With its rich history intertwined with Reunion Island’s complex past, Bourbon coffee has risen from a little-known novelty to one of the most coveted coffees in the world.
Bourbon is one of the most widely grown and popular Arabica varieties known for its balanced cup profile bursting with sweet, chocolatey undertones.
Let’s dive into the storied origins and distinctive characteristics that give Bourbon a taste profile as refined as its regal name suggests.
The History of Bourbon Coffee
The origin of Bourbon variety is rooted in the coffee forests of Ethiopia, which stands as the birthplace of Coffea arabica.
It is likely that these beans were first introduced to Yemen in the 1700s. Later, French missionaries brought Yemeni coffee plants to Bourbon Island, which is now known as La Réunion.
This island is located in the Indian Ocean, off the southeast coast of Africa.
For more than a century, Bourbon coffee was only found on this island. However, in the mid-1800s, French colonizers spread Bourbon Arabica to Africa and the Americas.
Around 1860, Bourbon beans arrived in Brazil, which became instrumental to the popularity of Bourbon beans.
From Brazil, Bourbon spread rapidly, cross-breeding with other cultivars from India and Ethiopia. This led to genetic mutations like Caturra, Catuai, and Mundo Novo.
These Bourbon descendants eventually replaced the original variety in many regions. But you can still find authentic Bourbon grown today in some regions of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru.
Also read: Where do Coffee beans come from
The Characteristics of Bourbon Coffee
Bourbon coffee trees are known for having large, wide leaves with wavy edges and a tall, shrub-like structure.
The plants are also susceptible to major coffee diseases like coffee leaf rust and aren’t very productive compared to newer varieties.
Bourbon achieves excellent cup quality when grown at high altitudes from 1,000-1,800 meters in nitrogen-rich volcanic soil.
Bourbon Plants produce striking cherries in shades of red, yellow, and pinkish-orange.
While more popular and productive than the Typica variety, Bourbon loses out on productivity to some of its genetic mutations like Mundo Novo and Caturra.
Where does Bourbon Coffee grow?
Bourbon Coffee trees are most commonly grown in the South American region and the highlands of Eastern Africa.
Here are some of the major Bourbon producing countries:
- El Salvador
Varieties of Bourbon Coffee
Bourbon coffee has led to many sub-varieties and genetic mutations over the years as it spread globally and cross-bred with other cultivars.
This interbreeding resulted in beneficial mutations that were selected for propagation.
- Acaiá – A Brazilian mutation of Typica and Bourbon selected for its dwarf size and high yield.
- Caturra – Compact, high-yielding mutation of Bourbon originated in Brazil.
- Mokka – Mutation found in Yemen, renowned for its chocolaty flavors
- Villa Sarchi – Highly productive and disease resistant mutation of Bourbon mostly found in Costa Rica.
- Pacas – A popular, hardy Bourbon variety mostly found in Central America.
- Jackson – Vigorous, high-yielding Bourbon originated in India.
- Laurina – A Dwarf Mutation of Borbon known for its low caffeine content.
- SL 34 – Hybrid with exceptional cup quality developed in Kenya.
- Arusha – Known for its small beans and unique flavor, from Tanzania.
- Yellow Bourbon – A mutation with yellow rather than red fruit mostly found in Brazil.
- Mundo Novo – Popular Brazilian cross between Bourbon and Typica.
The taste and flavors of Bourbon Coffee
Describing the taste of Bourbon coffee can be tricky since there are so many varieties grown worldwide under different conditions.
But in general, Bourbons are known for their complex acidity and wonderful balance. You’ll often pick up sweet, caramel notes with a nice crisp finish.
Bourbons from El Salvador have more butter and toffee tastes. Guatemalan Bourbons tend to be fruitier and more floral.
It’s hard to generalize, most Bourbons share fruity and floral characteristics.
Like I’ve tried yellow Bourbons from Brazil that tasted like sugared hazelnuts and pineapple with floral aromas- just sparkling sweetness and tropical fruit flavors!
Of course altitude, soil, and farming practices affect flavor too. So there can be good and bad Bourbons.
What’s the Fuss about Pink Bourbon Coffee?
Pink Bourbon is a hybrid of Yellow and Red Bourbon that’s gaining popularity as a specialty coffee.
The pink-hued beans produce an elegant, clean cup with an amazing balanced flavor. Notes of flowers, peach, honey, and raspberries come through, making it taste extremely sweet.
In fact, Pink Bourbon recently earned a top score of 87.5 in coffee cupping competitions!
This variety also made headlines after earning the top spot in the 2023 World Barista Championship.
Read about other varieties of coffee beans
And there you have it – the complete lowdown on the wonderful world of Bourbon coffee variety! From its origins on the island of Réunion to how it spread globally and led to new varieties, hopefully, you now feel like a true Bourbon expert.
So tell me – have you tried Bourbon coffee before? If so, what do you think? Do you have a favorite Bourbon variety or region? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!
Does Bourbon coffee beans have alcohol?
No, Bourbon coffee beans do not contain alcohol. Bourbon is simply a variety of coffee, named after the island of Bourbon (now Réunion) where it originated.
Some coffee roasters do make “bourbon barrel-aged coffee” where the beans are fermented in actual bourbon barrels, infusing them with boozy flavors.
The name can cause confusion, but rest assured standard Bourbon coffee varietal do not have any liquor!
What is the difference between Bourbon and Typica coffee?
Bourbon and Typica are two distinct coffee varieties that fall under the same parent species “Coffea Arabica”
Bourbon beans are rounder and typically grow on shrub-like plants while Typica beans tend to be elongated and grow on tall coffee plants.
Bourbon has a brighter, more acidic taste with fruity notes while Typica has a balanced, mild taste with hints of nuts and spice.