Anomalies : Maragogipe (Elephant Beans)

Maragogipe (also called elephant bean) is a variety of arabica that produces an extremely large, rather porous bean. It is a mutant that spontaneously appeared in Brazil, almost as though the giant of Latin-America thought regular beans were too puny and produced something in its own image. It was first discovered growing near the town of Maragogipe, in the northeastern state of Bahia. Subsequently it has been carried elsewhere in Latin America and generally adopts the flavor characteristics of the soil to which it has been transplanted.

Opinions differ about the special qualities of the Maragogipe. William H. Ukers, one of the world’s great authorities on coffee, found it tasted "woody and disagreeable" in 1928. Others have called it the finest coffee known and claim it has a heavier body than a comparable arabica coffee from the same region. Current opinion, which I share, is that it produces a thinner and less acidy cup than other traditional arabica varieties grown under the same conditions. This weakness in the cup coupled with low productivity has discouraged farmers from replanting Maragogipe, and it has become a rather rare, difficult-to-find coffee. Most Maragogipes sold in North America are grown in Mexico, Nicaragua, or Guatemala. Those from Chiapas, Mexico, and the Coban district of Guatemala have the best reputation.

Maragogipe is a romantic’s coffee curiosity, and deserves respect on that ground alone. An alternative for those aficionados who have trouble finding a Maragogipe, or who want a dramatically large bean with more consistent cup quality, might try the pacamara variety, a large-bean Maragogipe hybrid grown in El Salvador on Los Ausoles and Larin estates and impressively soft and full in the cup.