Have you ever looked at a bag of speciality coffee beans and noticed it saying 100% Arabica coffee? You might not even know what that means. Or you may be like a lot of other coffee lovers out there and think that’s the only type of coffee bean available.
While there are over 100 coffee species out there, there are four primary types of coffee beans, Arabica (Coffee arabica), Robusta (Coffee caniphora), Liberica (Coffee liberica), and Excelsa (Coffee liberica var. dewevrei).
The coffee bean type used is just one factor that affects your coffee drink’s final taste. Processes such as harvesting, roasting, grinding, etc. all contribute to your coffee’s flavour. But each coffee bean type is a different species within this family. So, you will notice that each bean has unique colouring and appearance when examined closely.
Another distinguishing factor between the different species is the taste and aromas produced by each bean type. For example, a coffee bean can be sweet with fruity and floral aromas. Or it could be salty with caramel or chocolate aromas.
There are four main components that define coffee beans’ taste, namely: sweetness, saltiness, acidity, and bitterness. These four components often serve as indicators regarding what bean is used, how it was cultivated, and which country it originated in.
Arabica is the most common (and certainly most heavily marketed) type of coffee. That’s because it has a sweeter, more delicate flavour and the coffee itself tends to be less acidic. Arabica beans are farmed in areas with high elevations above sea level, particularly those where rain is plentiful. In fact, Brazil, known for its lush rainforest, is the world’s foremost exporter of Arabica beans.
When it comes to global production, Robusta coffee beans are second on the list and the most popular in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Its name does this bean justice, as it is known for its strong and often harsh flavour profile. Robusta coffees have extremely high levels of caffeine, which makes the plant far more resilient than the Arabica species. That’s because the caffeine acts as natural insect repellent, eliminating a major threat to the tree. The coffee canephore species is also particularly tolerant of its environment, so it can be grown in any number of altitudes and climates.
Liberica coffee beans are a rare treat. They’re grown in very specific climates with production being far too scarce for farmers to scale their operations to truly satisfy a global marketplace. 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.
Excelsa is technically a member of the Liberica family, but its species is incredibly distinct. Like the Liberica coffee described above, Excelsa is grown primarily in south east Asia and represents only a small fraction of the world’s coffee production. Excelsa boasts a tart, fruitier flavour and is known for showing attributes of both light and dark roast coffees to create a unique profile that is frequently sought out by coffee enthusiasts.
With four coffee bean types and countless coffee drink variations, you’re bound to find a flavour you’ll love regardless of how niche your taste preference may be.
Coffee manufacturers often clearly describe a coffee or a blend’s taste and aromas on the packaging. So, you can know exactly what to expect and what notes you’re going to be able to pick up within the coffee beans before purchasing them.