When you think of coffee beans, your mind most likely goes straight to arabica coffee beans. They are the most widely grown and roasted coffee bean type in America and worldwide. It is believed to be the first type of coffee bean ever consumed by humans.
The coffea arabica plant originated in Ethiopia. However, modern-day coffee brewing techniques are derived from Arabia after the coffee plants made their way across the Red Sea in the 7th century. The name arabica stems from the word Arabia.
What Are Arabica Coffee Beans?
Arabica coffee beans from the coffea arabica plant make up 60% of the world's coffee supply and can range in flavor from light and sweet to tangy and sharp with a caffeine content between 1.2 to 1.5% per coffee bean. While the coffee brewing styles we use today are a product of Arabian roots, arabica coffee beans originated in 1,000 BC in the Kingdom of Kefa, in what is now Ethiopia.
It is believed that the Oromo tribe of Kefa would roll crushed arabica coffee beans with fat to form small balls roughly the size of ping pong balls. Instead of brewing coffee beans into a coffee drink, they created caffeinated snack balls for easy consumption of caffeine.
Arabica coffee beans grow best in tropical climates in close proximity to the equator. They prefer higher elevations with cooler weather that ranges between 64-73 degrees. Global warming is a severe issue for coffee enthusiasts, who know that these cooler temperatures are necessary for this coffee bean type that provides the world with two-thirds of its coffee supply.
This coffee bean type is most often grown on hillsides and, for this reason, is often referred to as "Mountain Coffee." In addition to needing tropical climates on hillsides to bloom, coffea arabica plants are shade-loving trees that will struggle to survive in direct sunlight. Therefore, they thrive in highly forested areas with well-defined rainy and dry seasons, with a preferred annual rainfall of about 5 feet. Coffea arabica plants grow between 30 and 39 feet tall.
5 Top Producers of Arabica Coffee Beans Worldwide
Brazil produced a record 69.9 million 60 kg bags of both the main coffee bean types in 2020, more than any other country globally. A significant increase from the 49.3 million bags produced in 2019. Arabica coffee beans make up roughly 69% of Brazilian coffee, with the remaining 31% being robusta coffee beans.
About 90% of Brazil’s total coffee bean harvest is completed by mid-September, making way for experts to form predictions for the total output for the year. Brazil has 2.16 million hectares (ha) of cultivated land for their arabica and robusta coffee bean types. For comparison, Brazil’s land usage for growing coffee is greater than the total size of El Salvador, which comes in at 2.1 hectares.
What Do Arabica Coffee Beans Taste Like?
Arabica coffee beans have chocolatey, sugary, fruity, and floral flavor notes. The roast of this coffee bean type can significantly influence the flavor profile by either bringing forward the natural fruity and floral flavors or presenting more of the roaster's influence.
3 Arabica Coffee Roasts
Light roasted arabica coffee beans have a fruitier and more floral flavor and aroma. When using light roast coffee, the coffee bean type plays a vital role because the lighter the roast, the more dependent the flavor is on the quality of the coffee bean. Therefore, 100% arabica coffee beans are almost exclusively the preferred coffee bean type for light roast coffee.
Due to the caramelization process, medium roasted arabica coffee beans have a sweeter flavor with notes of caramel. Their color is brown and slightly darker than a light roasted coffee bean. Both light and medium roasts will not have any oils on the actual coffee bean.
Dark roasted coffee beans are possibly the most misunderstood when it comes to all the coffee bean roast types. Often viewed as bitter or more caffeinated than the other two roasts, it can easily be overlooked or chosen for the wrong reasons. However, dark roasted coffee can create a beautiful chocolatey flavor if roasted correctly.
In actuality, all three coffee roasts contain the same amount of caffeine. However, if you are looking for coffee beans with an extra kick of caffeine, robusta coffee beans are what you need. Robusta coffee beans contain nearly twice as much caffeine as arabica coffee beans. In addition, the large amount of caffeine adds to a more bitter flavor compared to arabica coffee beans.
First Uses for Arabica Coffee Beans
The Oromo tribe made caffeinated snack balls out of crushed arabica coffee beans. However, as the coffea arabica plant expanded its presence throughout the globe, its uses and applications expanded as well. It was initially brewed into a tea-like beverage using green coffee beans. In the 15th century, Yemen had the first recorded use of coffee beans being roasted and brewed into a drinkable form similar to what we drink today.
In addition to brewing coffee like we do today, the people of Yemen would also use the discarded coffee cherry skins to create a fruity tea-like drink called qishr. This drink is still made and sold today by coffee farmers. The fibrous material on the outside of the coffee cherry, used for qishr, is obtained during the processing of the coffee cherries and is often referred to as the coffee husk.
How To Make Qishr
- Coffee Husks (or Coffee Grounds)
- Filtered Water
Add 6oz of coffee husks or arabica coffee grounds, 8oz of filtered water, sugar, ginger, and cinnamon to a pan. Bring to a rolling boil, then remove from heat for a minute. Place the pan back on the stovetop and bring it to a boil, then remove from heat again. Pour in a cup and allow to cool for up to two minutes before drinking. Coffee grounds and other spices will settle at the bottom of the cup. Enjoy!
Roasting Arabica Coffee Beans
Our first records of thin metal and porcelain pans being used to roast the coffee beans out of their green coffee bean state are from the Ottoman Empire and Greater Persia in the 15th century. Arabica coffee beans were the only coffee bean type being used at the time. While roasted arabica coffee beans have many flavor profiles, the unroasted green coffee beans lack the same flavor explosions that we have come to know and love.
The discovery of roasting arabica coffee beans was truly monumental for the 15th century. Due to the nature of brewing coffee over open flames, all arabica coffee at the time was categorized as a dark roast. While we don't know when exactly experimentation with differing roasting styles began, historians believe medium roast was the first foray into branching out from dark roast.
Arabica, The World's Best Coffee Beans
Some will say that the discovery of arabica coffee beans was one of the most important in the history of our world. Those people would be correct. It doesn't matter if you prefer the original dark roast, medium roast, or the floral and fruity light roast; all coffee roasts shine when they are made with arabica coffee beans. While there are four main coffee bean types, arabica coffee beans were the first discovered and still reign Supremo.