When buying coffee, there are a lot of factors to consider, from origin and processing to roast profile and brewing technique. However, the coffee variety, which is the taxonomic rank below coffee subspecies, is sometimes disregarded. Vietnam, the world’s second-largest coffee producer after Brazil, can be counted on to deliver a diverse range of coffee varieties to the market across the world. Let’s discover some of the different varieties of coffee beans produced in Vietnam that you might encounter and their characteristics.
1. What are coffee varieties?
A variety represents a subspecies of a coffee type. Each different variety possesses distinctive physical and sensory characteristics when grown in different locations. Both Arabica and Robusta contain thousands of varieties, which come below “species” in the taxonomic hierarchy. World Coffee Research, a renowned scientific organization in the coffee industry, has over 50 verified varieties in its database.
In general, let’s take a look at the below botanical classification of coffee.
- Group: Phanerogams ( seeds or flowering plants)
- Subgroup: Angiosperms (angiosperms)
- Class: Dicotyledons (Dicotyledons)
- Subclass: Sympetale (Verwachsen Blumen Blättrige)
- Family: Rubiaceae (bedstraw family)
- Genus: Coffea (Coffee)
- Species: e.g.: Coffea Arabica – Coffea Robusta two of the best known types of coffee
- Subspecies (varieties):
- for C. Arabica e.g.: Bourbon, Mocha, Typica,…
- for C. Canephora (Robusta): Erecta, Nganda,…
A high-yield coffee plant in Vietnam Source: Yara International
2. Arabica (Coffea arabica)
Arabica coffee is the world’s most popular coffee, accounting for around 60% or more of all coffee produced. Two of the most important varieties in modern arabica coffee production are Typica and Bourbon. Since the dawn of time, these coffee varieties have existed. However, due to low yield and insect susceptibility, they were difficult to grow and were eventually phased out of coffee farms. They were subsequently supplanted by Catimor, a combination of Caturra and Timor created in Portugal in 1959. Timor is a hybrid of robusta and arabica. This variety is pest resistant, easy to cultivate, and produces a high yield.
Nowadays in Vietnam, Catimor is widely grown in most regions of the coffee land, including Lam Dong, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Quang Tri, Nghe An, and Son La. Arabica Bourbon, commonly known as Moka, is another coffee variety grown in Cau Dat, Xuan Truong, and Da Lat. As this coffee is regarded for being very good and delectable, coffeehouses frequently use it to market their roasted coffee.
Typica is one of the oldest varieties of coffee, having existed for millennia and giving rise to a number of hybrid species. In Vietnam, Typica is mostly cultivated in Cau Dat (Da Lat), with an annual yield of around 3 tons of coffee beans.
Arabica Typica coffee plants. Source: Worldcoffeeresearch.org
Typica was brought to Vietnam before 1988. It was until 2001 that coffee prices were extremely low. Since then, people began growing high-yielding Catimor varieties instead of Typica. In today’s Vietnam, finding genuine Typica coffee is difficult due to its scarcity.
2.2 Bourbon (Moka)
Arabica Bourbon, commonly known as Moka, is a popular coffee variety not only in Vietnam but also throughout the world. These varieties originated from a French island and were introduced to Vietnam in 1875. Due to its smooth flavour and attractive aroma, Moka was marketed as a top delicious coffee bean for the elite these days. These varieties were also imported to France to cater to the high class.
Red Arabica Bourbon coffee plants. Source: Worldcoffeeresearch.org
Nowadays, Moka is still cultivated in Xuan Tho and Xuan Truong, Cau Dat district of Dalat Province. Many people have tried to grow this kind in places other than Dalat, but the farmer is unable to produce the same high–quality fruits. Moka is known as the Queen of Coffee because of its deep and unique flavor with a wine scent.
Yellow Arabica Bourbon coffee plants.
Catimor was brought to Vietnam during the 1980s. Since then, this variety has been widely planted in Vietnam due to its high yield and leaf rust resistance. Catimor currently accounts for most of Arabica coffee production in Vietnam, widely grown in most of the major coffee material areas across the country, namely Lam Dong, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Quang Tri, Nghe An and Son La. As a result, Catimor’s quality has a major influence on the country’s overall coffee quality than any other variety.
Catimor coffee plants.
Catuai, a hybrid coffee variety, was imported to Vietnam from Cuba in the 1980s. This coffee variety has a high yield but it is susceptible to pests and frost. As a result, Catuai was not developed further. In Vietnam, Catuai is grown mainly in Phu Quy, Nghe An, and Quang Tri. Despite the fact that it is only planted on a few plantations, the proportion of Catimor in the garden is quite high. People harvest and export together with Catimor.
Catuai coffee plants. Source: Worldcoffeeresearch.org
3. Robusta (Coffea canephora)
The majority of Vietnam coffee beans – around 97% – are the Robusta variety. Main Robusta coffee growing provinces in Vietnam are the Central Highlands, including Dak Lak, Lam Dong, Dak Nong, Gia Lai and Kon Tum. There are some geographic indications of the coffee regions (‘Buon Ma Thuot’, ‘Cau Dat – Da Lat’ and ‘Son La’) known for their quality, sweet aroma and strong flavor resulting from the soil characteristics. Since Robusta has fewer growing restrictions and has a generally less desirable flavor, it is usually sold for a lower price than Arabica beans.
In Vietnam, there are two main subspecies of Robusta: Robusta Se, and Robusta Cao San (High-yielding Robusta)
3.1 Robusta Se
This is a purebred Robusta line with higher quality than the high producing varieties. The beans are tiny yet solid and hefty in texture.
Robusta Se with smaller beans
3.2 Robusta Cao San
This high-yielding variety produces a huge yield as well as being pest and disease resistant. However, it does not compare to the Robusta Se in terms of quality. It’s often used to produce instant coffee or to extract chlorogenic acid.
Robusta Cao San
4. Liberica Coffee
Liberica coffee is called “cà phê mít” (as its leaves look like jackfruit’s leaves) in Vietnam. The species consists of two main varieties: Liberica and Exelsa. It has a somewhat strong bitter taste, especially the back-palate flavor – reminding of burnt wood. Hence, it’s usually used to mix with Arabica and Robusta coffee to create different flavors.
It takes five years for a Liberica plant to begin to bear in Vietnam. This coffee tree is drought tolerant, less water needed, so they are often grown in extensive farming. Due to its drought tolerance and good resistance to pests and diseases, cherry coffee is preferred to use as the rootstock for other popular coffee varieties
Green Vietnam liberica coffee beans
Liberica coffee, on the other hand, is not as widely produced as Arabica and Robusta in Vietnam nowadays because of its low yield and difficult cultivation and harvesting. Compared to Liberica varieties, Excelsa are grown in small numbers. They can be found in some coffee farms in the Dalat Highlands area. Meanwhile Liberica varieties are grown in numerous regions in Vietnam, including Nghe An, Quang Tri, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, and Dalat where the environmental and climatic circumstances are ideal for this coffee variety.
Viego Global – Your trusted sourcing partner in Vietnam
At Viego, we know it’s more than just finding the right factory since every step of the supply chain requires proper implementation in order to ensure clients are shipped the quality coffee beans they require. We always try our best to determine the best suppliers, including coffee farms and coffee collectors based on your personal needs as a company. During the process of researching potential suppliers, contacting and visiting the factories, we inspect every single thing from license, capacity, and past orders as well as the equipment and the workers’ competence. This is why we are making sure that you find the best supplier possible at the best competitive price.
In order to provide a deeper insight on Vietnam’s Coffee Market, we’ve created this series along with tips on how to select the best beans from Vietnam for your business. Jump to:
- A start-to-finish guide to coffee beans market in Vietnam
- Best types of coffee beans to source in Vietnam
- How to find wholesale coffee suppliers in Vietnam
- Essential guide to checking the quality of Vietnam’s green coffee beans
- 4 Most common mistakes when sourcing green coffee beans from Vietnam