There are four significant types of coffee beans: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. Arabica beans are the most common type, with Robusta beans being a close second. Liberica is a rarer type of coffee bean that is grown in the Caribbean and South America. Finally, Excelsa is a variety that was created by crossing Arabica with Liberica.
The characteristics of each type of coffee bean make it unique in scent and flavour. In addition, the location of growth and the process can also prove to be a differentiating agent. We will go into further detail about each type of coffee bean in the following sections.
Arabica coffee beans are the most popular coffee beans in the world. They are taking the lion’s share with over 70 per cent of the global market. They are grown at high altitudes in South America, Africa, and Asia. It got its name, Arabica, from Arabia since Arabs were the ones to spread it worldwide.
- Origins and History:
Arabica beans come from the highlands of Ethiopia. It is said that it was consumed thousands of years ago (roughly 1000 BC) by ancient Ethiopian tribes. They would consume the beans for the same reason we do today, as a stimulant.
They ate the beans slightly differently, as they would crush them and mix them with fat or other ingredients. And then form them into a spherical shape.
- Where is it Grown? And How?
The plant species Coffea Arabica has a particular set of growing preferences: high altitudes, considerable rainfall, and moderate temperature. We can find these conditions in an area called the coffee belt.
The coffee belt is the equatorial strip of the earth where coffee is most easily grown (between 25 degrees north of the equator and 30 degrees south). It covers most of the famous coffee-producing powerhouses.
Growing and maintaining the arabica cherry plant is sensitive and delicate. In addition, the surrounding environment has a significant effect on its development. As a result, it is also very susceptible to various infections.
It takes Arabica around seven years to fully mature; the plants can grow at heights of around 2 to 4 meters. And it gives fruit in approximately 3 to 4 years.
Before the cherries appear, though, the plant produces small, white, jasmine-like flowers. After that, dark green cherries will start to appear. You can tell the cherries are ripe when they get a dark red.
- What Does it Taste Like?
Arabica coffee beans are known for their sweeter taste, with subtle hints of a fruity flavour. It might be pleasant or not depending on personal preference, as people are split between enjoyers of the bitterness of coffee and preferers of the sweetness.
The taste and aroma of the Arabica beans can be heavily influenced by the degree of the roast. A lighter roast will emphasise the sweet and fruity side of the coffee, while a more robust roast will bring out the bitterness.
The beans can have different flavour profiles depending on the region they were grown in. The origin of the bean can also influence the aroma. Quality can also decline when the beans are produced in a less-than-ideal environment.
- What is the Composition of Arabica Beans?
Arabica beans contain around 60% lipid, double the sugar in other beans, and several vitamins and nutrients. This comparatively more sugar makes arabica beans taste sweeter compared to coffee beans.
Arabica coffee contains vitamins E and B, magnesium, and potassium. Besides the obvious nutritional value, these antioxidants serve as chemical agents that help to reduce the risk of infection and diseases.
The Arabica beans’ perfect chemical composition ensures their high quality. Not only in flavour but also in the aroma and texture of the coffee.
Robusta beans come from the Coffea canephora plant. It is the second most popular coffee in the world, second only to Arabica. Robusta takes its origins from western and sub-Saharan Africa. However, it is grown mainly in the eastern hemisphere and lower elevations like Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam.
We can also find Robusta coffee under the name Canephora coffee. Robusta is a shrubby and small plant that reaches up to 10 meters in height. The beans are smaller and more round in shape compared to Arabica beans. The seeds take around 11 months to mature.
Robusta coffee represents 30 to 40 per cent of global coffee production, with its popularity on the rise. The beans have lower acidity, a kind of bitterness, and a more woodlike and less fruity flavour compared to arabica beans.
- Where Does it Come From?
Robusta coffee is grown locally in Western and Central Africa. It stretches from Liberia in the west to Tanzania eastward. And to Angola in the south. Following lower altitudes and hotter temperatures.
Canephora plants were only recognised as a species of Coffea in 1897, more than a decade after Arabica. However, there have been attempts to naturalise Robusta in other regions with moderate success. The areas in question are Borneo, French Polynesia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Jamaica and the Lesser Antilles.
The name “Robusta” comes from the toughness and agility of the plant when compared to the arabica variant. It is less prone to disease and can grow in less-than-ideal conditions.
- Where is it Grown? And How?
The Canephora plant is almost exclusively grown in the eastern hemisphere, mainly in Africa and Southeast Asia. With the most prominent producer being Vietnam.
As a species, Robusta tolerates harsher environmental conditions. Easily quickly in lower altitudes, with higher temperatures than Arabica can survive. It also does not need constant rainfall.
Just like its Arabica counterpart, the growth process starts with white flowers. However, the fruit (cherry) begins with a dark green colour and ripens when dark red. Each cherry contains around two beans (seeds).
Given that Robusta can grow under loose conditions, many countries where it isn’t native to them try to produce it. Brazil is the best example, growing Arabica and Robusta in significant amounts.
- What Does it Taste Like?
As a complete opposite of the arabica kind, robusta beans taste more bitter, earthlike, grainy, and with a nutty aftertaste. To mitigate the bitter taste, Robusta is sometimes included in blends. These blends add more body and flavour to the coffee.
This bitter and earthy flavour may appeal to some, but Robusta certainly has its enjoyers. High-quality robusta beans are often used in arabica/robusta blends to add depth and flavour.
Robusta is the preferred kind to use in espresso as it gives a creamy and robust flavour. Besides espresso, Robusta is also used in instant coffee, dark roasts, and cold brew.
While it is possible to find a coffee bag with 100 per cent robusta beans, it is more commonly found in blends. The widely used ratio is 80:20, with three parts arabica to one Robusta. Saving on cost and adding the bitterness of Robusta to the fruitiness of Arabica.
The high-quality Robusta also has a hint of chocolate linked with its flavour profile. Robusta beans will only have a faint smell and rubbery taste when it has been the victim of practising. Good Robusta coffee will retain its flavour when adding milk and cream.
- What is the Composition of Robusta:
One of the main selling points of robusta coffee is the amount of caffeine in it. Robusta has almost double the amount of caffeine as Arabica. The more considerable amount of caffeine gives Robusta its harsh and bitter taste.
The presence of caffeine is the secret behind the toughness of the robusta plant. Besides being a stimulant, caffeine is a deterrent to pests and diseases. As the pests avoid, the bitterness and the antimicrobial properties of the caffeine defend against infection.
Robusta is also less acidic than other coffee beans, which makes it an excellent option for people with sensitive stomachs and digestive issues. It also contains minimal lipids and sugar—a healthier and diet-friendly coffee.
Liberica coffee is one of the rarest coffee types, taking up less than 2 per cent of the global market. It is considered an endangered species because of its low cultivation rates.
- History and Origins of Liberica:
Liberica gets its name from Liberia, the country of its origin. Although it originated in west Africa, liberica is currently produced in Asia, mainly in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
The journey of Liberica from west Africa to southeast Asia is fascinating. Some speculate that the beans went from west to east Africa (Liberia to Ethiopia), then to Arabia. And from there, it was carried by Muslims to southeast Asia.
It can also be as likely that European colonists introduced the west African beans to the Asian locals since they occupied the area.
Whichever way the beans found their way to the region, they found immediate success due in part to their extraordinary taste and to the epidemic that killed off 90 per cent of the previously dominant arabica plants.
The epidemic is known as coffee rust, almost wiping off the arabica strain. As a result, some farmers switched to robusta beans, while others preferred the new liberica plants since they were grown more efficiently and more resistant to coffee rust.
- Where is it Grown? And How?
Malaysia is the leading player in the liberica production game, with over 90 per cent of the country’s coffee being liberica. However, the Philippines and Indonesia are also significant producers on a global scale.
Liberica trees grow very high, reaching 20 meters; they are harvested using ladders. As a result, the flowers and cherries are larger than their arabica and robusta counterparts. The plants take up to five years to start growing cherries.
The cherry itself is different from other coffee types. The pulp-to-seed ratio is 60:40. The drying process is longer, and the beans ferment in this fruity pulp longer. This is the reason behind its famous fruity flavour.
Liberica beans are very notably more oversized and asymmetrical than Arabica and Robusta. However, this unorthodox size makes them easily distinguishable.
- What Does it Taste Like?
Liberica beans are known to have a very sweet and fruity taste, more than Arabica’s. However, those who tasted both say that they are entirely different from each other. Liberia’s other notable flavours are a strong, smoky, and woody feel.
Liberica compensates for its low caffeine nature with a powerful and different experience. Its aroma is often described as nutty and smokey, with a subtle hint of dark chocolate.
The strong taste of liberica means it is only for some of the average coffee enjoyers. In the Philippines, it is known as the manly coffee due to its potent flavour and strong kick. Although it is not for everyone, some tried it and fell in love with it.
- Composition of Liberica:
Liberica has the lowest concentration of caffeine of all the other coffee types. It has less than 1.2 per cent caffeine. The lower amount of caffeine means a less bitter coffee and a less efficient
Excelsa beans are not a well-known type of coffee, and that is because it has been reclassified as a type of liberica coffee and not its own class. That said, excelsa still has some unique properties that are vastly different from liberica.
The beans of Excelsa can be challenging to find compared to Arabica and Robusta beans. Like liberica, excelsa plants grow in south-east Asia. Excelsa beans grow on 6 to 10 meters high trees.
Excelsa coffee has a delicate flavour with soft and velvety body characteristics. It is much smoother in taste than other beans, with some similarities to Arabica.
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