The question of beans may go unnoticed by the general public. In today’s market, we normally only consume one variety of coffee: Arabica. A not too high percentage of users also know that there is another very important variety of coffee beans, called Robusta. But hardly anyone knows that, in addition to Arabica and Robusta, other, less common varieties are also produced and consumed.
Do you really know how many types of coffee beans there are in the world? In this article we will tell you all about them and explain their characteristics and differences.
There are different types of coffee beans in the world… but we users usually know only two: Robusta and Arabica. And we almost always consume one (the Arabica).
- 1 Arabica coffee beans (Coffea Arabica)
- 2 Robusta coffee beans (Coffea Caniphora)
- 3 Liberica coffee beans (Coffea Liberica)
- 4 Excelsa coffee beans (Coffea Excelsa)
- 5 Differences between Arabica and Robusta coffee
Arabica coffee beans (Coffea Arabica)
When we talk about the types of coffee beans in the world, the first mention must always be for Arabica. It needs no introduction: Arabica beans account for almost 60% of all world production, and will probably be the ones you have consumed all your life.
Coffee of the Arabica variety is grown at high altitudes, in rainy yet shady regions, and grows on small-sized coffee trees, which are very manageable and easy to harvest. An Arabica coffee tree rarely reaches two metres in height and can be up to ten times less than the coffee trees where other varieties grow, which we will see later. The difference in terms of ease of harvesting is enormous.
What does Arabica coffee taste like?
Of all the different types of coffee beans, Arabica is undoubtedly the most delicate and has the most nuances. Ideally, the Arabica bean should be full-bodied and not overly acidic, but it should be noted that it is grown in many parts of the world, and its aromas can vary quite a bit depending on the origin.
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Robusta coffee beans (Coffea Caniphora)
Robusta is a quite different variety of coffee from Arabica, and normally considered to be “of lower quality” than the latter, we do not know if this is fair or unfair. The truth is that it is a bean with a much less delicate taste, stronger and of course, with more caffeine. Robusta coffee beans can have up to twice as much caffeine as Arabica. Today, their market share comprises almost 40% of world production.
What does Robusta coffee taste like?
Robusta coffee is less aromatic, stronger and more bitter than Arabica. And above all, it has more caffeine. It also makes it easier for cream to appear at the top of the espresso. This causes the Robusta variety to be used, in different proportions, in coffee blends to achieve new and varied profiles in each cup.
Another advantage of Robusta beans is that they hardly lose or alter their taste when sugar or milk is added, which is not the case with Arabicas, which are much more suitable for drinking as black coffee, without additives.
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Liberica coffee beans (Coffea Liberica)
We come to a much less well-known variety: Liberica coffee. Or did you think that only Arabica and Robusta existed? No, nothing could be further from the truth. It is a coffee that was originally discovered in Liberia (hence its name) but is now grown in several regions of West Africa.
Today, Liberica coffee is very difficult to find and produce, but it is a variety that can boast great historical importance. In the early 1980s, a large part of Arabica’s world production was affected by rust disease, plunging the coffee sector into a global crisis.
The solution? In many areas they decided to replace Arabica crops with Liberica crops, which are much more resistant to these diseases. And this initiative served to alleviate much of the problem, although obviously the quality of the coffee was not the same.
As you can see in the picture, the Liberica coffee beans are noticeably larger than what we are used to consuming normally, while the Robusta beans have a somewhat smaller and more compact appearance. At first glance it is easy to tell them apart, especially the Liberica beans.
Liberica coffee plants are also larger than the rest, sometimes reaching 15-20 meters in height.
What does Liberica coffee taste like?
Liberica, like Robusta, is a bean with intense and less delicate characteristics than Arabica. Some people even say that it “doesn’t taste like coffee”, although in reality it has very different notes from those we are used to drinking in other parts of the world.
Liberica coffee beans have smoky, spicy notes with a very peculiar wood and tobacco aftertaste. It also has a high concentration of caffeine. In short, a coffee that is much closer in its properties to the Robusta than to the Arabica, and which is usually used in blends.
Excelsa coffee beans (Coffea Excelsa)
Of the four varieties of coffee beans that exist in the world, Excelsa coffee is perhaps the least known. And it also has a curious history: since 2006, the Excelsa bean has been classified (or reclassified, it would be better to say) as a variant or family of the Liberica variety that we have seen before. Until then it was considered an independent variety, and that is why we have mentioned it in our article separately.
Well, for that reason and because both are quite different in their taste, a fact that causes many users and experts in the sector to continue considering them to be different species, even though technically (since 2006) they are not.
The reason why the Excelsa bean has been included in the same Liberica family is mainly due to geographical and harvesting reasons: it is a bean that grows on practically the same type of tree (very large coffee trees, up to 20 metres high) as the Liberica, at similar altitudes, and whose appearance is also very similar.
However, if the Liberica comes from Liberia (West Africa), the Excelsa coffee bean is grown further east, in areas near Lake Chad, and also in regions of South-East Asia.
What does Excelsa coffee taste like?
Well, as we say, although it looks similar and shares certain geographical similarities with Liberica, its aromas and qualities could not be more different.
The Excelsa has a rather fruity and sweet aroma, which are qualities associated in theory to a light roasting, but then in the background it also leaves very dark notes, really roasted. A rather complex contrast that leaves those who try it for the first time without knowing which variety it is.
The Excelsa bean accounts for about 2% of all coffee consumed worldwide and is used mainly in blends with the Robusta variety.
Differences between Arabica and Robusta coffee
The truth is that these two varieties couldn’t be more different, but users who are starting out in this world are bound to be unfamiliar with them. Here we will illustrate the main differences between Robusta and Arabica beans:
- They come from different trees (coffee trees): Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora. The latter, which produce Robusta beans, can reach a height of up to 6 metres, while the Arabica coffee plants are much smaller.
- Robusta coffee has considerably more caffeine than Arabica. It also produces a more bitter infusion, for the same reason.
- The Robusta bean is usually less aromatic.
- After roasting, Arabica beans are almost always sold in 100% pure blends (you will see this advertised on the packaging: ‘100% Arabica coffee’), while Robusta beans are usually used more in blends with Arabica. It is difficult to find a 100% Robusta coffee, unless it is an extra-strong variety, roasted on purpose to achieve high concentrations of caffeine.
- The smaller Robusta beans are distinguishable at first glance.
- Arabica coffee plants are grown at higher altitudes than Robusta.
- Cultivation is somewhat simpler, less demanding when it rains, it does not need such an altitude is definitive, it is cheaper to produce.
- A Robusta bean has a straight crack (the longitudinal fissure that crosses the bean), while the Arabica bean is curved.