What Is Bourbon Coffee? No, It’s Not Alcohol!

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Bourbon coffee refers to a variety of Arabica coffee, renowned for its exceptional quality and rich flavor.

Originating from the island of Bourbon (now Réunion), this coffee is distinguished by its mildly sweet and slightly fruity taste.

Its cultivation has spread to various parts of the world, making it a sought-after choice among coffee enthusiasts.

In this blog post, we delve into the history, characteristics, and cultivation of Bourbon coffee, offering insights into what makes this variety uniquely appealing to coffee connoisseurs.

Why Is It Called Bourbon Coffee?

Bourbon coffee is named after the island of Bourbon, now known as Réunion, located in the Indian Ocean.

This variety of Arabica coffee was first introduced to Bourbon in the early 18th century by the French, who brought it from Yemen.

The unique climate and fertile soil of the island proved ideal for its cultivation, allowing the coffee to develop distinct characteristics.

Over time, the name “Bourbon” became associated with this particular variety of Arabica coffee, reflecting its geographic origin and signifying a specific lineage of the Arabica species known for its exceptional quality and flavor profile.

The spread of Bourbon coffee from this island to other parts of the world, including Latin America and Africa, has made it a well-regarded and sought-after variety among coffee enthusiasts.

Where Does Bourbon Coffee Grow?

Bourbon coffee, renowned for thriving at altitudes ranging from 1,100 to 2,000 meters, boasts a yield that is 20–30% higher than that of the Typica variety, yet maintains a comparable quality.

This variety is cultivated in numerous regions across the globe including:

  • Colombia
  • Brazil
  • Costa Rica
  • Guatemala
  • Tanzania
  • Dominican Republic
  • Haiti
  • Rwanda
  • Burundi
  • El Salvador
  • Malawi
  • Nicaragua
  • Mexico
  • Sumatra
  • Puerto Rico
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Peru
  • Australia

Historically, Brazil, a leading coffee producer since the 18th century, primarily focused on the Typica variant of Arabica beans.

To enhance yield, Brazil imported Bourbon seeds from La Réunion, successfully cultivating them due to their higher productivity.

The Bourbon coffee bean, part of the Arabica family, is known for its lower yield compared to the more resilient Robusta, and even among Arabica varieties, it has a relatively lower yield rate.

However, its ability to adapt to various microclimates and withstand diverse growing conditions has made Bourbon coffee a globally esteemed and cultivated variety.

What Is Different About Bourbon Coffee?

Bourbon coffee beans distinguish themselves with their rich, buttery chocolate notes, complemented by a distinctive sweetness and subtle fruit undertones.

These beans produce coffees that are well-balanced in flavor, yet they are rarer compared to other coffee bean types.

As a progenitor of many coffee varieties, Bourbon coffee has undergone various mutations and adaptations since its initial spread.

The flavor profile of Bourbon coffee varies based on its growing location, typically exhibiting a sweeter taste with caramel nuances and a pleasantly sharp acidity.

Additionally, Bourbon coffee beans are sometimes used in creating specialty flavored coffees, including those infused with Bourbon for a unique taste experience.

What Are the Different Types of Bourbon Coffee?

Bourbon coffee is one of the two primary Arabica varietals, alongside Typica, from which many new coffee cultivars have been developed.

This variety manifests in several colors, the most common being red, pink, and yellow.

The discovery of the Yellow Bourbon variety traces back to 1930 in São Paulo, Brazil, where a Red Bourbon plant was found to produce yellow cherries.

This unique yellow cherry variant is believed to have arisen from a crossbreeding between the Yellow Botucatu, a genetically mutated Typica variety, and the Red Bourbon plant.

Notably, Yellow Bourbon coffee is recognized for its distinctively citric flavor, setting it apart from its counterparts in taste and appearance.

How Is Bourbon Coffee Made?

Bourbon Barrel coffee is crafted through a distinctive process where green coffee beans are aged in used American oak whiskey barrels.

This method allows the beans to absorb the rich, complex flavors and aromas of bourbon.

The processing of these beans often involves specialized fermentation techniques tailored to enhance their unique characteristics.

When it comes to brewing (which we’ll speak about next), methods like the Chemex and French Press are preferred, as they excel in extracting the nuanced flavors developed during the aging process.

After the beans have sufficiently absorbed the whiskey notes, they are roasted, a crucial step that readies them for brewing into a flavorful and aromatic cup of coffee that resonates with the essence of bourbon.

What Is The Best Brewing Method For Bourbon Coffee?

The best way to brew Bourbon coffee is through using methods that enhance its unique characteristics.

Pour-over or drip brewing methods are highly recommended, as they provide a clean and consistent extraction, highlighting the coffee’s subtle notes and balanced acidity.

Using a Chemex or a V60 pour-over can yield excellent results.

The water temperature should be between 195°F to 205°F to ensure optimal extraction without bitterness.

A medium grind is ideal for these methods.

For those who prefer a fuller body and richer mouthfeel, the French Press is a great alternative.

It allows the coffee’s natural oils and fine particles to contribute to the flavor, offering a more complex cup.

Regardless of the method, fresh grinding the beans just before brewing and using clean, filtered water can significantly enhance the taste.

Experimenting with different brewing methods and ratios (generally starting with a 1:16 coffee-to-water ratio) can help in finding the personal sweet spot for enjoying Bourbon coffee at its best.

Does Bourbon Coffee Have Alcohol?

Bourbon coffee is free from alcohol, despite its name suggesting otherwise.

This unique coffee variant is crafted by infusing the beans with bourbon flavors, creating a caffeinated drink that carries the essence of bourbon without any alcohol content.

Products such as Bourbon Infused Coffee and Bourbon Barrel Aged Coffee are explicitly marketed as non-alcoholic, though they feature the distinctive taste notes of bourbon.

In these products, the alcohol content is minimal, typically under 0.5% alcohol by volume, a level that classifies them as non-alcoholic beverages.

As a result, bourbon coffee offers the aromatic and flavor qualities of bourbon, but without any significant alcohol presence.


To sum up, Bourbon coffee is a unique and flavorful variety of Arabica coffee, named after the island of Bourbon (now Réunion) where it originated.

Despite its name, it contains no alcohol.

Renowned for its rich, sweet, and slightly fruity taste profile, Bourbon coffee is highly valued by coffee enthusiasts.

While there are specialty products like Bourbon Infused Coffee, these are non-alcoholic, featuring only the flavor notes of bourbon.

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Jacob Harris

Jacob is a coffee enthusiast who turned his passion into a career. As the owner and editor of Karma Coffee Cafe, he shares his extensive knowledge and recommendations, captivating fellow coffee lovers.

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