While walking through the coffee aisle of your local supermarket or a coffee shop, you would have noticed bags of coffee that say ‘Arabica beans’ on them. These nuggets of information give us a glimpse of the growing conditions, climate, prices, and more that went into making your favourite cup of coffee. Arabica is one of the most common coffee beans, accounting for over 55-60% of the coffee produced globally. However, there are some other beans that you may not have heard of. Let’s start your journey into types of coffee beans, and how to pick the best coffee, with this informative article.
Types of coffee
There are two main types of coffee – Coffea arabica and Coffea robusta. More commonly, these coffees are referred to as Arabica and Robusta. The other two, lesser-known varieties are Liberica and Excelsa – found only in South East Asia. Liberica and Excelsa account for only about 1% of the total coffee produced.
Arabica (Coffea arabica)
Originated many centuries ago in the highlands of Ethiopia, the Arabica coffee beans are said to be one of the first coffee beans ever consumed by humans! These beans are harder to grow because they thrive only in a specific temperature, high-altitudes and need extra shade. They are also very susceptible to diseases, which is why extra care and labour are needed to produce them. All these factors can add up, making them one of the most expensive coffee beans.
What does Arabica taste like?
Most of the gourmet coffee makers advertise that they use 100% Arabica coffee beans, because higher-quality beans have a bright body, with a satisfying amount of acidity, and have a multi-faceted intricacy of flavours and aromas.
The rich flavours of Arabica are prominent when sampled on the front of the palate. These beans are known for their smooth, complex flavour with a distinct lack of bitterness. They are best served hot, especially with a pour-over/drip coffee method.
Note- the quality of arabica diminishes when served cold or when a creamer is added. So, it is always served ‘black’ with a thick foam on top.
Robusta (Coffea canephora)
Originated in sub-Saharan Africa, Robusta is the second most popular coffee type in the world. Now, it is grown primarily in Africa and Indonesia.
The Robusta beans can be easily identified, as they have a larger and rounder shape when compared to other types of coffee beans. Robusta is extremely tolerant to its environment (except for high temperatures) and immune to most diseases. They can also thrive in a myriad of altitudes with irregular rainfall. All these factors make the Robusta extremely easy to grow, and a budget-friendly option.
The Robusta plants have double the amount of caffeine than Arabica (2.9 mg/bean). These plants are so ‘robust,’ as they use caffeine as the plant’s natural defence mechanism against diseases.
What does Robusta taste like?
Good quality Robusta has a smooth texture, really low acidity, with hints of chocolate that adds to its flavour. Robusta also has a bitter, charcoal aftertaste. So, this makes a perfect coffee for cream and sugar lovers, which can mask these notes.
Liberica (Coffea liberica)
Liberica beans are native to central and western Africa, specifically to Liberia, hence its name. These beans gained popularity among Southeast Asian coffee producers after a fungal disease called ‘coffee rust’ had wiped out most of the region’s Arabica plants. Today, this plant is mainly grown in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. However, this bean is uncommon in European markets.
The Liberica beans grow from much larger plants than Arabica and Robusta and thrive well in hot, humid climates and low altitudes. The beans are larger than the other types and are the only ones in the world to have asymmetrical shapes.
What does Liberica taste like?
People who have tried Liberica coffee have polarizing opinions – they either love it or hate it. These beans have fruity and floral notes, with undertones of smokiness. Some coffee drinkers love the nutty and woody flavours, while others compare it to burnt carbon!
Excelsa (Coffea excelsa)
Did you know? Excelsa beans were known as a separate coffee species. Only recently, did scientists re-classify them as a Liberica variant.
The Excelsa beans are almost entirely grown in Southeast Asia and shaped like elongated ovals. These beans are grown on large coffee plants at medium altitudes.
What do Excelsa beans taste like?
The Excelsa coffee beans possess a tart and fruity body – along with the flavours of a light roast, at the same time they also embody dark and roasty notes. This characteristic of Excelsa beans lures coffee drinks to try this varietal.
The Excelsa beans are used in blends, as they offer a complex flavour that affects the middle and back palate. These beans are also lighter in aroma and caffeine.
What are the varieties of coffee?
According to African legend, a 9th-century Ethiopian goat herder called Kaldi saw his goats prancing in an excited state after nibbling on the cherries of a coffee bush. He tried some of the cherries himself and felt a newfound ‘euphoria.’
Whether you believe this story or not, what’s important to note is Arabica has many varietals that are either natural mutations or man-made hybrids.
What are varietals, you may wonder? Think of the main types of coffee beans as Apples. Apples have many varieties like Fuji, Pink lady, Granny Smith, etc. The apple varieties can be compared directly to coffee varieties. The most commonly found coffee varieties are Typica, Bourbon and Caturra. The Geisha varietal is one of the most sought-after in the world. It has sweetness, clarity, and is full of vibrant flavours that can range from dark berries to mangoes or peaches. It would take us a whole other article to touch on all the varieties of coffee, but here are a few to start with.
It is often believed that the Typica variety is the mother variety that was responsible for the development of all other coffee varieties either through natural mutation or crossbreeding. This variety originated in Ethiopia and was commercialised to other regions by the Dutch. The beans often have a beautiful sweetness and complexity, however, they are a low-yielding variety.
This variety derives its name from the Island of Bourbon, now known as Reunion Island. It is an early mutation of the Arabica species from Ethiopia. This variety is known for its outstanding complex acidity and great balance.
The SL28 variety was created by Scott Laboratories in the 1930s. Botanists were trying various mutations of Bourbon and Tyica, which led to the growth of SL28. This variety is native to Kenya with low-yielding properties. The flavour profile of this variety is intense lemony acidity with a good amount of sweetness and balance.
The Maragogype (marra-go-jee-pay) variety is a popular mutation of the Typica varietal. It’s known for its huge bean size, which looks twice the size of a Bourbon after it is roasted. However, it is a low yielding variety. Maragogype adds a rich complexity and body to any coffee blend that it is added to.
Caturra is one of the natural and man-made mutations that originates from Bourbon and Typica varietals. The natural varietal was first discovered in Brazil. In recent times, it’s found in Central America, with a much higher yield than Bourbon. This dwarf tree makes harvesting coffee beans easy and has crisp, high-quality acidity.
The Mundo Novo is a natural hybrid of Red Bourbon and Sumatra Typica. This variety is very popular in Brazil and makes up to 40% of the Arabica grown in the region. It also has a good resistance to diseases, hence, producing about 30-40% more yield than Bourbon. However, the cherries lack the desirable sweetness due to their high yield.
How to choose the best coffee beans?
After reading the types of coffee, you may wonder which is your ideal coffee type. There are many brands, producing varieties of coffees and blends, so we formulated a quick guide to help you choose your favourite one.
Do you fancy a slightly acidic, smooth-tasting coffee like an Arabica? Or a chocolaty, smoky-tasting one like Robusta? Knowing how each coffee bean tastes is especially useful in the longer run, and you can even upgrade to blended coffee for a more nuanced flavour profile.
Fun fact: Coffee beans have a whopping 800 flavour notes that our senses can detect (wine ‘only’ has 400). Extracting the most notes of flavour from the raw coffee beans is all down to different roasting techniques. And you can think of finding your favourite coffee a bit like sampling wine.
The degree to which your coffee beans have been roasted significantly affects the taste of your coffee. Hence, it’s one of the most important factors to consider before your purchase.
Coffee that’s roasted for a shorter duration, called light roast will have fruity notes. Whereas, coffee that’s roasted over a longer duration, called dark roast, will have a darker, smokier flavour.
How much caffeine do you want in your coffee?
The longer you roast your coffee, the lower is the caffeine content in it. Hence, lighter roast coffee contains more caffeine than darker roasts. If you are looking to capitalise on your caffeine intake, we recommend you go for a light or medium roast.
Check for the roast date
Did you know that coffee doesn’t expire? However, it is a perishable product that loses flavour and freshness as it ages. Hence, you need to check for the roast date on your coffee pack. Freshly roasted coffee is the way to go. If the coffee has been roasted over 3 weeks ago, it’s unlikely for you to enjoy many flavours at all. If you are purchasing it from a local grocer and if they aren’t aware of the ‘Roasted-on date,’ don’t buy the beans.
These are just some of the details to consider while choosing your ideal coffee, but we don’t want to overwhelm you. Our most important tip is to keep experimenting and trying out new flavours and coffee types till you find your favourite (s).
Where can you buy the best coffee beans?
As a community of passionate coffee hobbyists who research, taste and experiment with coffee regularly, we know where you can buy some of the best tasting coffee in the world.
The first place you should look for is your local coffee roaster. The best coffee comes from people who care for it, and no one cares about coffee more than your local coffee roaster. When you buy from them, you are guaranteed to receive freshly roasted, quality ingredients. Due to the pandemic, many local roasters are even shipping products online – so sourcing fresh coffee has never been easier.
We strongly suggest you deter from supermarket grade coffee as they are often not freshly roasted products. Most of the brands that we found on the shelves had an ‘expiry date.’ And if you remember from earlier, coffee doesn’t expire – it loses its beautiful characteristics of aroma and flavour over time. So, stick to your local coffee roasters who will give you the best and most freshly roasted coffee. You can also try their ‘flavour of the month’ to keep experimenting with new coffee blends.
What are commercial, speciality and organic coffee?
It might sound like a no-brainer that speciality coffee is a much higher quality option than the commercial world. Without proper insight into speciality vs commercial coffee, you may be missing out on some amazing brews.
Let’s get the differences straight:
- Commercial coffee is the coffee that you can purchase from large brands. This coffee is roasted and sold in bulk. You will find them in all your local supermarkets.
- Speciality coffee is usually sold as beans. Hence, you need to grind them before you make your next brew. They are most commonly found in speciality stores or coffee merchants, but not necessarily in your local supermarkets.
Commercial coffee is often roasted in large plants and distributed under nationally advertised brands. Whereas, speciality coffee is roasted in small stores using traditional means.
Speciality coffees also offer more choices than commercial ones. You can also participate in the origin story of the coffee, by purchasing coffee beans from the area where it was grown. You can also pick your roasting method – French roast, Italian roast, etc. Not only this, but you can also filter your coffee beans according to the price, flavour and roasted-on dates. Commercial grade coffee brands barely offer such customizations.
Although speciality coffee beans are more expensive than commercial ones, they offer a wide array of flavours to your coffee after every brew. According to us, the investment is worth the effort and you should give it a try at least once.
What is organic coffee? Is it the healthier option?
Speaking about different types of coffee, it is also important to talk about organic coffee. When given a choice between organic and commercial coffee, there’s no doubt that organic coffee is the ‘healthier’ option. Organic coffee is grown without harmful pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. But even organic coffee can fall short. In our opinion, a truly healthy cup of coffee is rigorously tested for mycotoxins and mould. It is also roasted in a smokeless machine to reduce toxic byproducts such as acrylamide.
So, what does a healthy coffee look like?
We are still on the hunt for ‘healthy’ coffee, but here’s what we feel the current standard should be – a healthy coffee should go beyond organic certification. Look for beans that are speciality grade, mould and mycotoxin-free, roasted in smokeless machines, third-party lab tested to ensure that it’s free from toxins.
We hope this brief guide gave you a good idea of types of coffee, varietals, blends and more. If you found this information useful, then please share it with your loved ones as well. You can also drop off your questions in the comment section below, and our coffee experts will answer them for you. Until then, happy brewing.
- What type of coffee bean has the most caffeine?
Robusta beans have the highest caffeine level. A single Robusta bean has about 2.9 mg of caffeine per bean. This amounts to 2.2%-2.7% caffeine by weight.
- What are the two most common types of coffee beans?
The two most common types of coffee beans are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica amounts to roughly 58% of the total coffee beans produced, whereas Robusta takes up 38%.
- Are there different types of coffee beans?
Yes, there are many types of coffee beans. Arabica and Robusta are two of the most commonly found beans. Liberica and Excelsa are the lesser-known varieties of coffee.
- How many types of coffee beans are there?
There are four different types of coffee beans – Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa.