Catuai means “very good” in the Guarani language. It is a good coffee, but not a great one.
Catuai is a high-yield Arabica coffee, developed in Brazil. People who grow it want to harvest the most beans per acre of Arabica coffee plants.
In this guide you’ll learn all about its origins, flavor profile and we’ll make some recommendations of beans to try if you’re intrigued!
In This Guide:
The Instituto Agronomico (IAC) of Sao Paulo State in Campinas, Brazil developed Catuai coffee in 1949. They released it to the public in 1970, starting at some university test farms and moving outward from there. They crossbred the Mundo Novo (which is highly productive) and the smaller Caturra to make a coffee that produced a lot of beans but didn’t take up much space. It grows quickly, too. The first harvest is only after three years.
This bean needs a lot of liming and fertilization. This makes it less likely to be organic than some other varieties. The plant is also susceptible to diseases and rust, making it riskier to plant. But the sheer number of beans produced makes it very worthwhile.
Honduras, Costa Rica, and Brazil are major growers of Catuai. While mostly grown in Latin America, they also grow Catuai in Indonesia and Vietnam.
Is Catuai Arabica or Robusta?
Catuai is Arabica, but it is not the best Arabica. It shares many characteristics with Robusta, like its bitterness, acidity, and high yields. This led to a false rumor that Catuai was an engineered Robusta. In the 1970s and 1980s, Catuai created an explosion of arabica production, creating productive fields in direct sunlight. It also grows at lower altitudes. This made Catuai a profitable and reliable crop. It also expanded the areas where Arabica coffee could grow.
Blended coffees often use Catuai. It is relatively inexpensive and tastes better than Robusta. Sometimes it grows together with the varieties people want to blend it with. This means that their tastes blend from the earliest stages. It creates a genetic polyculture which protects the plants from harmful diseases.
You can find special Catuai coffees, but they take some looking, as they are not common. Much Catuai has a bitter and low acid profile that is like Robusta. But some Catuais are quite good and you can serve it alongside some of the better Arabicas. Look for ones that are grown at small farms and at higher altitudes.
Most growers naturally process Catuai. This gives it more body. Growers dry the beans with cherries still attached on raised beds. They then mechanically separate the cherry from the bean. This method allows the bean to get more flavor from the fruit.
Flavor profile of Catuai coffee
Growers cultivate Catuai across Latin America. It will have a different taste profile depending on its origins. Its core taste is bittersweet. Flavors of chocolate, caramel, sugar, and honey exist in balance with the bean’s native bitterness. A medium to light roast will bring out those qualities. Different locations can lead to an almond taste, a spicy taste like nutmeg or cardamom, or an herbal taste like sweetgrass.
The lesser Catuais make an excellent dark roast, taking on the chocolate and caramel flavors that most dark roasts show.
Yellow Catuai coffee
Most Catuai sold is yellow-fruited. The international market prefers the yellow Catuai for its soft body, but its taste is close to the same as the red type. Catuai’s parent, Caturra, is a yellow-fruited coffee.
Maui Red Catuai coffee
The Red Catuai has a fuller body and a more complex taste than the yellow Catuai. Red Catuai tastes especially chocolaty and nutty, drawing some comparisons with banana nut bread. It comes out smooth and mellow.
Recommended brewing methods
Catuai coffee shines when made in the pour-over style with a Chemex or comparable brewer. This method lets the lesser tastes in the bean really stand out. Catuai can also be dark roasted and used for dark coffee brews and espresso.
Try Catuai coffee beans
This coffee tastes strongly of chocolate and nuts. Notes of thyme, agave, and pink grapefruit zest show up in the aroma and taste. It has the bittersweet acidity that we know the Catuai bean for. Still, it has a mouthfeel that is smooth like satin. Women grow this coffee on over 600 small farms.
This Hawaiian coffee is a blend of the Red Catuai and Red Bourbon varieties. It shows off what a delightful blend can be. This coffee has a big tropical fruit front tasting of pineapple, orange, and guava. Besides its cocoa flavor, add in freesia, cashew, and lemon verbena. It is bittersweet and brightly acidic with a smooth mouthfeel.
This coffee is another blend of Catuai, Caturra, and Villa Sarchi varieties of Arabica. These beans together produce a sweet-tart blend with flavors of pomegranate and dark chocolate. Other notes include lilac, almond, and amber. The taste overall is bright, and the acidity really shines. Its tart finish brings up tastes of chocolate and flowers.
Catuai is neither the best nor the worst of coffees. Its size and explosion of beans make it suited to factory farming conditions at lower altitudes. And this is where it picks up some of the worst parts of its reputation. However, good beans can be carefully grown to add their unique taste to both single-origin coffees and blends. If you want to try growing your own coffee at home, Catuai is an excellent choice as a potted plant because of its small growth habit.