There’s nothing like your first sip of coffee in the morning.
The tang of roasted beans swirling with the vapor of warm cream is perhaps the only way lure myself out of bed before the crack of dawn. It’s a promise of energy, focus and of course relaxation. But did you know that there are hundreds of different coffee blends to explore… Yet we usually use only one type of coffee bean?
Let’s take a look at where coffee comes from, the four different types of coffee beans, and why you need to know the differences between each selection.
Where is coffee from?
To best understand the differences between each bean, we must begin by discussing where your coffee is grown. Like fine wine, the location of this tiny berry’s origin can speak volumes about its flavor, acidity, and caffeine potency.
Coffee plants span nearly 70 countries, particularly in the equatorial region between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer known as “The Bean Belt.” Scientists have been able to trace the coffee plant’s lineage to the rain forests of Ethiopia and Sudan, as well as countries with close proximity to the Indian Ocean.
Most coffee plants proliferate in areas with heavy rainfall, shade, and high altitude, and the quality of each of these attributes influences the flavor of the bean. This is why coffee aficionados are so keen to know where their beans come from: beans from Hawaii will have a totally different flavor profile than beans from India.
Why do I need to know about the different types of coffee beans?
Drinking coffee is a luxury we often take for granted. For many, this morning ritual marks the beginning of our waking hours, and helps us clear the tired fog of sleep. But what if we were missing out on the blend or bean that could take our experience to the next level? A simple change could change the whole course of our day!
Exploring the different types of coffee beans allows us to consider what we enjoy in our caffeinated beverages, and to select the bean that is right for us. Whether we want a cup with the zing of a fine wine or a tart, acidic blend with notes of cream and butterscotch, there’s a bean out there waiting to be discovered. Experimentation can be an eye-opening experience.
What are the different types of coffee beans?
As mentioned above, there are hundreds of species of coffee around the world.
However, despite the diversity of the coffee fruit, coffee is usually available in the following four varieties:
You won’t find most of them in your local coffee shop, however, as most commercially available coffee is of the coffea arabica variety, followed distantly by coffea robusta.
What are the differences between the four different types of coffee beans?
- Arabica: The go-to bean of your local cafes, Coffea Arabica beans supply more than 60% of the world’s coffee needs. But just because they are plentiful does not mean they are of inferior quality—arabica beans are considered some of the best beans in the world because of their acidic, delicate sweetness. Arabica beans grow throughout all three regions of the coffee belt and their flavor differs based upon their place of origin. The altitude at which these coffee plants are grown, as well as the soil quality in which they were planted greatly impacts the taste profile of your morning cup.
On the whole, arabica beans are known for their pleasant, mild taste that resembles that of a fruit. Their plumb-like acidity gives these beans a colorful bouquet, and their high sugar content sweetens the bitterness of excessive caffeine.
- Robusta: As the name may suggest, robusta coffee has a stronger flavor than arabica due to its higher caffeine content. Many people describe robusta as bitter and burnt with a vaguely nutty aftertaste. Because of robusta’s less desirable notes, many consider this coffee to be of lesser quality than arabica—unless, of course, you’re looking for a jolt of caffeine and you don’t care what it tastes like.
Robustas have their place in the world of coffee, however. With more than twice the caffeine content of Arabica beans, this selection is bound to give you the rich, energizing cup of espresso.
- Liberica: Named after the country of its discovery, Liberia, this variety of coffee bean fills about 2% of the world’s coffee cups. This crop can be cheaply bought and sold in Asia and parts of South America, but it’s incredibly difficult to purchase in the West.
How does liberica coffee taste? The most pronounced attribute of this coffee bean is its signature, caffeinated bitterness, which cancels out many more subtle notes in its composition. Because of this, liberica beans have not become popular in the Western world.
- Excelsa: This exotic coffee bean was recently recategorized as a variant of the liberica coffee bean, but despite their biological similarities, their tastes radically differ. Excelsa delivers a rich, dark, even fruity experience that stimulates the back and middle palates.
These beans make up 7% of the global coffee consumption, and grow in Southeast Asia at medium altitudes on high trees.
What are some lesser known coffee beans?
It’s not easy to get ahold of many of these beans, but if you’re up for travelling the world, here’s a list of some rare coffee beans you may want to keep an eye out for. Many of these beans are cultivars from arabica coffea beans and come with their own distinct qualities.
- C. charrieriana: This recently discovered coffee bean comes from Cameroon and it’s caffeine free. Keep an eye out for this one if you enjoy decaffeinated coffee, because it may become available in the global market.
- Maragogipe: Referred to as “elephant coffee beans” because of their hefty size, this porous Arabica variety was first grown in Maragogipe, Brazil. Many coffee aficionados maintain that this coffee has subtle, woody flavor which can be enhanced through proper drying methods.
- Geisha: This floral and fragrant coffee bean is grown in Panama and has seen an increased demand recently.
- Sidama: This strictly high grown bean exhibits notes of berries and citrus. Because of its slow growth time, this coffea plant absorbs many of the flavor notes of the surrounding soil.
- Hawaiian Kona: This exotic coffee bean is cultivated on the active volcano Hualalai in Hawaii. Be prepared for notes of chocolate, brown sugar, and even a fruit or two.
- Java: Ah yes, the classic java. This coffee bean was such a popular trade item that the term “cup of java” was born of its namesake. This name refers to its region rather than its specific cultivar.
- Pache Colis: In addition to its large leaves and cherry-like fruitlets, this Guatemalan strain demonstrates a hardy resilience toward soil fungus.
- Colombian: A mild-tasting, balanced coffee bean with a hearty dose of caffeine, originating in Colombia.