Developed over five generations, Castillo is the most common coffee variety grown in Colombia.
Carefully created for its resistance to leaf rust, Castillo is a hybrid variety that now makes up 40% of Colombia’s coffee crops. It is a “dwarfed” tree that can be planted in high density, resulting in generous crop yields.
Additionally, the fruits of the Castillo coffee tree tend to be slightly larger, and the variety has the potential to score high marks in cupping evaluations.
That being said, some in the specialty coffee sector consider Castillo to be lower quality than other varieties as it shares a genetic heritage with robusta beans.
Read on to learn more about Castillo coffee and how it should be roasted to showcase its inherent characteristics.
A brief history of Castillo coffee
Before Castillo was introduced, Caturra was the most widely found coffee variety in Colombia.
However, Cattura plants are highly susceptible to coffee leaf rust, also known as la Roya. Coffee leaf rust prevents plants from photosynthesising, which can quickly kill the entire tree and may reduce crop yield by up to 70% in severe cases.
In 1938, Colombia established the National Coffee Research Centre called Cenicafé. Researchers worked to improve the genetics in Colombian coffee to help with productivity and disease resistance in crops.
Named after researcher Jamie Castillo, the Castillo coffee variety was released for production in 2005. It is the result of the successful hybridisation of Caturra with the Timor Hybrid.
So far, seven additional cultivars have been developed from Castillo, each trying to retain the cup quality of Cattura and the disease resistance from the Timor Hybrid.
The cultivars Castillo Naranjal, La Trinidad, El Rosario, Pueblo Bello, Santa Barbara, El Tambo, and Paraguaicito can be found in different parts of Colombia and each is adaptable to the diverse climates around the country.
Favoured for its compact structure and high yield, Castillo gradually replaced the country’s Typica and Bourbon crops to become the most planted coffee in Colombia.
What are its characteristics?
Castillo’s disease resistance and genetically modified “dwarf” size make it suitable to cultivate in high density – an attractive prospect for producers.
Generally known for its smoothness, aroma, and citric acidity, Castillo coffee is typically roasted between light and medium to highlight its fruity components.
The variety is currently the most viable solution to the coffee leaf rust crisis in Colombia, which began in 2009. Despite this, and its popularity among farmers, Castillo is divisive within the specialty coffee sector.
Its quality is often questioned, especially when compared with Caturra – which is known to have distinctive flavours and high cup quality potential.
However, research conducted by the Catholic Relief Services Borderlands project shows there was no significant difference in the average scores the two varieties earned during a blind cupping.
It goes on to explain that while the two varieties are not interchangeable, one is not necessarily better than the other.
Tasting and roasting Castillo coffee
Indeed, Castillo can produce a good cup of coffee, as it has earned 90 points or more during cupping evaluations.
When tasting Castillo, it is a consistent coffee variety that can be difficult to distinguish when different farms are tasted side by side.
Utopian Coffee in Indiana, USA, put together a blind tasting of several lots of Castillo, trying to break down what characteristics it held in the cup.
An article on their website claims that it was one of the most difficult cuppings as defining the difference between the flavours of farms or lots was like “splitting hairs”.
They claim that sometimes, a cup would have a touch of brighter acidity, or a bit more body and texture. “Overall, the average lot we tested was bright, clean, and exceptionally balanced,” they write.
Utopian Coffee also noted one farmer’s lot tasted like red apples and brown sugar with a juicy finish. Another lot reminded them of raspberries and cranberries with vanilla and other layered baking spices.
The website goes on to state that the standout lot had notes of delicate citrus fruits such as lemon, with sweet blue and blackberry tones with a floral finish.
The consistent flavours and quality of Colombian beans can help when developing a roast profile for Castillo coffee.
This variety caters well to a range of roast profiles. Furthermore, it can be developed in different ways depending on customers’ tastes and intended brewing methods.
For example, Roast Rebels advise that their Honey-Pulp Castillo beans should be roasted from light to medium. These roasts can help bring out the fruit components of the coffee.
The website states that after the first crack, a pleasant fruit acidity is emphasised. Then about halfway between the first and second crack, the sweetness will be quite pronounced.
Developing the coffee further will lower its natural acidity and could make it more suitable for espresso. Alternatively, the lighter it is roasted, the fruit-forward flavours and lighter body can match a filter coffee brewer.
While Castillo’s quality has come under question from some corners of the specialty coffee community, these issues continue to be debunked. This has paved the way for quality-driven estates to confidently offer the Castillo variety to customers.
The adaptability of the plant has made it even more attractive to producers. As Castillo can be easily integrated into varying climates, it may become popular in other growing countries that struggle with plant diseases – effectively helping to create a more sustainable coffee market.
At MTPak Coffee, we strive to support sustainability in the coffee industry. We offer a range of sustainable coffee packaging options, including LDPE, PLA, kraft paper, and rice paper bags that will preserve the freshness and distinct qualities of Castillo coffee.
Furthermore, our sustainable water-based inks can be used to showcase the unique flavour notes of Castillo on coffee packaging. Our inks are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are highly resistant to heat, abrasion, and water. Additionally, they are compostable and easy to remove for recycling.