Coffee producers make a choice when it comes to the type of coffee tree or variety they wish to grow, a choice that impacts the investment and return, cost and profit of their farms. Most countries now have several varieties for farmers to choose from, selected based on yield, flavour profile, hardiness, growth pattern, input requirements etc. A producer knows that a tree takes 3-5 years from planting till full harvest, and have a typical lifespan of 15-20 years before yields start to drop and it might need stumping or replacing. As such the planting of any type of coffee tree is a big commitment, and it’s not uncommon for one farm to grow several varieties suited to different soils, sun exposures, altitudes etc within a farm. Sometimes varieties are not separated during harvest, sometimes they are and sold as individual lots.
We currently have two Costa Rican coffees in the webshop, from farms in the same town, from the same altitudes, processed the same way, but of differing varieties. Santa Rosa 1900 grows several varieties but our lot from them is a Red Catuai, while our lot from San Martin 1900 is a Villa Sarchi. As well as tasting different from each other, they have very different botanical and agricultural traits. One is a man made hybrid while the other is a natural mutation, one was imported from South America while the other spontaneously occurred hours away from the farm. Both are delicious when grown and processed well, so while we can’t decide which one we think tastes better, it’s always fun to learn a bit more about the origins of the two trees.
The Villa Sarchi is a natural mutation of Bourbon that was discovered in the West Valley of Costa Rica around the early 1950’s. It has smaller proportions than the Bourbon, and is generally classed as a dwarf variety. It yields a healthy harvest and does well at high altitudes, but prefers to be grown under shade or semi-shade from other trees. It has a good root system and doesn’t require a high input of fertilisers to produce well, so for producers who want to be organic it’s often a popular choice. However, it needs deep, naturally nutrient rich soil and enjoys a bit of room to spread out, thriving at about 3500 trees per hectare. Visually it’s different from the Catuai in that its branches sit at about 45 degrees to the trunk, and while the Villa Sarchi branches also have short internodes, the cherries are exclusively red. Spearheaded by a few passionate farmers it has gained a big following in Costa Rica doing very well in competitions, and as such has begun to enjoy popularity in other countries as well.