If you love drinking coffee, you have probably come across Arabica beans quite a lot. While Arabica is one of the most popular cups of coffee, there are several different coffee bean types that are worth familiarizing yourself with too. A coffee bean is a seed of the Coffea plant species. The coffee bean is the cherry, or pit of the fruit that grows on this plant. The beans are roasted, ground, and brewed to create the coffee beverage that we love and drink today. Coffee beans are one of the most important cash crops globally and are among some of the major exported products of several countries around the world today.
Popular Types of Coffee Bean Names
If you drink coffee, you are probably familiar with Arabica since these beans have a huge share of nearly 70% of coffee production in the world. However, despite their popularity, Arabica beans are quite difficult to grow since they require consistent rainfall, lots of shade, and high altitudes. When grown, the Arabica plant measures between eight and fifteen feet. They are grown most effectively at an altitude above two thousand feet and require lots of care since they are at a high risk of diseases, which makes farming them in large quantities difficult. Because of this, these beans are often costlier to obtain compared to other options.
Where do arabica coffee beans come from? Arabica beans come from the Ethiopian highlands and were one of the first types of coffee beans to be grown. Arabica beans are sweeter, with a smooth taste. They are less acidic compared to other beans and lack bitterness. They are some of the best quality coffee beans available today and get their name from their popularity in Arabia during the seventh century. Despite the fact that they are not the easiest coffee beans to farm and grow, Arabica beans are easy to obtain everywhere and sold by many gourmet companies.
Robusta beans are the second on the list in terms of the global coffee production share. Robusta beans are more popular in Europe and Africa than in America, and they are very different to Arabica when it comes to growing. The high caffeine levels that Robusta plants contain give them a high immunity to diseases and an ability to repel most insects and lower the risk of damage to the plant. Robusta requires irregular rainfall, a very hot climate, and can be grown at various altitudes. It is most often grown throughout Africa and some parts of Asia.
Robusta beans do not cost as much, making them a more budget-friendly option for coffee lovers. Compared to other types of coffee beans, Robusta beans are larger, and when grown, the plants reach heights of between fifteen and twenty feet. The coffee produced with Robusta beans tends to have a more bitter, burnt taste. However, it is a popular choice for coffee aficionados due to the strength and high caffeine content, which is almost twice as much in comparison with Arabica. Roasters will sometimes blend Arabica and Robusta beans together to save on costs.
While Liberica beans are becoming much harder to find today, these beans played an important role in the coffee production industry around the world in the 19th century. The beans are native to Liberia, from which their name is derived. Their production is quite scanty, and they require a very specific climate to be grown, which has led to them being unable to meet worldwide coffee demands. These beans are shaped irregularly and can be inconsistent when it comes to taste. Their aroma is similar to flowers or fruits, and they have a smoky, woody kind of flavor.
However, they currently only have less than three percent share in the global coffee production market and are difficult to come across. But in the 19th century, things were very different for Liberica. The world’s arabica plants were destroyed at the end of the nineteenth century by coffee rust, a fungal disease. The Liberica beans quickly became an alternative to Arabica, and the Philippines was leading the way with mass production of these beans, which resulted in the rapid growth of the economy in this country that ultimately led to it seeking to become independent from the US. As a result, the Philippines had sanctions imposed on it by the US, which cut off the majority of Liberica beans supplies from the global markets. This led to a drastic drop in the share of Liberica beans as no other country could match the Philippines’ production levels.
Excelsa beans were once thought to be their own species of coffee bean but are now thought to be within the Liberia family, due to many similarities such as growing on trees with a height of 20-30 feet, almost the elongated oval shape, and similar altitude requirements for growth. Excelsa is typically found growing in Asia’s South-eastern region, and currently has a market share of around 8% in global coffee production. It is a unique coffee bean since it provides traits of light roasts with fruity notes while also having some dark roast traits. Excelsa beans are often added to blends for more complexity and richness in the coffee. However, it is difficult to come across them outside of Asia.
How to Choose the Right Coffee Beans
With four main different types of coffee beans to choose from, it is important to understand the different types of coffee beans and characteristics that they offer before deciding on the right one for you. The availability of the beans is also important to consider, as generally, you will find it much easier to get your hands on Arabica or Robusta beans compared to Excelsa or Liberica, which have much smaller market shares. Finding the right coffee beans is generally about getting the mixture right when it comes to what you prefer from your coffee.
If you want something with a sweeter taste, Arabica coffee might be an ideal choice for you, if you don’t mind spending a little bit more for it. On the other hand, if you are on a budget and want a coffee bean that is high in caffeine and rich in flavor, Robusta will be a good option. Or, you could go for a blend of the two for a cheaper alternative to Arabica that offers a good caffeine hit while still retaining some sweetness. If you want something different, you could try to find Excelsa or Liberica beans; however, bear in mind that depending on your location, they might not be the easiest products to find.
Different Coffee Bean Roasts
There are three main roasts for coffee beans and a variety of blends that can be created using different roast levels. Light roasts are the best option to go for if you want coffee beans that have a high caffeine content as they are roasted at the lowest temperature. However, this roast is also the most acidic of the three options and there is no oil on the surface of the beans. Medium roast is the roast level that you are most likely to find in the US, offering the most balanced taste. Dark roasts, on the other hand, have the least amount of caffeine, which might be surprising since it is also the option that is most likely to have a bitter taste. These beans have an obvious oil on their surface, which may also be clear to see in a cup of brewed coffee using dark roasted beans. You can find different roasts of coffee blends mixed together, making certain blends unique due to the depth of flavor that they offer.
Coffee Bean Grades
When you buy coffee beans, they will have a grade that is based on the size. There are five classifications from grades one through five that identify beans with smaller or larger sizes. There are different standards when it comes to how coffee beans are graded. These are ASEAN, Brazil, New York, Africa, and Central America.
- Grade One: The coffee beans have no defects
- Grade Two: There are less than six defects
- Grade Three: There are less than 13 defects
- Grade Four: There are around 24-36 defects present
- Grade Five: There are more than 86 defects
Buying Coffee Beans: What to Consider
No matter what kind of coffee beans you decide to go for, there are some key things to consider before you go out and purchase the right beans for you.
Buy Whole Coffee Beans
You should always buy coffee beans whole, so that you can grind them right before brewing. This is because the oils that drive the different notes in the coffee will degrade when the coffee is ground. So, while pre-ground coffee might be a convenient option, the coffee will not be as fresh.
Know the Origin
It’s important to know where your coffee beans come from. Transparency is important in the coffee industry and a good roaster will make sure that you have all the information you need about the location, region and farm it’s from. If you can’t get this information, the coffee probably isn’t great, and may be unethically sourced.
Whether you’re just starting out with brewing your own coffee at home or want to try a different type of coffee, understanding the differences between coffee bean types is an important place to start.