In Brazil, coffee growing is the subject of much research and development at national universities and institutions. To improve the quality, yield, and resilience of the coffee crop, agronomists, biologists, and other researchers study the best coffee varietals to plant in each of the country’s growing regions, often breeding hybrids or propagating natural mutations.
Some farms manage their own nurseries, and many growers also purchase seeds and seedlings from verified suppliers. It is common for a farm to plant many kinds of coffee, separating the varietals by section of the farm, making transparent traceability easy to maintain. Here is an introduction to varietals commonly grown in Brazil, some of which are found elsewhere in Central and South America and others specific to Brazil, based on the information published by the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA) and the Coffee Research Consortium.
Acaiá — This varietal was selected from Mundo Novo and was first distributed to growers in Brazil in 1977. The name Acaiá means “fruit with large seeds” in the Tupi-Guarani language and this description characterizes the large cherries and beans inside, a big as screen 18/19. Acaiá is susceptible to coffee leaf rust, but the yield is good, and the plants are hearty. The average size of the trees is over four meters tall and the two main flowerings occur in September-October and April-July in the São Paulo state.
Red Bourbon — In 1859, Bourbon seeds arrived in Brazil, sent for by the Brazil central government after hearing that coffee growing on the island of Reunion, then called Bourbon, were more productive and of higher quality than the Typica variety. Now that the Yellow Bourbon variety exists, the original Bourbon is distinguished as Red Bourbon. In the 1930’s, different strains of Red Bourbon were bred at the Campinas Agronomic Institute (IAC) in the state of Sao Paulo and distributed to farmers in 1939. Studying the success of different selections of Red Bourbon planted in different regions with distinct conditions helped researchers understand the effects of environmental variations on coffee varieties.
Yellow Bourbon — In 1930, Dr. Carlos Arnaldo Krug first studied Bourbon trees with yellow fruit as a separate varietal. Yellow Bourbon may have originated as a Red Bourbon mutation or as a recombination of the natural cross between Red Bourbon and Yellow Botucatu; in the original populations where it was selected, trees displayed physical (phenotypical) similarities to both varieties. Yellow Bourbon’s average yield is 32–45% higher than Red Bourbon but 30–50% lower than that of Red Catuai, Yellow Catuai, and Mundo Novo. The average height of the trees is over two meters tall.
Catigua — In 1980, a team of plant breeders at two Brazilian research institutions made a cross between Yellow Catuai and the Timor Hybrid. Later generations were tested at several field sites around Brazil and found to be successful. The name Catiguá refers to the original name of the city of Patrocínio, Minas Gerais, where part of the selection process of this cultivar was carried out.
Red Catuai — Red Catuai originated from a cross between Yellow Caturra and Mundo Novo varietals. Trees producing red fruits were selected and descendants of those plants were vigorous and highly productive, leading to the denomination of Red Catuai. The cultivar was launched for commercial purposes in 1972. The term Catuai, in the Tupi-Guarani language, means “very good.”
Yellow Catuai — Yellow Catuai was obtained by crossing Yellow Caturra with Mundo Novo. The resulting hybrid tree has a small stature and yellow coffee cherries but with the productive vigor of Mundo Novo. Yellow Catuai is susceptible to leaf rust and nematodes, with a strong root system. The term Catuai, in the Tupi-Guarani language, means “very good.”
Catucai — Catucai was developed as a cross between Icatu and Catuai. The first selection was made in 1988 by researchers at the then Brazilian Coffee Institute (IBC) in a population of the Red Icatu cultivar, whose seeds were from Londrina and had been planted in the municipality of São José do Vale do Rio Preto, Rio de Janeiro. Progenies of these selections were planted and selected at the Fazenda Experimental de Varginha, MG, belonging to the MAPA / Procafé Foundation. After careful breeding, later generations were selected in the municipalities of Varginha, Elói Mendes, Manhuaçu, Coromandel and Patrocínio, in Minas Gerais; Vitória da Conquista, in Bahia and Marechal Floriano, in the state of Espírito Santo, to select plants that were very productive, with high vegetative vigor and resistant to coffee rust. This breeding program gave rise to cultivars of yellow fruits and red fruits, which were named Catucaí, a combination of the words Icatu and Catuaí. In general, the cultivars of the Catucaí group exhibit moderate resistance to coffee rust, which means that the plants can be infected, but the damage caused is generally small, with no large leaf fall.
Red and Yellow Caturra — Both Red and Yellow Caturra cultivars are small in stature, probably originated from mutations of Red Bourbon, which has a taller stature. The yellow cherries of Caturra might also be a mutation of the original Red Caturra. They were found in the Serra do Caparaó, the mountain range that divides the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo. Seeds from trees with red and yellow fruit from the Siqueira Campos municipality in Espírito Santo were introduced to the Campinas Agronomic Institute (IAC) in 1937, where they were selected and released in 1949. Caturra is susceptible to leaf rust and characterized by its compact stature and short space between the nodes on each branch. Caturra was the first mutation discovered with both a compact stature and high productivity. Due to these characteristics, Caturra cultivars contributed to profound alternations in the general planting patterns on coffee farms in Brazil and to improvements in cultivation.
Red Icatu — Red Icatu was obtained in 1950 through an interspecific hybridization between Cafea canephora (Robusta) and a plant of the Red Bourbon cultivar at the Campinas Agronomic Institute (IAC). Seedlings were backcrossed with selections of Mundo Novo. Subsequent generations demonstrated resistance to coffee leaf rust. In 1970, with the increasing presence of leaf rust in Brazil, all varietals with any resistance traits from Robusta genes were studied individually and placed in field trials for observation. The Red Icatu cultivar and its lineages were released for commercial use in 1992. In 1999, each strain of Red Icatu was registered in the National Cultivar Registry (RNC). The name Icatu, in the Tupi-Guarani language, translates to the Portuguese “bonança,” which means smooth sailing, as in the favorable calm of the sea.
Yellow Icatu — The development of the cultivars in the Yellow Icatu group were initiated after the identification of the natural cross between plants of the Red Icatu cultivar with Yellow Bourbon or Yellow Mundo Novo, occurring in an experiment at the Campinas Agronomic Institute (IAC). The seeds that gave birth to these cultivars from this group that were harvested in May of 1970 and the hybrid coffee trees obtained were planted beginning in 1971. After various generations of selection starting with the hybrid material and what was obtained from the Yellow Icatu, which has various lineages, released for commercial use in 1992. As with Red Icatu, each strain of Yellow Icatu was registered in the National Cultivar Registry (RNC) in 1999.
Mundo Novo — Mundo Novo is the product of a recombination resulting from a natural cross between Sumatra and Red Bourbon, found in the Sao Paulo municipality of Mineiros do Tietê. Seeds from one of these trees were planted in the municipality of Mundo Novo, now called Urupês, in Sao Paulo state, where the plant arrays that gave origin to the cultivar Mundo Novo were selected. Here, between 1943 and 1952, various plant arrays were selected, and, later, there were selections between the offspring to eliminate various shortcomings observed in the populations. The selected offspring, then called Mundo Novo, were propagated and distributed to farms beginning in 1952. New selections were released from IAC in 1977.
Red Obatã — Red Obatã was derived from a cross between the Villa Sarchi cultivar and the Timor Hybrid carried out in Portugal. Seedlings propagated from the cross were planted in Campinas in 1972, representing good production. Offspring from these coffee trees were selected and evaluated in several experiments and the selection continued for several generations. Apparently, during the selection cycles, natural crosses occurred between Red and Yellow Catuai, used as comparisons in the experiments. The Obatã cultivar is the likely the result of a natural hybridization between the Villa Sarchi-Timor Hybrid cross and Red Catuai. Red Obatã was officially launched by IAC in the year 2000. Red Obatã has a high resistance to leaf rust and, in many locations, production levels as high as Red Catuai, especially in the first harvests.
Yellow Obatã — Yellow Obatã likely comes from a natural cross between Red Obatã with Yellow Catuai, which occurred in an experiment conducted at the Cooperativa dos Cafeicultores da Região de Garça (Garcafé) in São Paulo under the direction of Dr. Alcides Carvalho. Seeds from the original Red Obatã plant used for the experiment were collected for several years. In the subsequent generations, trees with yellow fruit displayed the same characteristics as Obatã, suggesting the likely natural cross between Red Obatã and Yellow Catuai. The first selections of Yellow Obtatã took place in 1992 and 1999 at various farm sites in Minas Gerais. Seeds from the best Obatã trees with yellow cherries were chosen to evaluate production potential. The progeny derived from this cultivar is leaf rust resistant and designated as Yellow Obatã in IAC’s cultivar registry.
Oeiras — The Oeiras vareiety was developed at the Universidade Federal de Viçosa in conjuction with the national organization EPAMIG using genes from a hybrid plant resulting from a cross between Red Caturra and the Timor Hybrid. In the field, the trees’ size and productivity is somewhere between Mundo Novo and Red Catuai.
Topazio is a cross between Mundo Novo and Yellow Catuai, first selected at IAC in the 1960’s and later intensified by the state research organization EPAMIG in Minas Gerais. The trees have a low, relatively compact stature but are not resistant to diseases. Cherries ripen to deep yellow, inspiring its name indicative of the yellow gemstone. Topazio is leafy with a high capacity for production and mostly even cherry maturation, making it an efficient varietal to plant for mechanized harvesting and well suited for larger estates requiring uniform plantings to make the most of labor and management. The Topazio variety is especially well suited to the climate of Minas Gerais and does well at high densities and as part of irrigated plantation.
To read more about coffee growing in Brazil, check out related posts:
- Coffee Regions of Brazil
- Harvesting and Processing Coffee in Cerrado Mineiro, Brazil
- The Certifica Minas Cafe Program — Brazil
- Sustainability at Fazenda Primavera