Finding the perfect type of coffee can be incredibly overwhelming. Just looking at the coffee aisle in your local grocery store can be confusing with all the different brands, locations, and roasting styles.
However, there is another aspect of coffee that you may not have paid much attention to until today: the type of coffee bean you’re buying. Most of the coffee sold in the United States is labeled Arabica coffee, but what does that mean? Are there other kinds of coffee available? For something truly amazing we highly recommend you give Kona coffee a try. The famous bean from Hawaii is one of the rarest and most extraordinary coffees in the world.
Once you know and understand the various types of coffee beans, it will be much easier for you to find your favorite blend of ground coffee. With this knowledge, it hopefully won’t take you as long as it did me to find your ideal coffee bean.
Four Types of Coffee Beans
While Arabica coffee beans are the most popular worldwide, there are three other types of beans. Knowing the differences between these beans can help you find your perfect coffee style and taste. Let’s dive into the world of coffee!
Arabica: The Most Popular Bean
Arabica beans account for 60% of the world’s coffee production, thanks to their soft, sweet taste. You can find Arabica plants in high-elevation areas with an abundance of rain.
Coffee plantations exist throughout Latin America, Africa, and even in India. Brazil is the largest producer of Arabica beans, and some other notable countries include Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Ecuador.
Because of its massive cultivation worldwide, there are over 20 different types of Arabica coffee plants, including the Bourbon, Villalobos, and Kent. Each variation of Arabica grows in a particular location throughout the world, which is why not all Arabica coffee tastes the same.
Even though Arabica is the most popular type of coffee bean, it isn’t easy to cultivate. The plants are easy to prune, thanks to their small size, but they require a lot of care. Interestingly, farmers grow most of the plants in areas where coffee is not native.
That presents the initial difficulty of helping a plant thrive in a foreign environment. On top of that, the Arabica plant is exceptionally delicate and prone to disease. Since most coffee plantations harvest large quantities of coffee, the illness spreads rampantly throughout the whole area, killing all the coffee plants.
Because of their delicacy, prices for Arabica beans may be higher than other options. Nevertheless, their flavor is a favorite among coffee drinkers. However, the beans may lose some of their potency when combined with milk or other coffee additives.
Robusta: The Strong Bean
The second most popular coffee bean is Robusta. While Arabica beans line the store shelves in the United States, Robusta wins the popular vote in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.
This coffee bean gets its name from its robust character and flavor. Unlike Arabica coffee beans, Robusta coffee plants are incredibly durable and do not generally fall prey to vicious diseases. They have a high level of caffeine, which repels any insects naturally.
For Robusta, altitude isn’t a problem. As long as the environment is hot and does not receive regular rain, the plants will thrive. Some of the most common locations for cultivating Robusta beans include Africa and Indonesia, but some countries, like Brazil, produce both.
Unfortunately, because the plants can grow in various climates, many companies harvest the Robusta beans in subpar regions, resulting in a rubbery flavor. Other producers combine Robusta and Arabica coffee that has an extra boost of caffeine. However, if you want pure Robusta coffee, check where and how they harvested the coffee.
Even though people prefer Arabica beans for their taste, Robusta also has a unique flavor. If you have the opportunity to buy high-quality Robusta beans, you will taste subtle hints of chocolate and even rum.
Additionally, the Robusta flavor doesn’t diminish when you add sugar or milk to your coffee. The taste and caffeine remain robust, just like the name implies.
Liberica: The Fruity Bean
While Arabica and Robusta beans dominate the coffee market, there are two more lesser-known gems. The first one is the Liberica.
The Liberica coffee plant gained worldwide popularity in 1890 when the coffee rust disease wiped out almost all of the Arabica plants in the entire world. The United States oversaw the production of Liberica coffee in its former territory, the Philippines.
However, when the Philippines declared its independence in 1946, the United States implemented sanctions to hurt their coffee sales. This effectively killed the popularity of the Liberica bean.
In 1995, Liberica reemerged, but too much time had passed, and Arabica already ruled the coffee market. You can find Liberica coffee today, but you will have to do some searching.
Only a couple of countries produce Liberica coffee, including the Philippines, Malaysia, and Guayana. Because these countries do not have vast land for coffee production nor a prominent influence in the global market, they cannot produce a large quantity of coffee for worldwide export.
If you do get the chance to try Liberica coffee, make sure you enjoy the natural flavors of fruit, flowers, and even wood. Not everyone enjoys the taste as it is so different from the popular Arabica and Robusta coffee plants. The beans themselves are also unique, as they have a large, odd shape, unlike any other coffee beans.
Excelsa: The Rare Bean
The last type of coffee bean is technically a member of the Liberica plant family. However, the taste and general characteristics of the two are incredibly different.
Just like Liberica, the Excelsa bean prospers in Southeast Asia, and the plants grow up to 30 feet tall. The beans are also a unique shape, mimicking the unique Liberica bean.
Since Excelsa only comprises 7% of the world coffee production, coffee enthusiasts are generally the ones who seek out and enjoy Excelsa coffee.
Just like Liberica coffee, the Excelsa bean has a unique and sophisticated taste. It tastes like a dark roast combined with fruity, almost sour flavors.
If you have trouble finding pure Excelsa coffee, try looking for a blend of Arabica or Robusta with Excelsa. By mixing the beans, the Excelsa adds a fun, dark taste to your regular coffee flavors.
Which One Is Right for You?
Now that you know more about the different types of coffee beans, where they grow, and what they taste like, it’s time to figure out which one is perfect for you. As you explore the numerous coffee brands, styles, and flavors, keep the following in mind:
- How much caffeine do you want?
- Do you like a sweeter or darker taste?
- How much are you willing to pay?
- Do you drink your coffee with any additives?
Effects of Caffeine
If one of your primary reasons for drinking coffee is to help you wake up in the morning, you’ll want to choose a coffee bean with a significant caffeine amount. Since the Robusta bean has double the caffeine of the Arabica counterpart, you might want to choose a bag of Robusta coffee.
However, if you want a sweeter taste, the Arabica is a better choice because the Robusta flavor is not always consistent and has a more bitter flavor.
Price can be a huge factor if you’re a heavy coffee drinker. If you’re looking for a cheaper option that won’t break the bank, consider the Robusta beans. The Arabica beans are often more expensive because of their fragility. On the other hand, if you’re looking for more costly options, seek out the Liberica or Excelsa beans.
If you use any milk, creamer, or sugar in your coffee, make sure that it doesn’t affect the bean’s taste and quality. Remember that the Arabica’s flavor may be extinguished by additives, while the Robusta remains unaffected.
Different Types of Coffee Beans
If you’re new to coffee, take some time to try different types of beans from various brands and roasting styles. If you are considering roasting your own beans and looking for the best roasters check out our review of best coffee roasters for home use. When it comes to coffee beans it would be wise if you tried different types from multiple companies because they could cultivate the plants completely differently, resulting in unique tastes. Once you’ve identified a flavor you like, stick to it!
Now, if you’re an experienced coffee drinker looking to try something new, don’t be afraid to try the Liberica or Excelsa beans. While some people have polarized opinions on whether their woody, fruity taste is delicious or horrible, try it yourself.
Sometimes, the Arabica beans don’t have enough caffeine, and the Robusta has too harsh of a taste. Instead of just accepting that you’ll never be completely satisfied with a coffee bean, try a blend of the two, or a mix that includes either Liberica or Excelsa.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try a New Bean
Keep trying different brands and blends until you find that coffee that makes you want to melt because it is so delicious. Once you have found it, stick with it and enjoy it! However, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try new flavors.