The Different Types of Coffee Beans
Whenever you need to buy coffee, whether in a store or a café, you’ll be faced with a choice. Usually, you’ll be able to choose between Arabica, Robusta, a blend of the two, or something less common. However, do you know the difference between the types of coffee beans?
If you have special preferences in aroma, texture, or even price, you won’t enjoy all types of coffee equally. This article will help you find out what makes these coffee beans different.
Arabica Coffee Beans
Arabica is the most popular type of coffee in the world, coming from the beans of the Coffea Arabica plant. Today, the majority comes from the South American area with Brazil producing most of the Arabica beans. Originally, however, it came from southwestern Ethiopia.
During the 7th century, the coffee beans were transported from Ethiopia to lower Arabia, where they were eventually used to create a beverage for the first time – hence the name.
The majority of the coffee that you get in the stores, shops, and cafes is Arabica coffee. However, it doesn’t always taste the same. The flavor depends on various factors, but most important are the freshness of the beans and the intensity of the roast.
Arabica is the most popular coffee bean in the world, making up 60% of all global coffee consumption.
The upper-quality Arabica should have a sweet flavor with a bit of a chocolate-like, caramel, and fruity aroma (1). The famous Italian manufacturer, Ernesto Illy, said about the taste of Arabica:
“Coffee made from Arabica beans has an intense, intricate aroma that can be reminiscent of flowers, fruit, honey, chocolate, caramel, or toasted bread.” - Ernesto Illy, Coffee Manufacturer
Today, it makes up over 60% of global coffee production. The production of these coffee beans is at an all-time high, with over 55 million coffee bags being shipped during the 18/19 season (2).
Robusta Coffee Beans
Robusta coffee is the second most produced coffee in the world, making up around 40% of the worldwide coffee production. Most of the Robusta beans are grown in Vietnam, but there are also plenty of fields in Africa, where these beans originally come from.
The coffee comes from the Cafea canephora plant, which is much easier to cultivate than Coffea Arabica. It can endure unfavorable conditions, especially exposure to the sun and extremely high temperatures. Also, it is much more resistant to diseases and pests. This all makes Robusta cheaper to produce (3).
When it comes to taste, Robusta has a rubbery, bitter, grain-like flavor which leaves a dry aftertaste. This is due to a high concentration of caffeine and less sugar, as well as a lot less focus on processing the Robusta beans. On the other hand, the harsher taste of Robusta is a great complement to Arabica, giving it depth, flavor, and crema.
Robusta has a harsh, bitter flavor due to its high concentration of caffeine and chlorogenic acid and lower sugar content.
When there’s more focus on processing and washing the coffee beans, higher quality Robusta coffee can be superior to lower-quality Arabica. In his Quora article (4), The Case for the Humble Robusta Bean, teacher, entrepreneur, and café owner Peter Baskerville writes:
“Robusta adds to the coffee experience that literally makes hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It adds the 'woo' and the blinking eyes where 100% Arabica can sometimes appear sweet, weak, and nice ... but without character”. - Peter Baskerville, Entrepreneur and Café Owner
The Difference Between Arabica and Robusta
As already mentioned in the article, one of the main differences between the two types of beans is the taste. Robusta has a harsher, bitter taste, while Arabica is aromatic and slightly sweet.
Other than that, here are some other major differences between the two:
- Caffeine concentration: Arabica beans typically have 0.8-1.4% of caffeine, while Robusta has 1.7-2.5% caffeine. This is one of the main reasons why Robusta is as bitter as it is (5).
- Sugar and acid content: Robusta has a higher amount of chlorogenic acid – which adds bitterness – and a lower amount of sugar than Arabica.
- Price: Since it is much easier to tend to, matures faster, and has more resilient plants, Robusta is cheaper than Arabica.
- Anatomy of coffee beans: Arabica beans are bigger and flat, while Robusta beans are smaller and round.
Liberica Coffee Beans
Even if Arabica and Robusta take up almost all of the worldwide coffee consumption, there is still room for some lesser-known types. Liberica’s name comes from Liberia, its country of origin, and it makes up most of the remaining 2% of produced coffee.
Since its cultivation requires a certain climate, it mostly grows in Africa and Asia. Its trees can grow up to 20m, making its beans significantly larger than those of Arabica or Robusta. It was naturalized in the Philippines, where it replaced the Arabica, whose plants were destroyed. The Philippines is still one of the biggest manufacturers of this type of coffee.
While it has a similar taste to Robusta, Liberica is even stronger and has a smokey aroma. In fact, some compare the taste of Liberica to ”liquid tobacco.” It has a slightly lower caffeine concentration than the two most popular coffee types and, in some instances, even the lowest of all varieties (6).
Liberica was brought to the Philippines to replace the Arabica plants destroyed by coffee rust and has remained there until the present day.
Due to not being as widespread and not having any significantly different characteristics, it is not easy to find this coffee out of the lands that produce it.
Excelsa – Liberica or a Separate Type?
Excelsa was considered an individual coffee type until 2006 when it was re-classified as a type of Liberica by Aaron P. Davis, a British botanist (7).
It also grows on tall trees, has a similar bean shape, and is used in combination with other coffees to add extra thickness and flavor. It has a mix of light and dark roast aroma and makes up 7% of the global coffee production.
How do I choose the best coffee bean?
The best coffee bean depends on your preference in terms of taste and the quality of the bean itself. If you want a sweeter taste, opt for high-quality Arabica. If you want stronger, bitter taste, then pick up Robusta. Most manufacturers opt for a coffee blend made up of the two types. If you're interested in good coffee beans, read this guide: Homegrounds.co/best-coffee-beans-bucket-list.
What are the most popular coffee beans?
The most popular coffee bean is Arabica, making up around 60% of all the coffee consumed worldwide.
What is the most expensive coffee bean?
The most expensive coffee bean tends to be Kopi Luwak and goes from $100 to $500 per pound. It is collected from the feces of wild civets that eat the coffee plants. This is the common train of thought, but there are other beans that cost as much, if not more. We talk about them in this guide.
As you can see, Arabica and Robusta are the two dominating types of coffee beans in the world. So, if you’re drinking coffee at this moment, you’re probably tasting one of the two. Now all thats left to do is decide on the type of coffee drink you want to brew.
Often, coffee manufacturers like to mix the two types to make a perfect blend of texture and aroma. So, instead of choosing the best one, why not mix it up? And if you're traveling to the Philippines, you may want to give Liberica a try.
- Illy, E. (2002, June). The Complexity of Coffee. Retrieved July 3, 2019, from http://poplab.stanford.edu/pdfs/Illy-ComplexityCoffee-sciam02.pdf
- United States Department of Agriculture – Foreign Agricultural Service. (2018, December 14). Coffee: World Markets and Trade. Retrieved 12 June 2019, from https://usda.library.cornell.edu/concern/publications/m900nt40f
- Miyanari, W. (n.d.). Aloha From Coffee Island. Retrieved June 12, 2019, from https://books.google.com/books
- Baskerville, P. (2013, February 2). The case for the humble Robusta coffee bean. - Espresso Coffee. Retrieved July 3, 2019, from https://espressocoffee.quora.com/The-case-for-the-humble-Robusta-coffee-bean
- Nestle. (n.d.). 10 key differences between the Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. Retrieved June 12, 2019, from https://www.nestleprofessional.com.au/training/10-key-differences-between-arabica-and-robusta-coffee-beans
- Yurtoğlu, N. (2018). History Studies International Journal of History, 10(7), 241-264. doi:10.9737/hist.2018.658 Retrieved June 12, 2019, from http://www.ukm.my/mjas/v7_n2/7Liew.pdf
- Davies, A. P. (n.d.). An annotated taxonomic conspectus of the genus Coffea (Rubiaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. Retrieved June 12, 2019, from https://watermark.silverchair.com/j.1095-8339.2006.00584.x.pdf