The word ‘heirloom’ describes old cultivars of the Coffea Arabica plant which have existed for a long time. When specialty coffee buyers are unsure what varieties of Typica and Bourbon they are purchasing, they classify these varieties under the umbrella term: heirloom. Hence, when consumers pick up a bag of “heirloom” coffee, there is a chance that the beans are made up of more than 10,000 varieties!
Ethiopian heirloom coffees exhibits the following traits in its taste profile:
It is estimated that there are 10,000 - 15,000 coffee varieties in Ethiopia alone. Majority of them have yet to even been formally genetically identified. Heirloom varieties are mainly classified into 2 groups:
1. Jimma Agricultural Research Centre (JARC) varieties which researchers have developed these varieties with desirable characteristics like stronger resistance to diseases, pests, and increased yield.
2. Regional landraces - this group of coffee trees refer to those that grow completely in the wild and have yet to be cultivated for commercial use. Thousands of these wild varieties have varying characteristics: yield, flavour profile, etc. Thus, due to the difficulty in naming and identifying every single wild heirloom species, they have all been grouped under the term ‘heirloom’.
Hence, Heirloom varieties are resulted from myriads of cross-breeding between species rather than stemming from one particular variety. They often offer surprising, new and unusual flavours which excite coffee enthusiasts.