Modern cultivars of coffee are derived from two base populations – known as Typica/Típica and Bourbon – both of which are ascensions of Yemen and which were spread worldwide in the eighteenth century.
Around the year 1715, a few plants of Arabica were introduced by the French to the island we know today as Reunion (at that time known as Ile Bourbon) in the Indian Ocean. These Typica trees mutated on the island, giving rise to the variety that became known as Bourbon, which is more productive than its ancestor. This sole characteristic made the new variety a valuable transplant throughout Brazil (where it was taken in the late 18th century) and other parts of Central and South America, as well as on the African continent, particularly in Rwanda.
Bourbon was introduced to Brazil in the 1860s (some accounts have it as early as 1852) to make up for the supply loss caused by a coffee leaf rust outbreak in Java and is part of the reason Brazil rose to become one of the world’s coffee superproducers from that time onward.
Despite the variety’s susceptibility to rust, breeders around the world largely exploited the above mentioned varieties resulting in Typica and Bourbon-derived cultivars. Both produce exceptional cup profiles but display similar agronomic behaviours characterised by high susceptibility to many pests and low adaptability.
Bourbon grows best at heights of 1,100 to 2,000 metres above sea level. It produces a similar quality of coffee as does the Typica variety but normally yields 20% to 30% more coffee. It is, however, considered to be a variety with low productivity when compared to other common coffee plants such as the Bourbon-derived varieties Caturra, Catuaí and Pacas.
Bourbon have large, wide leaves with wavy edges and tend to have more secondary branches in comparison with other coffee trees. The berries are rather small and very thick, and can be red, yellow or pink depending on the sub-variety. Red, yellow and pink (sometimes known as orange) Bourbon are varieties with natural mutation of one recessive gene
Bourbon is valued for its complex acidity and wonderful balance. It often has a sweet, caramel quality and nice and crisp acidity but can present quite distinct flavours depending on where it is planted. El Salvador Bourbons tend to display butter, toffee, and fresh pastry; Rwandan types tend to have a punchier, fruity quality.