Talking to our hardworking farmers is one of my go-to activities whenever I visit the countryside. They give the most brilliant advice and have a witty sense of humor. We should be thankful, after all, as they are the ones who are mainly responsible for the food we eat and the beverages we drink, and that includes our cup of Joe.
In fact, Bourbon has become one of the most enjoyable Arabica cultivars because of the hard workers who toiled and cultivated these specialty coffee beans. In El Salvador, one of the countries ravaged by the coffee rust disease, specialty coffee beans such as Bourbon coffee are helping the industry recover.
Bourbon As The Chosen One
Bourbon is considered a cultivar, meaning that it was selected to be grown and closely tended to by farmers because of its excellent flavor profile and high yield. It was this coffee bean from Yemen that was introduced by French missionaries in Île Bourbon, where it got its name (modern-day Reunion Island) during the late 18th century.
It was then exported to the lands of Africa and Latin America, particularly in Brazil, and continued to spread in South and Central American countries. Due to careful cultivation and a slight mutation, it has become an Arabica specialty coffee bean that we adore today, along with its other cultivar siblings’ Typica and Heirloom.
Types Of Bourbon Coffee
Under the Bourbon family exists a number of sub-species that offer different flavor profiles. For instance, the Moka Bourbon variety features a prominent chocolate flavor profile, while the Caturra Bourbon is on the fruitier and citrusy side. You might want to check out our Caturra coffee explainer to learn more.
For simplicity’s sake, we can distinguish the types of Bourbon based on color rather than the sub-specie. Currently, there are three common Bourbon varieties – Yellow, Orange, and Red.
Yellow Bourbon is more prominent in Brazil and offers a fruity flavor profile. When wet processed, it will release notes of berries and stone fruits. When dry processed (meaning they were dried with the coffee cherries still intact), it becomes sweeter, comparable to mango or peach.
It is debatable how it got its color, but the arguments are that the Red Bourbon coffee crossbred with the Typica variety called Yellow Botucatu.
The Red Bourbon is more similar to the usual coffee beans but shares a similar flavor profile with the Yellow Bourbon. Interestingly, it boasts a smoother consistency, silky and butter-like texture, and a rich dark chocolate note.
Lastly, Orange Bourbon came about because of a natural mutation of the Red Bourbon that occurred in the farms of Central America, specifically in El Salvador. It tends to be higher on the acidity scale, is creamier than the other types, and boasts a brighter flavor profile with citrus notes.
It is noteworthy that another rare hybrid called Pink Bourbon is gaining traction due to its unique flavor. It is thought to have hailed from Colombia and is another product of the Yellow and Red Bourbon cross-breeding and features a more floral taste with notes of caramel and a subtle spicy zing.
Traits And Features Of Bourbon
You can distinguish a Bourbon coffee plant by its tall height, which can reach around five meters high, and has leaves that are larger than the Typica cultivar. It is best grown on high altitudes (1,100 to 1,200 meters above sea level) to very high altitudes (1,500 meters) farmlands to produce higher flavor quality.
It boasts a 20% to 30% higher yield than the Typica but is similar in terms of the quality of cherry fruits it bears. Because it grows at high altitudes, the coffee beans are denser and usually rounder than the Typica.
Bourbon is very susceptible to diseases such as coffee leaf rust, coffee berry disease, and parasites such as the root-knot nematodes that live underground and destroy the coffee roots. The latter thrives in warmer temperatures, although farmers continue to be careful because of the m. hapla variant that flourishes in high altitudes.
Processing And Roasting Bourbon Coffee Beans
There is no preferred method when it comes to Bourbon coffee beans as both wet and dry (natural) processes offer a quality cup of Joe, although the demand for the latter is increasing as this retains an amount of the coffee cherry’s natural glucose content which results in a sweeter and more complex flavor profile.
The roasting process should be closely monitored and controlled as Bourbon coffee beans can be dense. Roasters would recommend a round of roasting small batches at high temperatures for short periods, checking it as they go to obtain optimal flavor.
Light roasts tend to have sweeter notes ranging from berries to citrus fruits with a nutty undertone. On the other hand, medium roasts highlight the chocolate flavor accentuated by the fruity and nutty notes in the background. It also has a silkier and maltier texture and is more full-bodied.
I wouldn’t really recommend dark roasts since the bright and sweet flavors might disappear, but those who love a toasty and smoky chocolate flavor can freely opt for this.
Brewing Bourbon Coffee Beans
If you want the full experience of the Bourbon coffee beans, you should opt for brewing methods that will thoroughly extract its flavor profiles. You can use a French Press with your coarse grind beans or a medium-coarse one if you will be using a Chemex.
You are in for a treat if you have a Siphon, as it can also bring out more of the bright flavors of the bourbon. Use a medium grind for this method. For a bolder flavor, a fine dark roast grind for your espresso machine might do the trick.
I am not one to dictate how you brew your coffee beans, as it will still be based on your preference. For grinding tips, you can check out our guide on the best coffee grinders for French Press or pour-over coffee to start!
Since Bourbon coffee beans come from the Arabica family, it has a moderate to low level of caffeine compared to Robusta. It generally has low acidity levels than other high-altitude coffee beans such as Ethiopian and Colombian.
Bourbon Coffee Beans To Try
Be ready to shell out more than your generic grocery store coffee if you are planning to get your hands on a specialty coffee bean such as Bourbon, but it is worth a try! For starters, I highly recommend Orfeu Special Coffee Yellow Bourbon. It is light roasted and features a smooth citric acidity and sweet lemon profile with notes of almonds.
For the chocolate-inclined, you might want to go for Dancing Goat’s El Salvador Bourbon, which features a cocoa flavor with a tinge of spiciness for that extra kick. If you are looking for something more exquisite, I recommend Coffee Bean and Bird’s Del Poeta Natural Pink Bourbon with splendid notes of stone fruit and berries with a captivating floral flavor profile.