Before we explore the types of coffee beans, for those of you who don’t know what coffee beans are, here is a quick explanation. Coffee beans are the seed of the coffee plant and are found inside the “cherry” (fruit of the coffee plant).
There are only 4 types coffee beans in the world – Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. All other “types of beans” you see are probably blends of different coffee beans.
Here is a preview of what is to come. Feel free to jump around if you already know some of the beans listed (though you can always learn more!).
The most common coffee bean around the world is Arabica, accounting for over 60% of the globe’s coffee production. This isn’t really surprising, given the Arabica coffee drink has a sweeter and more flavorful taste. Arabica coffee beans originated in Ethiopia, though it was first grown for human consumption in Yemen.
Despite their popularity and large-scale cultivation, these beans are notoriously hard to farm. Arabica beans can only be farmed at high elevations, in places with consistent rainfall and shade. Other essentials include places that have consistent temperatures and well-drained soil. In particular, Arabica coffee flourishes in places near volcanoes, where the soil is very mineral-rich. Trying to cultivate Arabica coffee in environments apart from these will require significantly more effort and time.
Arabica coffee is also extremely fragile – being very prone to diseases and environmental changes. Given their popularity, Arabica coffee beans are usually grown in large clusters. And you know what that means – a disaster waiting to happen! A single plant being affected can potentially wipe out the entire crop, which is why they require constant care and attention.
This is why the price of the Arabica coffee bean is relatively on the higher end (definitely worth it regardless!). On the bright side though, Arabica coffee is easy to harvest.
Taste & Tips When Using Arabica Coffee Beans
Arabic coffee beans are usually considered the best quality coffee beans when it comes to taste. Possessing a rich and intricate flavor profile, with almost non-existent bitterness, Arabica coffee is the most popular for all the right reasons!
Ideally, the perfect Arabica coffee bean will have a bright body and relatively lower acidity. Look out for these if you are purchasing Arabica beans for home brewing! On that note, I would recommend not using these beans if you are planning on serving them cold or with milk/creamer. Their taste will be reduced multi-fold if you do. It is best to serve Arabic coffee hot. If you would like to find out about the best brewing methods to make hot coffee -> link.
If you are looking to give yourself a treat, try out single-origin Arabica beans. For those of you longing for Arabica coffee, make sure you check the label and ensure the beans haven’t been blended with Robusta beans!
Robusta coffee is the world’s second most-produced coffee, behind Arabica. In contrast to Arabica coffee, Robusta coffee is not easily affected by the environment. It can also be easily cultivated in a myriad of altitudes and climates. It is extremely resilient unlike its’ Arabica counterpart and is basically immune to diseases. In fact, Robusta coffee’s name comes from this very fact!
Robusta coffee originated in Africa and is very popular in the Middle East and Europe. Robusta coffee beans have almost double the amount of caffeine than Arabica. This is one of the reasons why they are resistant to diseases, as caffeine is a natural insect repellant.
Robusta coffee is particularly famous in Vietnam, where the norm is to drink very strong coffee.
Taste & Tips When Using Robusta Coffee Beans
Even though it is far easier to grow and harvest than Arabica coffee, Robusta coffee is not nearly as popular as Arabica. This is mainly due to its flavor profile and strong smell. Robusta coffee has an earthy and bitter taste which isn’t ideal for many coffee lovers. Since it is easier to cultivate and often gets higher profits, Robusta is often used in instant coffee or blended with Arabica beans to save on costs.
But don’t disregard Robusta coffee just yet! Robusta coffee beans are perfect when served with cream or milk, as they mask much of the strong taste. You get to enjoy the Robustas’ distinct flavor subtleties with less of the bitterness. Provided the Robusta you are using is high quality, it should not lose flavor when milk or cream is added. Good quality Robusta beans often have a smooth texture with a slight chocolatey taste. Be warned though, it is quite hard to find such good quality beans in the market!
When purchasing Robusta coffee beans for home brewing, make sure to buy single-origin coffee. Also, check the label for information on where it was grown. If this information isn’t provided, it is likely the bean was grown in disadvantageous conditions. Robusta often has a reputation for having a rubbery taste. This is often due to the way the Robusta coffee bean was cultivated and is not actually the beans’ natural taste.
Robusta coffee beans are usually also used in espresso blends to get a foamier and thicker crema (link!).
Once the king of all coffee beans, Liberica coffee today accounts for just 2% of the global coffee supply. When “coffee rust” (a plant disease) wiped out a huge majority of the world’s Arabica supply in the 1890s, the Liberica plant came to the rescue. The Philippines ended up being the first country to cultivate Liberica and sell it to the world on a large scale. Unfortunately, Liberica’s downfall came shortly after as a result of the U.S. imposing sanctions on the Philipines. By this time, the Arabica crisis was much better and it took its throne back.
Even today, it is quite a challenge to find authentic Liberica coffee. Liberica coffee beans have an unique asymmetrical shape and are generally larger than the other beans.
Taste & Tips When Using Liberica Coffee Beans
The Liberica coffee has a truly unique taste and flavor profile. It has a smoky, nutty, and fruity taste, with a hint of dark chocolate as well. Liberica coffee is also known to leave a smooth aftertaste, with the essence of dark chocolate lingering in your mouth. Sounds delicious right?
Liberica coffee is most commonly found in the Philippines and is common in supermarkets and coffee shops there. But fret not if you can’t afford to travel to the Philippines for a cup of coffee. Your best bet in finding authentic Liberica coffee beans in your country is to look for a market that caters to the Filipino community there.
Excelsa has been recently re-classified as a member of the Liberica family. Excelsa coffee is grown exclusively in Southeast Asia. It has a similar shape to Liberica beans. The environmental conditions needed to cultivate Excelsa coffee is similar to Liberica, hence the re-classification. However, many of the coffee geeks out there still consider them separate species given there are taste distinctions between the two.
Taste & Tips When Using Excelsa Coffee Beans
Excelsa coffee is said to have a tart, fruity, and mysterious flavor. I know, it makes you feel like trying out Excelsa right away (at least it did for me!). It has flavors that combine both a light and dark roast (hence the mystery).
What To Do Next?
Now that you are well-versed with the different types of coffee beans that are out there, why don’t you learn about the astonishing history of coffee?