When you take a sip of coffee, do you ever stop to consider where your coffee beans are actually coming from?
As an avid coffee enthusiast with experience in the coffee production industry, I am wrote this post about the different types of coffee beans.
The 4 types of coffee beans are Robusta, Arabica, Excelsa, and Liberica.
Table of Contents
- 1 Arabica: Extremely Popular, Widely Produced, Deliciously Delicate
- 2 Robusta: Robust, Smooth, Satisfyingly Rich
- 3 Excelsa: Complex, Tart, Fruity, Controversial
- 4 Liberica: Delicious, Floral, Uncommon, Unique
- 5 Wrapping Things Up
Though there are more than 100 coffee plant species, only 4 are usually internationally produced for mainstream consumption.
Of those 4, 2 make up most of the coffee that you will find in grocery stores, coffee shops, and in the commercial marketplace.
Knowing how these beans are distinguished and produced can help you figure out what kind of coffee you prefer.
You’ll be to make a better-informed purchase the next time you buy a cup of coffee or a bag of coffee beans.
Arabica: Extremely Popular, Widely Produced, Deliciously Delicate
The most popular and widely circulated kind of coffee bean, Arabica, is grown all over the world and makes up more than 60% of the coffee produced internationally today.
There are a few reasons for this. Arabica coffee trees are fairly easy to care for.
They grow in shorter evergreen “bush” formations and are easy to harvest and tend.
While these plants are fairly susceptible to disease and drought, they thrive in mountainous regions all over the world.
Most Arabica coffee plants are grown at high altitudes of 16-24°.
Brazil is the largest grower and exporter of Arabica coffee, currently producing nearly one-third of the world’s Arabica coffee supply.
Arabica coffee has a rich flavor, bright body, and just the right amount of acidity. This makes it a real international crowd pleaser.
The Origin Story – Over 1,000 Years of Cultivation
It’s widely believed that Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) was the first species of coffee ever to be cultivated by people.
There’s evidence showing that Arabica was farmed in southwestern Arabia for hundreds of years, most likely originating in Yemen.
Arab scholars have found texts referencing the properties of Arabica coffee when referring to laborers in the region.
People have been drinking Arabica coffee before a long day of work for over a millennium.
The Egyptians and Turks started exporting and popularizing this kind of coffee and it eventually made its way around the world.
Flavor Profile: Bright, Bold, & Slightly Acidic
This type of beans have a bright and bold flavor.
Its satisfying acidity is mild enough to be enjoyed without cream and is ideal for those who like to drink their coffee straight.
Arabica coffee beans have an intricate flavor profile that manifests clearly in the popular variants of the plant.
Arabica coffee is best accentuated by sweet flavors and in some cases, salty flavors.
If you like salted caramel lattes, you’ll find that using Arabica coffee makes them taste even better.
When you’re looking to by Arabica coffee, shop for variants with full body and low acidity.
Most Popular Arabica Variants:
- Typica – The satisfying standard in most coffee cups.
- Caturra – A less common but equally delicious variant.
- Bourbon – Rich and satisfying with fruity undertones.
- Blue Mountain – Hardy and bold with brisk and bright flavor notes.
You’ll Like Arabica If…
If you like hot black coffee, Arabica is a great option.
It’s bright, flavorful, and complex in taste. It’s the kind of coffee that you can sip on all day.
It’s important to understand that Arabica coffee has a flavor profile that can be negatively impacted when served cold.
If you want your coffee iced, it’s best to choose something other than Arabica.
However, if you want a hot and fresh cup of coffee with an alluring aroma and multiple flavor nodes, Arabica is the way to go.
Robusta: Robust, Smooth, Satisfyingly Rich
This type of beans have strong presence.
It’s called Robusta for a reason.
This robust coffee is more highly caffeinated than Arabica and has almost half the sweetness making it ideal for mixing in with other components like milk, sugar, and spices.
It’s also very hardy and can be grown in some seriously harsh conditions.
Indigenous to Africa, Robusta coffee plants can survive in hot climates and require less water than any other type of coffee.
Robusta coffee is the second most popular coffee variant and may be the most bitter and antioxidant-packed option out there.
Robusta beans come fully-loaded with bold and distinct flavors.
Most Popular Robusta Variants:
- Robusta – The most popular bold and flavorful type of Robusta coffee.
- Nganda – Slightly more bitter and less common variant.
The Origin Story – Once Tied as the Leading Coffee Variant, Now a Little Less Common
Robusta coffee (Coffea canephora) requires less water to grown and is resistant to most diseases.
It’s found in Western and Central Africa in regions ranging from Liberia to Tanzania and even further south, all the way to Angola.
It may also be found growing in Borneo, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Jamaica and the Lesser Antilles.
Called conilon by the French colonists who introduced it to Vietnam in the 19th century, this coffee was associated with fine cuisine and sweet desserts.
It was considered to be superior to Arabica coffee for many years.
Later, as Brazil surpassed all other countries for coffee production, robusta became less popular as Arabica coffee became the preferred choice worldwide.
Today, Robusta coffee makes up around 30% of the coffee distributed commercially and is primarily grown in Vietnam.
Flavor Profile: Bold, Strong, Rich and Robust
Suffice to say, Robusta coffee is strong. It’s one of the more bitter coffee variants and is best served with milk, cream, or sugar.
It pairs wonderfully with sweet foods and is also delicious when served cold.
Because of this, it’s a great option for dessert-style drinks and as a mixed beverage.
Robusta coffee is almost entirely unaffected by the addition of ice or water, making it great for drinking cold on hot summer days.
Robusta coffee has a smooth and rich texture that is low in acidity and may have earthy notes, chocolate undertones, and a nicely caffeinated kick.
If you are buying Robusta coffee beans, it’s important to look at how they’ve been grown.
Since Robusta coffee is so hardy and easy to grow, some farmers grow their Robusta plants in poor conditions with bad soil and inadequate water.
This is great for the farmer’s wallet, but not so great for the consumer’s taste buds.
Coffee that has been grown like this may have a bland, rubbery, or flat flavor to it.
To avoid this, read up on the background of the Robusta coffee beans you purchase.
Packaging that highlights how the coffee is grown usually indicates thoughtful and proper farming methods. This will ultimately give you a smoother and more flavorful Robusta coffee beverage.
Robusta coffee is:
- Great served cold or on ice
- Aromatic and strong
- Highly caffeinated and good with cream and sugar
You’ll Like Robusta If…
Anyone who loves iced coffee will appreciate the hardy quality of Robusta beans.
Other kinds of coffee can taste watery and bland when cooled. This is because they lose certain oils and flavor notes as their properties are impacted by temperature fluctuation.
Not Robusta coffee. Robusta blends stay strong, even when cooled.
If anything, Robusta coffee tastes better when poured over ice or diluted with the fats and acids found in milk.
If you’re drinking it hot, it’s a good idea to add in a bit of heavy cream and some kind of sweetener.
This will bring out those classic Robusta flavor notes instead of diminishing them.
Excelsa: Complex, Tart, Fruity, Controversial
Now we’ll get into the less common and in my personal opinion, more interesting coffee plant species.
Excelsa is more obscure because you’re going to have a hard time finding much information about it.
This is because, in 2006, this plant was reclassified and included under the species Coffee Liberica.
However, the two plants are very different and their beans have totally different flavor profiles.
Many members of the coffee community still consider Excelsa coffee to be a separate variety of coffee bean.
The Origin Story – Late Discovery and Controversial Reclassification
Excelsa coffee (Coffea Excelsa or Coffea liberica var. dewevrei) grows on large trees that may be as tall as 30-feet.
In the year 1903, the Excelsa coffee plant was discovered in Africa. It was classified as a new species of coffee tree.
Given the name of Coffea Excelsa, this coffee plant produced beans with an entirely different flavor than anything that anyone had tasted before.
However, later on, botanists decided that this species grew in a way that was so similar to Coffea Liberica that it was reclassified and farmed as Coffea Liberica var. dewevrei.
This variety of coffee plant continues to be called Excelsa by some commercial growers.
As coffee drinkers worldwide are beginning to refine their coffee palettes, this particular species is seeing a promising resurgence in mainstream production.
Flavor Profile: Fruity, Tart, Nutty, and Bright
This coffee is tart, fruity, full-bodied, and very flavorful. It is closer in taste to Arabica coffee than to Robusta blends, though it’s still very different from either.
It also is much more complex and tart taste than Arabica coffee and a darker, nuttier taste than Robusta coffee.
It is best served hot, though it benefits from the addition of honey, sugar, and a small amount of milk.
This coffee is complex in flavor and is used in many different coffee blends to give them an extra boost of varietal flavor.
Excelsa coffee is:
- Nutty, fruity, and tart in flavor
- Great in coffee blends
- More complex in flavor than Arabica coffee
You’ll Like Excelsa If…
If you are looking for a new taste and want to broaden your horizons in coffee, you may want to try out Excelsa coffee.
It’s a great transition from Arabica and Robusta blends and bridges the gap nicely between Arabica and Liberica coffee beans.
It’s a great coffee to mix in with either Robusta or Arabica blends as well. When purchasing Excelsa coffee, it’s a good idea to choose a vendor who specifically grows Excelsa variants.
This way, you’ll get the real deal instead of a blend with Arabica beans mixed in.
Liberica: Delicious, Floral, Uncommon, Unique
Liberica coffee is uncommon to come by these days. It was originally grown as an Arabica substitute and is not one of the mainstream coffee variants.
Still, this coffee species yields beans that are so unique in flavor, I fully recommend giving them a try if you ever get the chance.
Liberica coffee is floral yet smokey, fruity yet oaky, and vibrant yet smooth. It has a backstory that’s almost as rich as the beverage itself.
The Origin Story – A Vibrant Coffee Plant With a Fascinating Backstory
In the 1890’s, a plague of coffee rust decimated nearly the entire world’s Arabica coffee crop.
Obviously, this was a big problem. Farmers in the Philippines offered Liberica coffee (Coffea liberica) as a solution and the Philippines’ economy was greatly impacted in a very positive way as a result.
However, after the declaration of independence by the Philippines, the coffee supply was cut off and the variant pretty much disappeared from circulation.
Arabica took over once again and this plant nearly died out. Luckily, conservationists salvaged a few of these plants and by 1995, it came back into circulation in the coffee industry.
It’s still pretty uncommon in most of the world, though it’s slowly making a comeback.
Flavor Profile: Unique, Floral, Complex, Fruity, and Unlike Anything Else
Many people say that this coffee is unlike anything that they have tasted in coffee.
It has a sweet and floral taste that is vibrant and mellow all at the same time. It’s smooth and fruity as well, with smokey and oaky hints.
The aroma of Liberica coffee is said to be nearly as complex as its flavor. Even the beans don’t look like normal coffee beans.
They almost resemble peanuts, though Liberica coffee doesn’t taste nutty at all.
This coffee can be served hot, cold, with cream and sugar, or plain. It’s truly a delightful experience to taste, though not a great candidate for everyday drinking due to its rarity and expense.
Personally, it’s one of my favorite coffee variants. It has just the right amount of smoothness and vibrancy.
Liberica coffee is:
- Complex and delicious
- Fruity, floral, smoky, and sometimes oakey in flavor
- Unlike anything you’ve tasted before
You’ll Like Liberica If…
If you want to try something totally new and can come by these coffee beans, I recommend giving them a try.
They produce a lighter colored coffee than any other bean and are very unique in their flavor.
Anyone looking to really delve into a complex flavor profile will appreciate this unique coffee variant.
Wrapping Things Up
So there you have it, the most widely produced kinds of coffee.
Remember, no matter what type of coffee you drink, savor the flavor, brew it right, and enjoy!
You’re sipping on a beverage with a history almost as rich and complex as its many flavor variants.
Now that you know what’s out there, what do you think?
Which type of coffee beans do you prefer?
Please feel free to leave your comments, brewing tips, and feedback!