It's early morning, and you're brewing a fresh cup of coffee in your kitchen or stopping by your favorite spot to grab a cup to go. Chances are, you're drinking a cup of Arabica coffee. With nearly 60% of all coffee made from Arabica beans, it is easy to see why they are the most popular coffee beans among casual and more refined coffee drinkers alike.
All About Coffee Beans
Including Arabica beans, there are four main types of coffee beans that each bring their own distinct flavor profiles.
All four of these coffee bean varieties enrich and bring value to the coffee world.
The most recognizable coffee beans worldwide, and what is most likely in your kitchen right now. They are the most highly produced and highly marketed coffee beans. Whether you prefer buying whole beans or ground coffee, these are the coffee beans that satisfy the majority of North American taste buds.
The name Arabica comes from the journey the beans made in the 7th century. The coffee plant traveled from Ethiopia, across the Red Sea, then into present-day Yemen and Arabia. While Arabica coffee beans originated in Ethiopia, Brazil is the largest producer of them today.
Arabica coffee beans are light and sweet with a bright body and low yet satisfying acidity level. While Arabica beans make a delicious cold brew, our tasters propose that the ground coffee beans taste best when made into a hot mug of coffee, preferably using pour-over or drip techniques.
Arabica coffee beans are grown in high elevations with steady rainfall and plenty of shade. The trees are less than 6 feet tall, making the pruning and harvesting process significantly easier. Unfortunately, the Arabica trees are prone to disease, and this is exacerbated when attempting to grow them in less-than-ideal conditions.
The second-most-produced coffee beans make up nearly 40% of worldwide production. The name Robusta is exceptionally fitting, as these hearty coffee beans have high levels of caffeine, and their trees are immune to most diseases. Robusta coffee beans contain almost double the amount of caffeine as Arabica beans. The high caffeine levels provide a natural insect-repellent and defense against disease and the elements.
Robusta coffee is incredibly popular in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The coffee beans come from the Coffea canephora plant, originating in Africa, and are almost exclusively grown in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Robusta beans have a harsher and more bitter flavor profile than Arabica beans. Surprisingly, considering their extremely high caffeine content, one of the most common uses for Robusta coffee beans is to make them into decaf coffee. When stripping coffee beans of caffeine, the flavor is stripped as well; this bodes well for the highly potent Robusta beans.
The most popular uses for Robusta beans:
- Decaf Coffee - harsh flavor is stripped away.
- Cold Brew - extracts nutrients and flavors differently than hot brew
- Espresso - produces a thicker crema
- Instant coffee - pre-ground coffee
Originating in Liberia, Africa, they’re the only coffee beans with a large irregular shape and only account for 2% of the world's coffee. A primary reason for their rarity is the level of difficulty in harvesting and processing these coffee beans.
The Liberica beans need to be grown in highly specific conditions, adding to why they are the rarest coffee beans. But, as in most cases, rarity leads to demand, and the Liberica coffee beans are no different. Sadly, Liberica coffee beans are facing possible extinction due to such low levels of cultivation and harvesting.
They are highly sought after by coffee aficionados around the world due to their unique flavor profile. Liberica coffee has a fruity and floral aroma; however, it produces woody, full-bodied tasting notes. The beans also have a significantly lower level of caffeine compared to Arabica and Robusta coffee beans.
The most significant success for Liberica coffee beans was back in 1890 when the "coffee rust" disease eradicated 90% of the Arabica coffee plants across the entire planet. The Philippines stepped up and became the sole producer of Liberica coffee beans in substantial volumes.
However, with a booming economy, they declared their independence from the U.S. and were, therefore, cut off from much-needed supplies. This separation from the U.S. resulted in the Philippines losing their coveted spot in the global marketplace, and no other country has been able to produce Liberica coffee beans on the same level.
If you are even presented with the opportunity to buy or taste Liberica coffee, take it. However, when buying these rare beans, it is best to purchase in whole-bean form and create ground coffee at home to appreciate this unique flavor at its freshest.
First discovered in 1903 in Central Africa, it was believed to be its own genus of coffee. However, in 2006 it was reclassified as a variety of the Liberica coffee bean species. Both coffee bean types grow on trees towering at least 20 feet tall, grow at similar altitudes, and have an almond shape. This reclassification is a hotly contested debate within the coffee community.
The International Coffee Organization (ICO) does not have official stats on Excelsa coffee beans because they do not consider the demand for them or Liberica coffee beans to be commercially significant. It is estimated that Excelsa coffee beans only make up 7% of the world's coffee.
Grown primarily in Southeast Asia, they have an exceptionally distinct flavor that manages to be fruity and tart while at the same time dark and toasted. Thus, Excelsa beans incredibly have both light- and dark-roast coffee attributes, setting them apart from other coffee beans. This feature entrances coffee enthusiasts from around the world.
While it has exciting tasting notes, the aroma of Excelsa coffee beans is not very pleasing. This negatively impacts their commercial success, especially in coffee shops, since these shops thrive on the fresh coffee aroma. Similar to Liberica coffee beans, they’re an excellent blending coffee, commonly used in ground coffee varieties.
Whole Bean or Ground Coffee?
Whether you are buying whole bean or fully ground coffee to brew at home, or you're ordering from your favorite local cafe, the type of beans to make your drink matter. For those new to the coffee world and even those fully immersed in the scene, learning the intricacies of the coffee beans you are consuming will help you filter through all the options and discover the best flavor profile for your palate.