The 4 Types of Coffee Beans: What Sets Them Apart

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Different types of coffee beans

Have you ever been standing in the coffee aisle of the grocery store staring at the different types of coffee beans wondering what they all mean?  I mean, coffee is coffee right?

Well, of course not. 

Different types of coffee beans produce different flavors, aromas, textures, and even caffeine content. If you consider yourself a coffee lover, it is important to know the differences.

I’m breaking down the four main types of coffee beans. So read on and you’ll have a better idea which beans to search for the next time you find yourself in that aisle. 

Arabica

Of all the different types of coffee beans, you have have probably come across this type. In fact, Arabica beans make up between 60 and 70% of the world’s coffee production. 

Where do they come from?

Arabica beans have come a long way since cultivation in Yemen in the 15th century. Once western culture got a taste for coffee, Arabica beans spread to India, Java, and eventually the Americas. The rest is history.

So why is this type of bean so popular? Well, not for its ease of production. Arabica beans are some of the hardest to cultivate. They need very specific conditions to thrive. 

Arabica beans require high altitudes to survive. Ideally between 2000 and 6000 feet above sea level. They also rely on consistent rainfall. A combination that is hard to come by.  For these reasons it may come as no surprise that Brazil is now the foremost producer of Arabica beans.

What do they taste like?

Arabica beans produce a full flavor and aroma. Less acidic than their counterparts, the flavor is often described as soft and sweet. Drinkers also find fruity notes as well as chocolate.

Perhaps it is because of their delicate nature they so sought after. Let’s be honest, scarcity draws in people.  Or maybe it’s the taste. Whatever the case, Arabica beans continue to have a strong hold on the market. 

They are widely considered to be a higher quality than their rivals. As a result, you’ll find most of your big brand coffee shops advertising their use of them.

Robusta

A strong runner up, Robusta Coffee beans come in at 30 to 40% of the world coffee production. 

Where do they come from?

They are most commonly consumed in countries with a “strong coffee” drinking culture like Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, Robusta beans are a stout, hardy variety.  Unlike the competition, Robusta beans are not dependent on a specific altitude. What’s more, they are immune to most varieties of diseases, making Robusta beans significantly easier to grow. And cheaper! 

The differences don’t stop there.

If you happen to be a caffeine junkie, you’ll be happy to learn Robusta beans have nearly double the caffeine content compared to Arabica beans. 2.7% opposed to 1.5% respectively.

What do they taste like?

There is a noticeable taste difference too. Robusta beans have a bolder, deeper, more bitter flavor than other bean types.  They are also significantly more acidic.  That’s why you’ll commonly find them used in blends as a balance to other flavors found in different types of beans. 

Their desirable price tag and bitter taste also lands them in a lot of discount coffee lines, instant coffee, and dark roast fillers. 

While it’s true Robusta beans are generally considered lower quality than Arabica beans, this is not necessarily the case. Depending on how you take your coffee, Robusta beans may be the better choice.  Given their boldness, they pair well with the addition of cream, foam, sugar, and other flavorings. 

As mentioned earlier, they are also extremely popular in areas with a “strong coffee” culture. Farmers in these regions are now working to develop high-quality Robusta beans and Robusta-Arabica hybrids.

Liberica

So you’ve heard of the first two, but you may not be familiar with this one.  And who could blame you? Liberica beans only make up less than 2% of the world’s coffee production.

Where do they come from?

As the name suggests, Liberica beans originated in Liberia, Africa.  

Opposite to Arabica beans, Liberica beans are highly tolerant of harsh climate conditions and low altitudes.  Perhaps this is why they spread so easily throughout Southeast Asia.

It was the Philippines who first mass produced them. But their rise in popularity was short lived.

After gaining independence in 1946, America hit the Philippines with heavy sanctions effectively choking the production and exportation of Liberica beans. Had policy been different, Liberica beans may have been more common on your grocery shelf today. 

What do they taste like?

Well, the flavor is as unique as the irregular shape of the beans themselves. Liberica beans produce a flavor combination that is smoky, fruity, and floral all at once.  This strong unique flavor can be polarizing for some coffee drinkers. On the other hand, many coffee enthusiasts nowadays are drawn to its edgy aroma. 

At the very least, if you are looking for a new or different coffee experience, Liberica beans are worth a try.  Just know they will be significantly harder to come by, and you’ll probably have to be willing to pay a little extra.

Excelsa

Okay, technically Excelsa beans are a variety of Liberica beans.  So why list them here as their own separate class?  

Taste. 

What do they taste like?

Excelsa beans produce a tart fruity cup that boasts notes of both light and dark roast simultaneously. You won’t find this combination using any other beans. 

They are also the least caffeinated of all the different types of coffee beans. 

Given the complexity they offer, Excelsa beans are highly sought after by coffee enthusiasts.  They can be used in blends or easily stand alone. 

Where do they come from?

As you might have guessed given they are technically an offshoot of Liberica beans , Excelsa beans originated in Africa and are grown primarily in southeast Asia.

So which types of coffee beans are the best?

I recommend you to try each of the four different types of coffee beans for yourself to determine which suits you best. 

It’s not as simple as claiming Arabica the highest quality, Robusta the boldest, or Excelsa the rarest.  Everyone’s tastes are different and the world of coffee is always evolving.  There are countless subcategories of each different type of coffee bean to explore.

Experiment, learn, and enjoy!

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Neal Drown
Neal has been proudly wearing the label of coffee enthusiast for over a decade now. He has an M.A. in Research and a true passion for all things coffee. Let's Brew Coffee was created to leverage his skills as a researcher and deliver the best content available on crafting the perfect brew.