Types of Coffee Beans: What Are the Different Types of Coffee Beans?
While you might be among those contributing to the United States' nearly 60% coffee consumption rate, perhaps your latest cup of smooth or bitter coffee has got you wondering about how different types of coffee beans affect your cup of Joe. At Black Ink, we are always experimenting with the best whole bean coffee options we can find.
There are three main coffee bean varieties, including Arabica, Robusta, and Liberica. There's also an outsider variety called Excelsa, which we'll touch on too. However, it doesn't end there as ther are several coffee bean subcategories available as well. We'll be covering those here, too, so you're equipped with more coffee bean knowledge than you ever imagined.Try Some Black Ink Coffee Beans →
Main Types of Coffee Beans
Regardless of the coffee bean you consume, the quality of your coffee starts with the soil and climate. Coffee grows best between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, which means that many South Asian, African, and Latin American countries are ideal places for coffee production.
We'll take a closer look at how external factors impact the four types of coffee beans and other characteristics that go into giving them their distinct flavors. If you haven't given all these coffee varieties a try, we hope the information here inspires you to do so!
The Arabica coffee bean is the world's go-to coffee variety since it accounts for approximately 75% of worldwide coffee farming. It just so happens that researchers believe that people also consumed Arabica coffee before any other type, as it has its origins in Ethiopia.
While you're likely familiar with the term Arabica, you might not know that it's the base for various other subcategories of coffee. Examples include:
In fact, there are dozens of Arabica coffee bean varieties. However, farmers only cultivate a handful for commercial use. Trust us—the rest are too bitter and underdeveloped for the modern-day coffee consumer's taste buds.
The most popular areas where farmers cultivate coffee include Latin America, India, Indonesia, and Africa's central and eastern regions.
An advantage to growing Arabica plants is that they handle colder temperatures well, although they'll still die in a frost. Although the Arabica plant can grow tall, most farmers keep it trimmed to around six feet so that it's easier to cultivate.
You already know that not all Arabica beans taste the same because of their different subcategories, but when farmers choose to pick the beans impacts their taste, too. In fact, the highest-quality Arabica beans undergo handpicking as the coffee berries ripen at different times.
If a farmer picks the coffee beans too early or too late, it will negatively impact the coffee's flavor. Other methods of harvesting Arabica beans include shaking the branches. However, this allows green coffee berries to mix in with the ripe ones, which impacts the flavor unless someone sorts through them.
How Arabica Coffee Tastes
With so much talk about how growing Arabica beans affects its taste, you're probably wondering—what does Arabica coffee taste like?
Arabica beans produce a smooth, soft flavor that lacks the bitterness of many other coffee bean types. For this reason, it's the world's most beloved coffee.
Although the exact Arabica flavor varies depending on where it grows, you can expect a sweeter tone, including hits of fruit and berry flavors. Arabica coffee beans have a higher acidity than other bean types, especially those grown in higher altitude areas. As a general rule, the higher the acidity of coffee, the more developed its taste is.
Unfortunately, as with so many good things, there's a downside to Arabica coffee—it's more challenging to grow since it doesn't hold up as well against plant diseases. For this reason, it tends to be more expensive than the next coffee type we'll be covering here.
Purchasing Arabica Coffee
Despite being tricky to grow, Arabica's rich flavor makes it the most popular option for coffee farmers. Therefore, you can find Arabica beans at grocery stores and in coffee shops.
To ensure you receive pure Arabica, check the label, and avoid buying any packages that say it's blended with a different kind of bean.
Robusta coffee beans are the second most popular variety after Arabica, but the difference in production is massive. From February 2020 to 2021, producers exported 81.05 million bags of Arabica beans and only 47.52 million bags of Robusta beans.
The Robusta plant can grow up to 20 feet tall, and they produce larger and rounder beans than many other coffee types. Unlike Arabica, they grow well at lower altitudes. Therefore, it opens the opportunity for people to cultivate coffee in regions where most other coffee plant varieties can't grow.
Robusta beans originated in central and western Africa. From a cultivation standpoint, it's a shame that Robusta doesn't have the same smooth, refined taste that Arabica coffee beans do, for it's far easier for coffee farmers to grow.
Thanks to its hardy qualities, Robusta coffee plants hold up better against insects and diseases, so they require less herbicide and pesticide. Additionally, Robusta plants produce a denser crop yield than Arabica.
Although all types of coffee beans offer health benefits, the health qualities that make Robusta stand out include:
- High source of antioxidants
- Helps control spasmodic asthma
- Works as a diuretic
From a consumer standpoint, Robusta coffee beans have over 1% more caffeine than Arabica and contain less sugar. Since it's cheaper to produce, many coffee manufacturers mix Robusta coffee with Arabica coffee.
How Robusta Coffee Tastes
You're likely familiar with the less-than-glamorous reputation that instant coffee often has. That's usually in part because it has a high or pure Robusta content. Robusta beans tend to have a flat and burned taste that can put people off if they drink it straight.
Robusta has a more bitter and acidic taste than Arabica. Nevertheless, it's a popular choice for espressos. In fact, people usually always choose Robust beans over Arabica beans for espresso because Robusta has a higher caffeine content and produces a foamier texture.
Although most people don't consider Robusta coffee to have a smooth texture, some prefer its bitterness, which results from its higher caffeine concentration. Furthermore, Robusta tends to have a more full-bodied, earthy taste compared to the softer, sweeter tones of Arabica.
Purchasing Robusta Coffee
The most common way to purchase Robusta coffee beans is in a blend with Arabica beans. However, some suppliers sell pure Robusta coffee. If you'd like to purchase a bag of pure Robusta coffee, consider looking into places that import coffee from Vietnam, as Vietnam is the largest Robusta coffee producer in the world.
We assume that coffee lovers likely know the words Arabica and Robusta, but don't feel bad if you've never heard of Liberica coffee—it has a low caffeine concentration at only 1.23 grams per 100 grams. It's also one of the rarest types of coffee beans in the world.
It may surprise you if you rely on coffee to keep you awake, but Liberica's low caffeine levels aren't a deterrent for many consumers. However, its premium price tag often is.
The Liberica coffee plant grows nearly 30 feet high and is from Liberia, but today farmers commonly grow it in Southeast Asia. A unique characteristic of Liberica coffee plants is that they're resistant to the coffee rust pathogen, which can have devastating economic impacts for farmers of Arabica and other different coffee bean types.
Below are some other interesting facts about Liberica coffee:
- It produces a larger coffee bean than Arabica and Robusta
- Philippines and Malaysia are some of the biggest producers of Liberica
- There's a limited supply of Liberica coffee beans and a high global demand, making this an expensive coffee
Like Robusta, Liberica is a hardier plant. In addition to growing well at low altitudes, it has the unique ability to hold up well in hot and humid climates.
How Liberica Coffee Tastes
We've all heard of expensive delicacies that sound less than appealing. When it comes to Liberica coffee, many coffee enthusiasts feel the same. When you smell Liberica coffee, you'll likely swoon at its floral aroma, which may end up feeling like a trick to the tastebuds, as Liberia has a bold, smoky flavor, among others.
People describe Liberica coffee as having everything from a woody and nutty flavor to tasting like garbage—and burned garbage, at that. Needless to say, one of the most consistent comments consumers have about Liberica coffee is just how inconsistent tasting it is.
Purchasing Liberica Coffee
If you live in North America or Europe, it's unlikely that you'll find Liberica coffee sitting on the shelves of your grocery store. Instead, you'll probably need to head online and order it from a more local source. Alternatively, you can try tracking it down at an Asian store. If you manage to find a Filipino shop, that'll be your best bet.
Another option is to do a quick Google search for Barako coffee. That will lead you to one of the most famous types of Liberica coffee, which farmers grow in the Philippines. To drink it like a Filipino, add a little sugar and brace yourself for a bold flavor.
We'll admit it—in the modern-day coffee world, calling Excelsa its own coffee bean variety is misleading. That's because scientists decided that Excelsa has too many physical characteristics that the Liberica plant has, so now it's technically a genus of the Liberica plant.
The reasons that Excelsa is a subcategory of Liberica are because it shares the following traits:
- Grows up to 30 feet tall
- Thrives in hot, humid climates
- Produces best at similar altitudes
- Primarily cultivated in Southeast Asia
- The coffee berry has an almond-like shape
Specialty coffee manufactures often mix Excelsa coffee beans with other coffee bean varieties, such as Robusta or Arabica, to enhance the coffee's flavor and add a layer of thickness.
That said, if you ask coffee experts what they think about Excelsa's reclassification, they'll likely tell you that the two coffee beans are distinct.
For people who didn't care for our description of Liberica's taste, you'll be glad to know that the difference between Excelsa and Liberica coffee beans comes mostly down to flavor.
How Excelsa Coffee Tastes
Excelsa has a light aroma that's more pleasant than Liberica. When roasted, Excelsa coffee has a tart and fruity note that tends to accompany light roasts. However, it also contains a unique mixture of bolder flavors that often come with darker roasts.
You can drink Excelsa coffee straight or with blends. That said, choosing an Excelsa blend is an excellent option because it offers complexity to Arabica and Robusta coffee beans.
Purchasing Excelsa Coffee
Like Liberica coffee, Excelsa coffee is difficult to find if you're not in Asia. The good news, however, is that farmers produce it in a slightly larger quantity than Liberica. Therefore, once you find it online, you can expect relatively lower prices.
Other Types of Coffee
Now that we covered the most common types of coffee beans, below are some coffee varieties within these categories that are popular options for consumers.
With organic food trending, it likely comes as no surprise that you can purchase organic coffee. Traditional coffee farming uses practices that are harmful to human health and the environment. That includes the use of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides.
On the other hand, the best organic coffee farmers use compost, coffee pulp, and even chicken droppings to grow their coffee beans. The result is a richer tasting coffee packed with antioxidants. It offers a healthier situation for both you and the people living in the region where farmers grow your coffee.
Fair Trade Coffee
Here's another way to support a healthier world—look for a Fair Trade logo on your coffee bag. Fair Trade tackles socio-economic issues in developing countries by ensuring farmers receive a fair price for their coffee beans, making sure no child labor took place, and promoting equal work and pay for women.
Fair Trade Coffee also looks out for the environment by banning GMO coffee beans and the most damaging pesticides. Furthermore, many Fair Trade products are organic thanks to the organization's increased organic premium policy.
Single Origin Coffee
Single origin coffee is the cream of the crop in the coffee world because coffee beans come from a single, specific region. As a result, it produces coffee with a distinct flavor that's incomparable with coffee beans blended from different areas.
Any type of coffee bean can be single-origin coffee as long as the farmer grew it in the same area with the same soil, climatic conditions, altitude, and shade.
Did you know that farmers harvest coffee beans from coffee fruit? The fruit, which surrounds the coffee bean, has a number of health benefits, including a high concentration of antioxidants and the potential to prevent tumor growth.
For a twist on traditional coffee, you can purchase dried coffee fruit. The result is a fruity, floral-tasting drink with a bit of tang. It also contains less caffeine than coffee beans.
Geisha coffee is the most exclusive and highly sought-after coffee in the world. While most coffee roasters do not carry this delicious staple because of the massive price tag, it is worth trying once in your life time. A cheaper option is the Peaberry coffee bean if you are searching for something a bit more diverse.
Coffee Processing Methods
Coffee Processing can be broken down into three main methods, each of which can be divided further into subsections. These three are pulped natural process, washed process and dry process. At the core, these three methods are how the majority of farmers prepare coffee around the globe.
Washed Process (Wet Process)
The most common form the processing, and also the most controlled, is washed coffee processing. During this phase, coffee cherries undergo a mechanical water bath to remove all of the fruity flesh. Just like dry processed coffees, these beans are then dried out on raised beds or brick to a moisture level of roughly 12%.
Dry Process (Natural Process)
The Dry Process, or Natural Process as some call it, is the oldest form of coffee processing. Dating back to the discovery of coffee, this is the cheapest method of processing raw coffee, without the need of any machinery. During this process, coffee cherries are picked from the coffee trees and laid out in the sun to dry, naturally.
Every country of origin has a different method for dry processing, some use raised beds, some use bricks and others use stone. During the drying process, farmers go through great lengths to ensure that the beans dry out evenly and without mold. Due to the nature of dry processing, the beans absorb more of the sugar from the cherry, resulting in a sweeter and more complex bean.
Pulped Natural Process (Honey Process)
The last processing method is a hybrid between the previous two. Rather than removing the entire outer shell from the bean, or letting it sit in the entire cherry to dry, only a portion of the outer shell is left intact. To read more, check out our honey process coffee article.
The verdict is in, Johns Hopkins Medicine says that drinking coffee is good for you since it may prevent Alzheimer's and heart disease! So, go ahead and indulge in the coffee we covered here. We're sure you'll impress your friends when you start identifying different types of coffee beans.
While coffee plants remain one of the most important crops in our lives, it is crucial to understand that our beloved friend is always in danger. Between diseases, natural disasters, and our own carbon footprint, coffee remains a fragile crop that many scientists are working diligently on to preserve.Try Some Black Ink Coffee Beans →