Why You Can’t Consistently Find Great Coffee Beans – Understanding The Myth of Heirloom Variety Coffee

When you buy that great coffee from your local roaster, you think that “This is it.” You found the perfect beans for your daily dripping caffeinated adventure. The floral notes and the earthy undertones are exactly what you were looking for. You buy that coffee for a few months, and everything is great. Until the day that your local roaster says they don’t have that coffee anymore. You ask nicely: “You certainly plan to bring it back, my friends and I love those beans, you have at least 5 clients from my circle.” The answer comes back shocking, the farmer got a contract with a larger coffee roaster from Europe, and they can’t sell it to your local roaster. “Maybe you can buy the same beans from another farm?” you attempt. And this is where the things get even more complicated. There is no easy way to know what variety that coffee is. Perfectdailygrind.com has an article on the subject. I included here a few snippets for your reference.

Understanding The Myth of Heirloom Variety Coffee
Understanding The Myth of Heirloom Variety Coffee
When we speak of Ethiopian coffees, we use descriptors such as “rosehips” and “magnolia”. But if you’re curious to know what specific variety produces these flowery notes, you’re often stuck with just one word: heirloom.In the early days of third wave coffee, heirloom was used as a catch-all name to describe coffees from Ethiopia. But it’s not a very useful term. Because there is no recognition of the different varieties, Ethiopian producers are being deprived of transparency and the opportunity to earn a higher income. Roasters aren’t able to differentiate between Ethiopian coffees, and consumers are denied the chance to savour new, exciting flavours because it’s not clear which variety is on offer.

But changing the terminology is easier said tha

What Heirloom Actually Means

The word heirloom describes an old cultivar of a plant grown for food. Some say that a cultivar must be over 100 years old to be classed as heirloom, others 50 years. And then there are those who classify heirloom plants as from before 1945, which was roughly when hybrids were introduced, or 1951, when hybrids became more widely available.

In the coffee world, you’ll find the term heirloom applied to varieties introduced to Latin America and Asia over a hundred years ago, and also to many coffees from Africa, particularly those from Ethiopia.

Broadly, you can classify Ethiopian coffee varieties into two types: JARC varieties and regional landraces.

JARC varieties are those that were developed by the Jimma Agricultural Research Centre (JARC), one of Ethiopia’s agricultural federal research centres, for increased resistance to pests and higher yields. There are around 40 such varieties. Regional landraces are coffees that grow wild in Ethiopian forests. Getu tells me that there may be over 10,000 of these.

This means that when a consumer picks up a bag of Ethiopian coffee and sees the variety described as heirloom, the beans come from some combination of the more than 10,000 varieties.

The Advantages of Using Specific Variety Names

Using variety names could also help producers in other ways. Planting a large farm with coffee you know only as heirloom could mean that you make a significant investment in plants that are not resistant to disease. By using variety names, producers can be more informed of the risks of the crop they select.Understanding The Myth of Heirloom Variety Coffee

n done. Let’s take a closer look at what heirloom means and the difficulties in achieving more transparency about Ethiopian varieties.