If you’ve been around coffee for long enough, you likely know that there are two types of coffee: Arabica and Robusta. These two varieties dominate the global coffee market, with Arabica accounting for 60% of all coffee traded. Robusta comes in second with 40% of the market share.
When you go to buy coffee, you’ll most likely have to choose between just these two but did you know that there are actually a lot more choices available in the coffee market? Apart from Arabica and Robusta, there are two more commercially viable coffee varieties- Liberica and Excelsa.
Why Are Arabica and Robusta Coffees So Popular?
It simply boils down to yield. Both Arabica and Robusta plants yield enough beans per harvest for them to be commercially viable. Arabica comes with the bonus of a wide flavor profile and versatility, while Robusta is prized for its hardy nature, high yield, and high caffeine content.
Other Types Of Coffee Varieties
Even with the predominance of Arabica and Robusta, the coffee market is large enough to accommodate two more types of coffee. Let’s dive in and explore these lesser-known coffees.
Liberica, named after its country of origin Liberia, is a rare find, with only a 2% share of the global coffee trade. Liberica coffee plants are hard to grow, requiring very specific climate conditions and the yield per plant is low, making it not as lucrative for farmers to grow.
The history of Liberica can be traced back to 1890, when coffee rust wiped out over 90% of the global Arabica stock. Farmers turned to Liberica to keep their coffee farms alive, and Liberica was taken from its home country to be grown in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
In modern times, Liberica coffee plants are grown in Liberia, Uganda, Angola, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Seychelles, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of the east coast of India.
Liberica plants are much larger than both Arabica and Robusta, growing up to 9 meters in height with large berries and irregularly shaped beans. These coffee plants grow best in hot and humid climates with a low altitude. Liberica coffee has a low caffeine content with 1.23g of caffeine per 100g. For comparison, Robusta comes in at 2.26g/100g and Arabica has a modest 1.61g/100g.
Liberica is not widely grown, which gives it a hefty price tag in the market. Liberica coffee has a strong and smoky aroma, almost like tobacco. Its flavors have been described as woody, floral, and even nutty, with a strong aftertaste.
Excelsa coffee comes with a bit of controversy. Is it really its own cultivar or just a variety of Liberica? This debate has gone back and forth. In 2006, it was reclassified as a sub-type of Liberica but it’s still often marketed as its own variety.
Similar to Liberica, Excelsa coffee is grown in Southeast Asia in Vietnam, the Philippines, and India. It is also a much larger plant than Arabica and Robusta. Excelsa plants can grow up to 6-9 meters in height and it produces elongated oval beans. Unlike other types of coffee, Excelsa isn’t a shrub and is considered an arboreal or tree-like plant. This coffee is best grown at medium altitudes and displays a healthy resistance to unpleasant climates and various plant pests and diseases. Being such a large plant and with a long harvest cycle, growing Excelsa is labor-intensive.
Excelsa beans make for a tart, fruity cup of coffee. It can easily be blended with Arabica or Robusta thanks to its light taste and low caffeine concentration. Despite all this, the market for Excelsa is negligible even in the countries where it’s grown. This could be due to the difficulty of cultivation and low yield. Research into Excelsa offers us an alternative use, where Excelsa could be used to graft Arabica and Robusta plants to produce hybrids that can be grown at lower altitudes. This could be helpful for farmers struggling with the effects of climate change.
Apart from these two, there are hundreds of wild varieties of coffee and hybrids. Some wild varieties like Stenophylla are being studied for their commercial viability, so you can expect to see many new coffees in the coming decades.
Which Coffee Should You Buy?
It all depends on your preferred flavors and taste for experimentation. Liberica and Excelsa is a great way to expand your horizons, especially if you’ve been drinking coffee for a long time and are looking for something a little different. Unfortunately, these varieties are hard to find in American and European markets. Your best bet would be to find small suppliers and directly purchase these beans from small estates.
Ultimately, just have fun with it. That’s the best thing about coffee- you can experiment and find something that’s perfect for you.