Discover the four types of coffee beans: pictures, profiles, and more

9 min read JAN 07, 2024

For those who appreciate the art of coffee, the world of coffee bean varieties and their unique characteristics is a fascinating subject. Let us be your guide in unraveling this intriguing world.

There are four primary types of coffee beans: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. While Arabica and Robusta are the most widely known and favored, the fortunate few may come across the other two. Let's explore the intricacies of these exquisite beans and gain valuable insights for your next coffee purchase.

The 4 Distinct Varieties of Coffee Beans

1. Arabica Coffee Beans (Coffea arabica)

Arabica beans are widely renowned as the most popular variety of coffee beans, making up approximately 60% of global coffee production. These exquisite beans boast a rich history dating back centuries to the highlands of Ethiopia, potentially being the very first coffee beans ever savored. The term "Arabica" likely originates from their prominence in 7th-century Arabia (modern-day Yemen).

However, it is important to acknowledge that cultivating Arabica beans presents challenges. Due to their specific requirements, Arabica beans demand more labor-intensive cultivation methods, leading to higher prices. Coffee beans generally thrive within the Bean Belt, a region spanning 50 countries between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Nonetheless, Arabica beans necessitate additional shade, water, and high altitudes for optimal growth. These plants are also more susceptible to diseases and must be cultivated at altitudes exceeding 2,000 feet. Furthermore, Arabica plants are relatively smaller, reaching a height of 8 to 15 feet when fully matured.

What do they taste like?

Numerous esteemed coffee brands proudly promote their use of 100% Arabica beans. But why? It's because Arabica coffee beans are renowned for their exceptional quality. With their smooth, intricate flavor profile and remarkable absence of bitterness, these beans are truly exceptional.

Arabica beans offer a wide range of tasting notes depending on their cultivation region. From the earthy Indonesian to the floral Ethiopian, there's a flavor to please every palate. Treat your palate by indulging in a bag of single-origin Arabica beans.

Where can you find these delightful beans? Arabica beans are readily available, especially from gourmet coffee companies. To ensure the authenticity of your Arabica coffee, check the label and confirm that it hasn't been blended with Robusta beans, the second variety.

Savor the exquisite taste and embrace the true essence of Arabica coffee.

2. Robusta Coffee Beans (Coffea caniphora)

Robusta, the second most popular type of coffee bean, originates from sub-Saharan Africa and is primarily grown in Africa and Indonesia. It is widely embraced in Vietnam and often blended with other coffee varieties. Robusta is a cost-effective choice for roasters, making it appealing for those on a budget.

Distinguished by their larger and rounder shape, Robusta beans grow much taller than Arabica plants, reaching heights of 15 to 20 feet. Known for their resilience, Robusta beans thrive at lower altitudes and display disease resistance. However, recent studies have challenged the notion that they possess superior heat tolerance, casting doubt on previous assumptions.

What do they taste like?

Many believe that Robusta coffee offers a more intense and bitter flavor. It often exhibits a strong aroma and a flat, almost charred taste. Additionally, Robusta beans contain significantly higher caffeine levels than Arabica beans.
Despite the tendency of gourmet coffee enthusiasts to dismiss Robusta, we suggest giving it a try from time to time. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Recently, we had the pleasure of sampling an exceptional Robusta bean through Angels' Cup coffee subscription. These distinct Thai beans showcased earthy and spiced notes without hinting of bitterness.

Where can you find Robusta beans?

Robusta beans are easily accessible since they are commonly used in blends. Some gourmet roasters provide distinctive Robusta blends, and one can explore Vietnamese coffee suppliers like Len's Coffee. Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that instant coffee is typically made entirely from Robusta beans.

3. Liberica Coffee Beans (Coffea liberica)

Originating from central and western Africa, particularly Liberia, Coffea liberica is highly prized for its unique floral aroma and bold, smoky flavor. This remarkable species often goes unnoticed despite its resilience, overshadowed by other blends that enhance body and complexity. It wasn't until the late 1800s that Liberica gained recognition in Western civilization when Southeast Asian coffee producers turned to it as a solution to the devastating "coffee rust" disease that ravaged their Arabica crops.

Distinguished by its larger plant size compared to Arabica or Robusta, most Liberica cherries boast irregular shapes, resembling Robusta in size and appearance. Flourishing in hot and humid climates, this robust coffee variety thrives at lower altitudes. Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines are the primary producers of this unique bean, contributing to approximately 2% of the global coffee supply. In fact, over 95% of Malaysia's coffee production is derived from Liberica beans. However, it remains relatively uncommon in North American and European markets.

What do they taste like?

Liberica coffee is renowned among enthusiasts for its polarizing reputation and unpredictable character. This elusive variety has captivated both fervent admirers and detractors. Some coffee connoisseurs relish its distinctive nutty and woody flavor, accompanied by a lingering aftertaste. However, detractors liken its taste to that of charred refuse.

Where can you buy Liberica beans?

Liberian coffee, particularly the renowned "kapeng barako" in Philippine culture, is a prized variety in the Philippines. This strong-flavored coffee is typically enjoyed black with sugar. Although considered a tradition of the past, kapeng barako remains readily available in local supermarkets and coffee shops across the Philippines. If you're outside Southeast Asia, your best bet to find Barako coffee or Liberica beans would be in markets catering to the Filipino expat community.

4. Excelsa Coffee Beans (Coffea excelsa)

Excelsa, previously considered a distinct coffee bean species, has now been reclassified as a variant of Liberia based on recent scientific research. Thriving primarily in Southeast Asia, Excelsa beans share an elongated oval shape similar to that of Liberica beans. These beans are cultivated on robust coffee plants that reach 20 to 30 feet, typically found at medium altitudes. This reclassification sheds new light on the intricate world of coffee beans, illuminating their rich diversity and fascinating origins.

What do they taste like?

Excelsa beans possess a truly remarkable flavor profile. They effortlessly combine the tangy and fruity notes often found in light roasts while embracing the rich flavors reminiscent of dark roasts. Despite their lighter aroma and caffeine content, these beans maintain an exceptional depth of flavor. Occasionally, these exceptional beans are incorporated into blends to enhance their complexity and elevate the coffee experience.

Where can you find Excelsa beans?

Excelsa beans, although less common than Arabica and Robusta varieties, have a certain allure that extends beyond Asia. While their availability may be somewhat limited, specialty roasters like Len's Coffee proudly offer the option of indulging in the uniqueness of Excelsa beans.

What Kind of Coffee Bean Should You Choose?

Now that you are familiar with the major types of coffee beans, it's time to embark on your shopping journey. For exceptional flavor and a willingness to spend a little extra, look for 100% Arabica coffee. If you prefer a higher caffeine content, cost savings, and don't mind a hint of bitterness, consider Robusta or a blend of Arabica and Robusta.

If you're seeking something more unique, watch for Liberica or Excelsa beans. However, be prepared for a more extensive search, as these rare coffee beans can be delicious and elusive.

We highly recommend purchasing whole-bean coffee and grinding it before brewing. The additional effort is well worth it, as it ensures superior flavor and freshness, regardless of your coffee bean. By the way, are you familiar with the origins of coffee beans?

Low-acid options are perfect for sensitive stomachs if acidity concerns you when consuming coffee. Look at this guide from Sip Coffee House for some excellent recommendations.

Frequently asked questions

What are the benefits of grinding coffee beans just before brewing?

Grinding your coffee beans just before brewing helps to preserve a more intense flavor, aroma, and freshness. This also allows for more customization when it comes to controlling the size of the grounds and thus adjusting the strength of the brew. Additionally, whole-bean coffee typically has a longer shelf life than pre-ground coffee, so it's the best option for those who want their coffee to stay as fresh as possible.

How long can I store whole-bean coffee?

Usually, whole bean coffee can stay fresh for up to two weeks and stored in an airtight container away from direct sunlight. To maintain optimal quality, we recommend consuming the coffee within a week or two of purchase. Otherwise, the flavor and aroma will start to decrease over time. You can also freeze whole-bean coffee if you plan on storing it for over two weeks; just make sure to thaw it out completely before grinding and brewing!

What are some general tips for choosing coffee beans?

When selecting coffee beans, consider the following factors: type of roast (light, medium, dark), origin, flavor notes (fruity, floral, spicy), body, and acidity. Also, keep in mind that different types of brewing methods pair better with certain types of beans. For example, a French press is best used with a coarse grind, while an espresso machine requires much finer grounds. Lastly, always opt for fresh beans over pre-ground!

What type of coffee beans are best for those who have sensitive stomachs?

Generally speaking, lightly roasted coffees tend to be easier on the stomach since they are less acidic than their darker counterparts. Mild, medium, and light roast coffees typically have a lower acidity since they are roasted for a shorter period. If you prefer espresso drinks, look for blends made with Arabica beans, which are less acidic than Robusta beans. Opt for organic coffee whenever possible, as it often contains fewer pesticides and other chemicals.

What are the benefits of cold-brewed coffee?

Cold-brewed coffee offers numerous benefits compared to regular hot-brewed coffee. The lower temperature used to make cold brew coffee helps preserve the flavor and aroma of the beans, resulting in a less acidic drink that has a smooth and slightly sweet taste. Cold-brewed coffee also contains up to 70% less acid than traditional hot-brewed coffee, which can help minimize potential stomach issues for those with sensitive tummies. Additionally, since cold brewed coffee is typically served iced, it can be a great way to beat the heat in the summertime.

What type of grind should I use for my coffee?

The type of grind you choose should depend on the method you're using to brew the coffee. If you're brewing with a French press, opt for a coarse grind, as it will help prevent over-extraction and make for a smoother cup of joe. For drip machines or pour-over brewers, use a medium grind to allow for a more evenly extracted cup of coffee. If you're using an espresso machine, opt for a fine grind, as it's necessary to create the ideal crema.

Check out Lifeboost Coffee Medium Roast.


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Michael Schultz

Looking forward to experiencing the different types of coffee.