to rust
  • Bourbon: Originated from Typica in the Indian Ocean, sweeter fruit notes
  • Caturra: Compact mutation of Bourbon, high yielding, good disease resistance
  • Catuai: Hybrid of Caturra and yellow Mundo Novo, high-quality beans
  • Castillo: Bred specifically to combat rust, fast-ripening cherries

Growing Caturra

For caturra specifically, farmers opt for altitudes of 3,900-6,500 ft with rich volcanic soil and cool year-round temps between 59-75°F. Too much sun exposure can damage leaves. The compact trees mean closer spacing is required.

With good conditions, each caturra tree can produce up to 5 lbs of coffee cherries!

Caturra Origins

Caturra is an arabica varietal that originated as a spontaneous mutation of Bourbon trees in the early 1900’s. Growers noticed some odd Bourbon variants that were more compact, higher yielding, and more resistant to disease.

These Bourbon mutants became known as “Caturra” – Portuguese for “short” referring to the plants’ shorter stature. Over decades, caturra became established as a new cultivar distinct from Bourbon.

Table Comparing Key Traits of Arabica Varieties

VarietyTree HeightCanopy ShapeBean SizeYield Per TreeDisease ResistanceFlavor Profile
TypicaTall, up to 10-15 ftOpen, airyMediumLow-mediumLowWell-balanced, medium body
BourbonMedium, 6-9 ftIntermediateMedium-smallLow-mediumLowSweet, delicate, crisp
CaturraShort, 6-8 ftDense, compactLargeHighMediumRich, complex, chocolate notes

The table above summarizes some of the key physical and agricultural differences between traditional Arabica varieties and caturra.

As you can see, caturra plants are uniquely short and compact, with higher yields. Their beans also boast excellent flavor complexity. These characteristics help demonstrate why caturra has become its own distinctive cultivar valued for efficiency and cup quality.

Specialty Coffee Status

While higher yielding than Bourbon, caturra beans retain the same exquisite flavor qualities. That rich, smooth, alluring taste helped catapult caturra into fame as a specialty coffee Bean.

It’s now prized and marketed specifically for its exceptional cup quality.

Key Traits of Caturra Coffee Trees and Beans

When I first laid eyes on a caturra tree, I could instantly spot similarities and differences from the Bourbon varietal. Through years of cultivation, caturra has certainly come into its own with some defining physical and flavor characteristics.

Compact and Highly Productive

Caturra trees reach a height of around 7-9 feet, making them very compact compared to their lankier Bourbon cousins. They also produce more cherries and beans per tree, and It’s common for a single caturra tree to yield 2 to 3 times more than other arabica plants!

This high yield in a petite package adds to caturra’s appeal amongst coffee farmers with limited growing space.

natural mutation of bourbon hand picked and processed

A Species of Coffee with A Distinct Look

Though caturra trees themselves are small, their leaves, cherries, and beans are actually quite large compared to those of typica and bourbon varieties. The deep red caturra cherries ripen earlier as well.

When harvesting, you’ll notice the skin of dried caturra beans tends to be thinner than other varieties too. This allows them to be processed and dried faster than typical arabica coffees.

Complex Flavor Profile

Despite their larger size, expert cuppers praise caturra beans for their dense layers of sweeter, cleaner flavors. You’ll often detect hints of brown sugar, toasted nuts, dark chocolate, and citrus. The taste is very balanced, with medium acidity and rich mouthfeel.

The Story Behind Caturra Coffee Trees

Caturra’s origins stem from a lucky mutation, but its rapid rise into one of the most widely grown coffee varietals worldwide relied heavily on science and determination.

Combating Leaf Rust

In the 1970s, Brazil’s booming coffee industry faced an existential threat – a devastating outbreak of coffee leaf rust fungus. As yields declined, farmers feared bankruptcy, and Brazil’s economy teetered.

Desperate for rescue, the government funded the research of coffee breeding programs seeking rust-resistant coffee cultivars. Scientists had noticed promising traits in compact Bourbon variants like caturra.

caturra is a natural mutation that is resistant against leaf rust

Developing New Varietals

Brazilian researchers began selectively crossbreeding caturra with disease-resistant coffees like Hibrido de Timor. The goal was to essentially merge the best aspects of each – caturra’s flavor and efficiency with timor’s resilience.

After years of trial and error, these breeding programs successfully developed productive new varieties like Catucaí and Obatã – both catimor descendants that carry caturra genetics.

Widespread Adoption

The new catimor hybrids proved to be a lifeline for Central American coffee when leaf rust ravaged the region in the 1980s-90s. Hardier catimor plants carrying caturra DNA helped many farms survive the epidemic.

Today, caturra and catimor hybrids make up nearly 50% of Brazil’s coffee acreage. Caturra’s role in developing leaf rust resistance saved thousands of families from financial ruin.

Conclusion

As we’ve explored, caturra is a unique coffee varietal that originated as a natural mutation of the bourbon tree. It has become invaluable to coffee growers for its high productivity, disease resistance, and exceptional cup quality.

Though caturra was discovered by chance, research programs enabled this hearty, smooth-tasting bean to transform the industry. Today, caturra remains an integral part of coffee production in Brazil and Central America.

It’s no wonder many experts consider caturra one of the most economically important coffee varietals. For coffee lovers, caturra’s complex flavors rightfully earn it a permanent place among the world’s finest Arabica beans.

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