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Home » The Types of Coffee Beans – Coffee Cultivars And Varietals

The Types of Coffee Beans – Coffee Cultivars And Varietals

The coffee bean is the seed of the Coffea plant, and it is the heart of the coffee cherry, which is the fruit of the coffee plant. You can use it to brew coffee, after you remove the coffee bean from the coffee cherry and wash, dry, roast and grind it.

Within the Coffea genus, there are four main species of coffee beans. The most common and economically relevant are Arabica and Robusta coffee beans, which make up over 90% of global coffee production. The other commercially grown types of coffee beans are Liberica and Excelsa.

This article will discuss the different types of coffee beans, what makes each coffee bean type special and how to choose the best coffee beans one for your morning brew. It will also discuss both coffee cultivars and coffee varietals.

coffee species family tree


1. Arabica

Arabica coffee makes up most coffee grown at present, accounting for about 60% of commercial coffee production. It originated in Ethiopia, where it grows wild. However, people first cultivated it in Yemen, and it is from there that it takes its name. 

Arabica coffee beans have sweeter and more complex flavors than Robusta coffee beans, which is why it currently dominates coffee markets, especially specialty coffee markets. Arabica coffee beans have a bright acidity, medium body, and multiple layers of flavor. They are well suited to be brewed pour-over style, which lets their subtleties shine more than espresso or immersion brewing.

Coffea Arabica plants are easily influenced by their environment. They do best at higher elevations, with plenty of rain, well-draining soil, natural shade, and minimal temperature variations. In particular, they thrive in volcanic environments, which offer all of the above and mineral-rich soils. It can be challenging and resource-intensive to grow Arabica coffee beans in environments that don’t naturally meet those criteria.

Of the four types of coffee beans, Arabica is the most fragile. It doesn’t grow well when conditions aren’t optimal, and it is prone to fungal diseases like Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR), Coffee Berry Disease (CBD), and Coffee Wilt Disease (CWD). These are particularly dangerous when Arabica plants are grown as a monoculture because an outbreak of disease can easily wipe out an entire crop.

As of writing, Arabica has around 44 varietals and cultivars according to World Coffee Research. Some of the more well-known ones include the following.

2. Robusta

Robusta is the second most commonly grown type of coffee bean. Robusta’s name comes from being more robust than the Arabica plants, which is why you can grow it in a broader range of environments. Therefore, it is less prone to disease. However, despite these advantages, it remains less popular than Arabica because its flavors and aromas aren’t as desirable.

Robusta beans are known for having a darker, earthier flavor, and for this reason, they are most often subjected to a darker roast to better match their natural character. Robusta beans also have nearly twice the caffeine of Arabica beans.

While Robusta beans are generally considered lower quality than Arabica, this is not necessarily the case. There are a growing number of farmers and processors working to develop high-quality Robusta beans and Robusta-Arabica hybrids.

Robusta beans are best when prepared as espresso. Indeed, in Southern Italy, most espresso blends contain at least a portion of Robusta beans. They yield a richer crema than Arabica beans, and their naturally dark and earthy character is the perfect foil for sweet steamed milk in drinks like lattes and cappuccinos, where the subtleties of an Arabica bean would be lost. 

Here’s where you can learn more about Robusta coffee beans: https://www.homegrounds.co/what-is-robusta-coffee/

3. Liberica

Liberica beans make up only about 2% of the world’s current coffee crop. Once upon a time, this varietal was far more critical after disease wiped out much of the world’s Arabica supply. Arabica has since made a comeback, and Liberica production has primarily ceased. However, that may change in the future, as climate change makes it increasingly challenging to produce the more sensitive Arabica plants reliably.

Liberica coffee has a unique flavor, pairing floral and fruity notes with a deep smokiness that some describe as woody. It has a full-body, reminiscent of Robusta coffee. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but there are some exceptional Liberica coffees to be had when done right.

Liberica trees grow much taller than either Robusta or Arabica, and the coffee beans from these trees are larger and more irregularly shaped. They thrive in light shade and well-drained soils and can succeed in poorer soil than Arabica. Though the Coffea liberica plant originated in West Africa, it is primarily grown in Malaysia and the Philippines. 

Related: Liberica Beans: What You Need to Know

4. Excelsa

Excelsa has recently been reclassified as a type of Liberica coffee because it thrives in the same conditions and grows a similarly tall tree. But the actual coffee it produces is vastly different. It has a much fruitier character than Liberica, with a tart acidity that makes it popular for adding complexity to coffee blends.

Excelsa coffee makes up only about 7% of the current coffee market. Still, given its appealing flavor profile and the fact that it is nearly as resilient and productive as Robusta, this seems likely to grow. Much like Robusta, Excelsa coffee has been regarded as poor quality, but this is more due to poor growing and processing practices than the bean itself. With the proper care, Excelsa has the potential to be specialty-grade coffee.

Related: Excelsa Beans: What You Need to Know

Final Thoughts

If this article has taught us anything, coffee is much more than just that brown liquid you down every morning to jumpstart the day. There are dozens of types of coffee beans to explore and more to come. Coffee is a fascinating topic that stretches from biology to geology to geography to flavor and aroma. It’s an exciting and delicious way to explore the world!

So take the knowledge you’ve gained from this article and run with it. Try as many different coffee varieties as possible from various origins. You’re apt to find a few new favorite brews and to learn plenty along the way.

Julia Bobak
I love trail running, rock climbing, coffee, food, and my tiny dog — and writing about all of them. I start every morning with a fresh Americano from my home espresso machine, or I don’t start it at all.

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