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4 Types Of Coffee Beans

I asked a few friends and colleagues if they knew what types of coffee beans there are in the world and which ones were their favourite, their answers were quite alarming. Almost all of them answered that there are light, medium and dark roast beans, most of them prefer medium or dark roasts and although I do agree with the ones who prefer dark roasts, I was very concerned that they thought the roast defines the type of bean. As you might have noticed, if you've read any of my other articles, I take my frustrations out in writing. Therefore, I have decided to explain to you the differences and characteristics of the 4 Types Of Coffee Beans.  

4 Types Of Coffee Beans 

If you're an avid coffee consumer or if you would consider yourself a coffee enthusiast, you might know these four words;  

  • Arabica,  
  • Robusta,  
  • Liberica,  
  • Excelsa… Be careful though, if you say this three times fast your furniture will start to float! These are the four main types of coffee beans you would find on the market; they each have unique qualities and completely different taste profiles. 

Arabica 

The most popular and most commonly produced coffee bean in the world, Arabica makes up between 60 – 75 % of world coffee production. A typical espresso shot of Arabica coffee contains about 40 mg of caffeine and almost double the number of natural sugars, compared to any other variety. The increased sugar content obviously adds to the sweeter taste of the coffee, leaves a cleaner mouthfeel and decreases bitterness. Most people confuse the acidity in coffee, which is essential to the distinct coffee taste, with a bitter taste. Therefore, the sweeter option has become the most widely consumed variety of coffee in the world. 

Types of coffee beans

Arabica beans are grown at higher altitudes and require steady rain and lots of shade. The trees are fairly small and easy to maintain. The Coffea arabica plant is believed to be the first coffee species to be cultivated. It was in the Oromia region in Ethiopia where the first cultivation of this plant took place, the Ancestors of today's Oromo people recognised the energising effect, by noticing increased vitality in birds feeding on these trees. 

Good quality Arabica will have a slightly sweet flavour, slightly acidic aftertaste followed by a lightly bitter mouthfeel. You may notice hints of caramel, nuts or even chocolate and berries. 

Robusta 

With almost double the amount of chlorogenic acids and caffeine, this variety has a much thicker texture with deeper and more intense flavours than other varieties. Robusta may at first come across as a bitter coffee and might scare some coffee lovers off, however, high-quality Robusta beans produce an amazingly deep and intense earthy flavour. The earthy flavour profile will leave you speechless with hints of oak and a lingering nutty aftertaste. 

Your typical espresso shot made from the Robusta bean contains about 70mg of caffeine, it is believed that the Robusta bean produces more caffeine as a natural way of pest control. The Robusta trees are considered very robust (see what I did there…) as their high caffeine content makes them less prone to pest and insect damage.  

Robusta coffee comes from the plant species Coffea canephora and is the second most popular coffee cultivated around the world. With its origins in Africa, Robusta coffee is now grown in other parts of the world as well, such as Vietnam, Brazil, India, and Indonesia. Robusta coffee received a very bad reputation, partly due to it being more bitter than Arabica and largely due to Robusta being cultivated for the lower-income markets, therefore, not receiving the same care and attention as Arabica coffee. 

Types of coffee beans

Excelsa 

Being one of the lesser-known varieties of coffee on the market, Excelsa is a highly misunderstood bean. Because of the lower production volumes, there is not a major knowledge base on the Excelsa coffee bean, resulting in the bean not being cultivated, processed and roasted with the proper care and attention it deserves. It has therefore been branded as low quality and seemingly flavourless brew, however, when given the care and attention it deserves, this bean can produce an amazingly complex and flavourful cuppa joe! 

There is quite a debate among coffee aficionados over the Excelsa bean, they are debating whether the Excelsa plant is in fact part of the Coffea family. The Excelsa bean grows on a more tree-like plant compared to the other varieties which grow on shrub plants. Shrubs take up space around them to grow whereas trees take up vertical space. This means that the Excelsa plant takes up less farming space (which equals more coffee!) Although this plant is very resilient and productive it does require more care to manage than other varieties. 

This bean contains much less soluble solids than other coffees, which means that the beans have to be roasted at higher temperatures or for longer periods of time to reach their optimal flavour. Dark roasts are more common as the lighter roasts may seem very mild and flavourless. When roasted dark enough this coffee delivers strong berry-like flavours with subtle woody hints, these aromas develop into a fuller almost chocolaty flavour the darker it is roasted.  

A high-quality Excelsa coffee might just be your new favourite variety. If you are ever presented the opportunity to taste this variety, do not hesitate! 

Liberica 

Originating from the once amazingly beautiful African country of Liberia, Liberica coffee beans are by far the most exclusive variety you can find. If you are lucky enough to ever come across a high-quality Liberica coffee, throw whatever money you have on you at the barista and shout ‘shut up and take my money!' — In the 1890s Liberica was transported over the whole world, spreading a disease called coffee rust, almost causing a mass extinction of the Arabica plant. After this catastrophe, the Arabica plant has regained its strength and reclaimed its spot as the most widely cultivated bean in the world. How badass is that?! 

Types of coffee beans

Liberica coffee has an extremely complex taste profile and because of its high price, it is mainly used to add depth and flavour to coffee blends. It has an intense smoky taste with subtle floral hints and a very distinct lingering dark chocolate taste. I wish to not delve too deep into the flavour profile of this amazing coffee, I urge you to find some Liberica and try it for yourself. After I had tasted Liberica for the first time, I was saddened to find out that this amazing bean only makes up about 1% of world coffee cultivation.  


Summing Up 

Most people do not look further than the supermarket blended coffees they usually buy, and this is fine, rather that than buying instant coffee!

Be it the around favourite Arabica or the lesser-known Liberica, do yourself a favour and try out different roasts of each of these varieties, unlock the wonderful world of coffee and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.  

Braam Botha
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