The Maragogype Varietal
The Second instalment of the Bennetts Varietal Mini-series focuses on the Maragogype bean.
For a brief explanation of ‘Varietal’, you can check out the first blog in the series here.
There’s an aura of exoticism that surrounds the Maragogype varietal (pronounced mar-rah-go-jeepeh). It’s a mutated hybrid of the popular Typica and Bourbon varietals which was first discovered in the Brazilian state of Bahia, which borders on the Eastern coast with the Atlantic Ocean. Coffee has been cultivated in Bahia since the 18th Century, following its introduction to the country by Portuguese settler Francisco de Melo Palheta in 1727.
The bean is best known for possessing a number of distinctive physical traits; most prominently its size, for which it is sometimes referred to as ‘the Elephant Bean’. It is not uncommon for a maragogype bean to be twice as large as a standard-sized varietal. The plant itself is tall with large leaves and fruit, and requires twice as much space for planting than other coffee shrubs, while having a significantly lower yield. In addition, for optimum processing the beans require a specialised line in a wet mill in order to accommodate the larger cherries and beans, which can be a significant investment in itself. Finally, this varietal is particularly susceptible to diseases such as Roya also known as ‘Leaf Rust’.
Above: A photo from our recent origin trip to Colombia, where our Colombian Maragogype Screen 17+ is grown
The combination of these factors make Maragogype an expensive varietal to cultivate with low returns, and producers are increasingly choosing newer higher yielding alternatives with better quality and disease resistance characteristics for them when it comes time to replant old trees. Consequently, the elephant bean is becoming rarer and more expensive, with Australian wholesale green prices doubling in the last 3 years. Our director, Scott Bennett, considers them to be an heirloom varietal; ‘When they’re good, they’re outstanding, but they’re becoming much harder to find’. Mr Bennett cites Mexico’s production as an example – once one of the biggest producers, the country now exports much less than it has in the past, and these numbers only continue to shrink.
Whether or not the extraordinary physical traits of the ‘Maragogype’ have any major impact on its sensory properties remains contentious. Some argue that it inherently produces beans that have more intense flavour as a result of the plant’s energy being concentrated into a smaller crop, while others describe it as a naturally mild and subtle coffee.
In reality, as with all coffee, varietal is only one factor of a number that will affect the final cup’s flavours. A maragogype crop grown in Brazil at 1000 Metres above sea level, will inevitably taste very different to one that grows in Nicaragua at 2000 Metres. One of our Quality-Assurance team members, certified Q-Grader Georgia Major, considers the Maragogype to be most desirable for the creamy, heavy body it adds to blends that use it, while Mr Bennett adds that the delicate finish they lend is another highly sought-after characteristic.
Size comparison between a Colombian Maragogype and an Ethiopian Sidamo. Measuring key shows centimetres.
How does it roast?
The bean’s size can make it a daunting project for a roaster who isn’t familiar with it. Because the density of the maragogype is typically low, it’s better to approach it with a slightly gentler roast.
As our resident Roaster and a Q-grade-certified Quality-Assurance expert, Emma Bath points out that the difference is marginal, and it can be surprising to find how close they roast to other beans. ‘Don’t be fooled by looks,’ she cautions, ‘I find it’s best to roast as you usually do, and just follow your instincts when push comes to shove’.
Grinding, however, is a different matter. Maragogype beans are lighter due to their lower density, which means that when you put them in the hopper of a grinder, the vibrations of the machine can sometimes cause these less-dense beans to rise to the top of a blend. This means that the first doses of the blend may have lower quantities of maragogype in them than the last doses, which could end up being dominated by the bean.
How to counteract this? Blending beans of a similar size is a good idea; Georgia recommends considering something bold with a screen size of 20+. Secondly, as with all coffees, the more time spent experimenting, the better your cups will get. Weighing out doses regularly as you go through a hopper will make sure that you know exactly how much coffee you’re using, and help you compensate when required, plus you’ll be able to keep an eye on how the beans move through the machine.
To see what Maragogype beans we have available in stock, click here.