Ever wondered where your coffee beans come from? Understanding the backstory behind these magical little beans is an important step to fully immersing yourself in the world of coffee.
With our guide on different types of coffee beans, you’ll gain insight into the four main varieties and what makes each one unique. Perhaps you’ll even discover a new favorite that impacts how you enjoy a cup of joe!
Comparing Different Coffee Bean Varieties
All types of coffee drinks start with a simple bean. But when you add just enough heat, it transforms into a tiny shell packed with incredible aromas and flavors.
Coffee beans are grown all over the world, but there are different types with their own unique characteristics that impact the way our brew gets us movin’ & groovin’ in the morning.
Although the two types of coffee beans you’ve probably seen at the grocery store are arabica and robusta, there are four varieties. Why is that? We’ll explain below.
Arabica (coffee arabica)
The beans are farmed at high altitudes in regions that get an abundance of rainfall. The countries that produce the most arabica beans are:
You might find arabica beans to be expensive, and that’s due to their sensitive nature. They’re prone to disease, making it difficult to harvest large quantities, which increases the global price.
Still, this is the most popular type of bean due to its sweeter flavor profile, making it ideal for drinking straight as black coffee. It’s also less acidic, so it’s easier on sensitive tummies.
Many coffee aficionados prefer the taste, but when it comes to that caffeine kick, Arabica isn’t as strong as Robusta.
Robusta (Coffee caniphora)
Robusta is the second most common coffee bean variety globally, accounting for around 40% of global production. It is especially popular in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa.
Coffee brewed from Robusta beans has a more bitter flavor profile compared to Arabica, but on the upside, it gives you the caffeine kick you need to get through the day.
The higher caffeine levels also make the robusta plant more pest-resistant than arabica because caffeine naturally repels insects. The plant is highly tolerant and can be cultivated at a variety of altitudes in any climate.
This makes it easier to harvest in larger quantities; therefore, robusta is cheaper than arabica.
Still, that harsh rubbery taste is difficult to get used to, and in the coffee world- flavor is everything. That’s why you’ll typically see robusta used in coffee mixes, espresso mixed drinks, and instant coffee.
You can find high-quality robusta beans that wow with chocolatey tones and hints of rum, but these are rare, single-origin specialties from small-batch roasters.
Liberica (Coffee liberica)
Meet the unicorn of the coffee bean world. This almond-shaped coffee bean is rare and exotic, with strong floral hints and a smoky flavor that makes it quite exquisite.
You won’t see Liberica as often as Arabica and Robusta. It’s a high-maintenance coffee variety that needs a very specific climate to thrive and requires a longer period to grow and harvest.
Because of this, traditional liberica farms are ditching liberica in favor of fast-growing hybrid varieties, placing the pure variety in danger of extinction.
Excelsa (Coffee liberica var. dewevrei)
Another rare variety found primarily in Southeast Asia is the Excelsa. This bean is a cousin of the mystical Liberica bean but with a unique tarty flavor highly sought after by coffee geeks.
Like liberica, it isn’t easy to find and not readily available at most grocery stores. Your best bet is to find it online.
Different Types of Coffee Bean Roasts
Along with the types of coffee beans comes the art of roasting them. No coffee bean is brewed raw, although it is becoming a trend to do so as an herbal drink.
Roasting beans changes the chemical composition and brings out the full flavors and aromas that coffee drinkers love.
Whether you roast your green coffee beans at home or buy them at the store, three main types of roasts offer distinctive sensory experiences.
- Light Roast: The beans are roasted up to the first crack, so they maintain a light brown color with no oily surface. Light roast beans have a fruiter, floral taste and actually contain more caffeine than darker varieties.
- Medium Roast: Darker in color, medium roast beans lose the floral flavor and keep a more balanced flavor with a medium level of caffeine. These beans are roasted until just before the second crack.
- Dark Roast: Bold and smoky, most of the flavors have been cooked out of this dark, oily bean. To get a dark roast, the coffee beans are roasted past the second crack.
Whole Coffee Beans vs. Pre-Ground Coffee
The only difference between whole coffee beans and pre-ground is that the labor of grinding has already been done for you with pre-ground.
While this is convenient, it doesn’t provide the best quality experience. As soon as that bean is crushed, the aromas and flavors are released, and the coffee loses its freshness quickly.
To store your coffee, keep the beans in an airtight container away from light.
A note on grinding your coffee beans
Grinding your beans before brewing is hands-down the best way to experience the full flavors and aromas of your coffee.
You can ask your local cafe to grind the beans for you, or you can do it yourself at home by purchasing a coffee grinder separately. If you go this route, there are two different types of grinders:
Stainless steel blades: While this is the cheaper option, the blades chop up the beans unevenly, and that may result in inconsistent flavors.
Steel or ceramic burr grinder: This high-quality grinder crushes the beans to a fine consistency for the best possible flavor extraction.
What Variety of Coffee Bean Should You Choose?
Ready to start taste testing? Here’s what to consider when choosing coffee beans for your brew.
Go for arabica if you…
- Want a delicious, sweeter flavor profile
- Don’t mind paying more for your coffee
- Like to drink black coffee
Go for robusta if you…
- Want to save money on coffee
- Drink coffee for the caffeine kick
- Don’t mind the bitter taste
Pro Tip: If you want an improved flavor without paying more, you can always try an arabica/robusta mix.
Go for liberica or excelsa if you…
- Are going down a coffee wormhole and are eager to try rare and unique beans
Final Thoughts on the Different Types of Coffee Beans
Learning about the different types of coffee beans is the best place to start if you’re just getting into the intricacies of brewing coffee at home.
You’ll not only understand where coffee comes from or how much it costs but also the unique characteristics each variety offers. This is essential for helping you discover the best beans that suit your preferences.
References & Resources:
- Coffee Basics: Types, Roasts, and How to Store It, The Spruce Eats.
- What’s the Difference Between Arabica and Robusta Coffee Beans? Here’s What You Need to Know, Kitchn.
- Coffee Beans From Different Countries: Main Differences, ftnNEWS.
- Types of Coffee Beans and What Sets Them Apart, Orlando Mom Collective.
- What Are The Different Types of Coffee Beans? (with pictures), DelightedCooking.