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4 Types of Coffee Beans and Their Characteristics (The Ultimate Guide)

What is a coffee bean?

It is a seed found inside the fruit (called the cherry) of a coffee plant.

coffee cherry and green bean on the palm of a hand near a coffee plant

Before roasting, the coffee beans have a grey-green colour, and they are known as green coffee.

Different types of coffee beans vary in size, shape, colour, and flavour depending on the region and conditions in which they are grown.

The range of flavours and aromas between regional varietals is as expansive as the variety of wine available in different vineyards. 

If you are a coffee drinker, you’ve probably wondered how many types of coffee beans are there and what makes them unique.

There are several variants of coffee beans.

The 4 types of coffee beans are:

  1. Arabica

  2. Robusta

  3. Liberica

  4. Excelsa

    Arabica accounts for 60 - 70% of the coffee produced globally.

    These names are chunks of information that tell you about the taste, growing conditions, and price of the coffee.

    Different types of beans brew coffee that tastes different; there is always something for everyone. 

    Let’s delve deeper into the types of coffee beans and their characteristics out there, what makes each of them unique, and determine which one excites you the most. 

    It is worth experimenting with other varietals to discover a bean perfect for your palate.

    Arabica Coffee Beans:

    arabica coffee beansArabica coffee beans are best known for their smooth, complex flavour and distinctive lack of bitterness.

    These coffee beans originated centuries ago in the Ethiopian highlands and may even be the first beans to be consumed.

    The name Arabica probably comes from the beans’ popularity in Arabia (present-day Yemen).

    The Arabica coffee beans account for more than 60% of the world’s coffee production.

    The beans are grown at high altitudes in areas that receive steady rainfall and have plentiful shade.

    They are prevalent due to their complex taste profiles and aromas.

    Arabica is the most delicate among the four commercial coffee beans. They are harder to grow and require great care at the farm level.

    When Arabica plants are grown in an environment where they do not naturally thrive as in India, it takes double the effort to produce them.

    Hence, Arabica beans are more expensive. 

    More than 90% of the coffee beans grow in the Bean Belt, the Tropical area (23.5 deg N & S).

    Arabica beans, in particular, require extra shade, water, and a high altitude of at least 2000ft to develop complexity.

    They are smaller plants, measuring between 8 and 15 feet when fully grown.

    Brazil, known for its Amazon rainforest, is the world’s leading exporter of Arabica beans.

    The plants themselves are relatively delicate; they require constant pruning and attention to environmental factors.

    Since it is the most popular among the different types of coffee beans, Arabica is often grown in large quantities.

    However, this could make the trees more susceptible to an outbreak of diseases, such as white stem borer and leaf rust, that can contaminate the entire cropped area.

    If one Arabica plant goes, there’s a high possibility that a significant portion of the crop goes. This drives up the bean’s cost in the global market.

    Arabica coffee beans are super flavourful. Depending on which region it is grown and the processing technique, the beans could taste fruity, nutty or even chocolaty.

    They have a milder flavour and less caffeine than the other types of coffee beans out there. 

    High-quality Arabica beans have a smooth body, refined acidity and tend to have a multi-layered intricacy of flavours and aromas.

    Arabica coffees can be best sampled on the front palate (where sweetness and salinity are most apparent). 

    When brewing this coffee at home, look for Arabica coffee with a medium body and lower acidity. 

    Note:

    The Arabica beans’ flavour depth and complexity can diminish when mixed with sugar and milk.

    The highest quality coffees do not need additives, and they taste best as hot, black coffee.

    The preferred brewing method is the percolation technique, such as Pour-Over or Chemex.

    If you want to amaze your taste-buds, buy a bag of single-origin Arabica coffee beans!

    Robusta Coffee Beans:

    robusta coffee beans

    The second most favoured type of coffee bean is Robusta. They rank second in global production and are most popular in Europe.

    This bean originated in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s widely grown in Vietnam, making it the second leading exporter of coffee, specifically Robusta. 

    Its name is no coincidence. Robusta beans generally are considered to be hardy because they can grow at lower altitudes and resist diseases.

    The Robusta varietal is highly tolerant of its environmental conditions and practically immune to diseases that affect the Arabica coffee: white stem borer and leaf rust. 

    Robusta coffee can withstand various altitudes but mainly requires a hot climate where rainfall is irregular.

    Robusta beans are generally larger and rounded than the other types of coffee beans. These plants typically grow taller than Arabica plants, measuring between 15 and 20 feet. 

    Robusta beans have double the caffeine levels in comparison to that of Arabica beans.

    Caffeine is the plant’s self-defence against diseases. That’s because caffeine acts as a natural insect repellent, eliminating a significant threat to the tree. 

    Robusta is a perfect cup of coffee for milk and sugar lovers. It is bitter and much less aromatic than Arabica.

    Good quality Robusta will not lose its flavour when blended with milk or sugar. Most people drinking Robusta generally add cream and sugar due to its inherent bitter taste.

    The bitterness is due to higher levels of chlorogenic acid, which is a natural anti-oxidant.

    As it is comparatively easier to grow and harvest than Arabica beans, many farmers tend to reap higher profits when selling Robusta.

    Due to its production on a larger scale, its price is comparatively lower.

    The outstanding feature of Robusta coffee is the very high caffeine content, which is about 2 – 4% of coffee beans, while Arabica has only 1 – 3%.

    If your preference in coffee is getting a daily dose of caffeine, you would probably do well with a cup of Robusta coffee and cutting the intense flavour with milk and sugar.

    Robusta’s extra punch is an excellent start to the day, particularly for South Indian filter coffee lovers.

    An 80:20 ratio of Arabica:Robusta which is carefully selected and blended is perfect for Indian Filter coffee which is mixed with milk and sugar. 

    There are some instances of delicious, high-quality Robusta coffee.

    Higher quality Robusta beans have a smooth texture, low acidity, and often have hints of chocolate associated with their flavour profile.

    These are generally single-origin coffees made from craft, small-batch roasters. 

    The very best Robusta coffee beans will have traces of chocolate and rum within their flavour profile, but they are not always available.

    We’d recommend trying Robusta every once in a while.  

    Liberica Coffee Beans:

    liberica coffee beans

    Liberica is harder to come across in the coffee world these days, but this varietal has an essential place in the world’s coffee history.

    Native to Africa – specifically Liberia, hence its name – Coffea liberica, is known for its intriguing floral aroma and bold, smoky flavour profile.

    This hardy species is generally mixed with other varieties of coffee beans to add body and complexity to the cup of coffee.

    Liberica was unheard of in the western nations before the late nineteenth century; Liberica gained a base with Southeast Asian coffee producers after coffee rust, a fungal disease, wiped out much of the region’s Arabica crops.

    In 1890, coffee rust wiped out over 90% of the world’s Arabica crop. Because coffee was such a huge commodity, farmers and government bodies set out to find suitable substitutes for Arabica, and they turned to the Liberica plant. 

    The first country to harvest and sell Liberica was the Philippines. This decision immensely helped the Philippines’ economy as they were the only coffee supplier and could sell a substantial volume.

    The Philippines was then a U.S. territory, but the nation declared its independence as its economy grew.

    As a result, the U.S. imposed steep economic sanctions and cut off supplies to the country. This led to the downfall of the Liberica coffee bean in the global marketplace.

    No other region was ever able to step up and match the Philippines’ production.

    It wasn’t until 1995 that Liberica made its appearance in the coffee world again. Liberica beans are larger than the other coffee beans, asymmetrical, irregular and similar to Robusta in size, and they’re the only such coffee bean in the world.

    It’s tolerant of hot, humid climates and does well at low altitude. 

    Liberica beans are grown mainly in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Liberica contributes roughly about 2% of the world’s coffee supply.

    Almost all of the Malaysian coffee yield is Liberica beans. However, it is uncommon in the North American and European markets.

    Liberica coffee beans are a rare treat. They’re grown in particular climates, with production being far too scarce for farmers to scale their operations to satisfy a global marketplace truly.

    Even still, the beans are considered a pleasant surprise. Many who’ve tried the coffee liken the aroma to fruit and flowers and describe the flavour as having a somewhat “woody” taste.

    Among enthusiasts, Liberica coffee has a reputation for inconsistency in taste profile. Those who have experimented with this rare variety either love it or hate it.

    Those who like Liberica adore the unusual, nutty, woody flavour and the sneaky backbite on the finish. 

    Excelsa Coffee Beans:

    Excelsa coffee beans

    The fourth primary type of coffee bean is the Excelsa. Excelsa is now a member of the Liberica family, but it is pretty distinct in flavour and taste.

    It has been re-named as a genus of Liberica as it grows on large trees like the Liberica at similar altitudes and has a similar almond-like shape.

    It differs from Liberica in that it has a unique flavour and taste of itself that some members of the coffee community prefer to think of it as a separate species. 

    Excelsa coffee beans are grown almost entirely in Southeast Asia and represent only a tiny fraction of the world’s coffee production.

    It is primarily used in blends to give the overall cup of coffee a boost of flavour and complexity, affecting the middle and the back palate. 

    Excelsa boasts of a tart, fruitier flavour and is known for showing attributes of both light and dark roast coffees to create a unique profile that the coffee community frequently seeks out.

    They are also lighter on aroma and caffeine while maintaining an unusual depth of flavour. 

    You can find these distinctive beans in blends because they add complexity. This intriguing profile of Excelsa is why coffee drinkers from around the world try and seek out the varietal.

    Now that you’re familiar with the 4 types of coffee beans, it’s time to start shopping! 

    If you prefer a complex interplay of flavours and prefer to have your cup of coffee black, go for our single-origin Arabica coffee.

    If you like an extra punch of caffeine, enjoy a slight bitterness and want to mix your cup of coffee with milk or sugar, then go for our single-origin Arabica-Robusta blend.

    If you’re going to experiment with something unusual, go for Liberica or Excelsa beans, this is going to require a bit of research from your end as they are hard to find

    We recommend you buy whole beans and grind them at home before brewing as you will get better flavour and freshness. Else buy ground coffee as per your brewing device.

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