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The Myth of Heirloom Coffee Explained: Why You Can’t Find Consistently Good Beans

Ethiopian coffee plant

When choosing a coffee roast to start your mornings with, it’s difficult to change from something you’ve grown to love. Waking up to the delicious aroma and earthy tones of heirloom coffee is, unfortunately, hit or miss. If you’re a fan of this floral coffee, you may have noticed this. Some bags of roasted beans leave you yearning for your next cup. Others may be lacking the same amazing flavor you’ve grown used to. This big question is why is there so much inconsistency?

Heirloom coffee is a type that many drinkers adore, but finding consistently good beans is an ongoing struggle. Let’s take a deeper look at what heirloom coffee is and why discovering what’s in your fresh bag of coffee is always up in the air.

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What Is Heirloom Coffee?

In the coffee industry, the word heirloom is applied to any coffee variety that was introduced more than 100 years ago. This includes coffees from regions such as Latin America, Asia, and even Africa. One of the most talked-about heirloom coffees is those derived from Ethiopia.

Now, you may be wondering why Ethiopian coffee is commonly referred to as heirloom coffee. This is due to the long history Ethiopia has in the coffee industry, as well as the diversity found in coffee varieties in the area. With the landraces and wild-grown coffee beans found in Ethiopia, the country is known to have well over 10,000 different coffee varieties. The Ethiopian heirloom coffee you buy at your local roasters is a mixture of these multiple varieties found growing within the country.

Coffee beans Ethiopia
Image Credit: Oscar Espinosa, Shutterstock

The Consistency Issue

As you can imagine, with such a wide variety of coffee beans coming together to make heirloom coffee, it’s understandable that consistency is an issue. One bag of beans may be a combination you simply can’t do without. When this happens, and you rush out to your local roaster for more, you may find yourself disappointed afterward. It’s simply the way of heirloom coffee varieties.

In Ethiopia, you’ll find two main coffee varieties, JARC, and regional landraces. JARC varieties were developed by Jimma Agricultural Research Centre. These 40 varieties of coffee plants were created with high yields and resistance to pests in mind. Regional landraces are where your multiple varieties truly come into play. These wild-growing coffee plants are quite numerous. In the hopes of staying a main player in the coffee industry, Ethiopian coffee growers create their heirloom coffee by combining these varieties and throwing caution to the wind when it comes to the consistency found in each bag they produce. They’re largely hoping that the variety created in these unique combinations will outweigh the issue of unreliability. In the end, that’s for each coffee drinker to decide for themselves.

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In Conclusion

While heirloom coffee may never be consistent, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great coffee to take a chance on. For people who love a bit of variety when it comes to their coffee, heirloom coffee is the perfect roast to bring home. If you’re into the exciting adventure of trying something new, give this coffee a shot. But don’t get attached. The likelihood of finding consistent beans across bags is quite low, but that may be part of the fun of it all.


Featured Image Credit: melanie_10, Shutterstock

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Melissa Gunter

Melissa has been a fan of coffee since the first sip she stole from her Granny's cup when she was just a girl. Now, she spends each morning writing with a hot cup of coffee at her side. With a love of sweet and creamy bliss, Melissa and her daughter, Amber, stop by and try out every local coffee shop they see. Neither are afraid to try something new and have a long list of favorite coffee beverages they simply can't do without. When she's not freelance writing about her 2 passions, coffee, and pets, Melissa spends her time with her husband, 2 kids, and 5 fur babies. She also loves diving into the fiction world under her pen name, Rena Marin. If she isn't at the laptop or with the family, Melissa is out enjoying the mountains of East Tennessee she calls home.

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