What Types of Coffee Beans Exist?
You may be surprised to learn that coffee "beans" are actually fruit seeds that sit inside berries. Although arabica and robusta are the most common types of coffee beans, dozens of bean varieties can produce coffee.
Let's take a look at the various coffee bean types and learn about their country of origin and their history, as well as their flavor profiles and how they should be stored. Hope you enjoy.
Table of Contents
- Arabica Beans
- Bourbon Beans
- Catuai Beans
- Excelsa Beans
- Geisha Beans
- Jamaican Blue Mountain Beans
- Jember Beans
- Liberica Beans
- Mocha Beans
- Mundo Novo Beans
- Robusta Beans
- Villalobos Beans
The prized arabica bean is beloved for its flavorful, acidic taste. In fact, scientists believe arabica was the first type of coffee bean ever used. Originating in Ethiopia, arabica beans make up approximately 60% of coffee consumption today. Some coffee brands even mix arabica coffee with its competitor, the robust bean, to balance out robusta's flavor.
The arabica coffee plant grows best at a higher altitude and can withstand cold weather, but not frost. It prefers tropical climates, making Latin America and Africa some of the biggest Arabica producers, with Brazil being the largest arabica producer in the world.
When grown and roasted in optimal conditions, Arabica beans produce a mildly sweet flavor. You will likely be able to notice hits of chocolate, nuts, or caramel. In some cases, Arabic beans taste fruity. Like all coffee, it's important to store coffee beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry place to maintain their flavor.
Arabica contains acidity, which is a feature that attracts coffee drinkers. It also has some bitterness. If you cold brew arabica beans, it'll help amplify the sweeter flavor of this coffee species.
Arabica is an umbrella term for this plant type in the coffee family. Numerous coffee bean species belong to the arabica family, many of which we'll be covering here.
Bourbon is a variety of the arabica plant that, despite its name, doesn't taste like the alcoholic beverage. As one of the first coffee plants, Bourbon is ideal for crossbreeding to create new arabica varieties.
Coffee from the Bourbon plant has a chocolatey and sweet flavor. It also sometimes has a fruity taste, depending on the soil where it's grown. Speaking of growing, Bourbon falls under the categorization of a High Grown or Strictly High Grown plant in terms of its altitude requirements.
A downside to the bourbon species is that the shrub doesn't produce a lot of berries. However, because of how high quality the berries are, it's worth farmers' efforts to cultivate them.
Catuai Beans are an arabica coffee variety developed by Brazilians in the 1950s. Its naturally dwarf statue makes it easy to pick its berries, and it has a decent yield potential after the plant reaches three years of age. Coffee farmers love that as a result of Catuai's small size, it's easy to place the plants close together, which significantly improves their production.
In addition to Brazil, Catuai beans gained significant popularity in Costa Rica, where it holds a fair amount of economic weight in the coffee industry.
An acidic and slightly sweet flavor draws people to Catuai coffee. Unfortunately, it's a finicky plant to grow; it's incredibly susceptible to coffee leaf rust and damage from nematodes.
Arabica and robusta coffee bean varieties may be the most popular coffee beans on the market, but Excelsa beans enjoy the label of being the top four most favored coffee bean variety (Liberica beans being the other).
Up until 2006, scientists believed that Excelsa was its own coffee plant species. However, British botanist Aaron P. Davis convinced the scientific world that, in reality, Excelsa belongs to the Liberica species. In either case, Excelsa beans continue to comprise approximately 7% of worldwide coffee production.
Excelsa coffee plants grow up to 30 feet tall, and the beans have an attractive almond shape. They primarily call Southeast Asia home, where growing conditions allow them to thrive. They're most commonly used in conjunction with other coffee bean varieties to add thickness and a more robust flavor. People often enjoy that Excelsa produces an aroma that teeters between a light, medium and dark roast.
Coffee enthusiasts encourage consumers to savor Excelsa-based coffee in the middle and back area of their palates. That's where they say you can savor the classic combination of fruit and tart taste. Since this coffee variety is especially common in Vietnam, the flavor will likely bring back memories if you've ever traveled there.
Founded in Gesha, Ethiopia, the Geisha coffee bean is now commonly grown in Colombia and Panama. It's an attractive plant to grow for farmers since it sells for a high price.
Geisha coffee beans contain a unique floral and sweet flavor. The riper the coffee berries are when picked, the sweeter the taste the coffee will have. Coffee lovers describe Geisha as having hints of jasmine, honey, chocolate, and black tea. It's this unique flavor combination that makes Geisha coffee beans sell for such a high price.
In 2019, one pound of Geisha beans sold for nearly $1,030 per pound at the Best of Panama Competition and Auction. Many people consider it to be the most valuable coffee across the globe.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Beans
Travelers who've spent time in Jamaica surely recognize the name Jamaican Blue Mountain (JBM) coffee. The light, gently acidic flavor leaves visitors craving Jamaica's unique cup of joe long after leaving the country.
JBM coffee grows so well in Jamaica because of ideal elevations and the abundant nitrogen and phosphorus in its volcanic soil. Jamaica also receives regular rainfall throughout the year.
Termed the "Champagne of Coffees" by many, you never have to worry about the quality of your JBM coffee beans—Jamaicans strictly control the conditions in which JBM is grown. Because of the limited area where JBM thrives, it's considered a scarce coffee variety. They pack the coffee beans into wooden barrels to further make it feel like an exclusive coffee species.
Lovers of sweets will drool over Jember coffee; coffee enthusiasts describe it as containing a caramel, brown sugar, and maple-like flavor. It originated in Indonesia, and the name "Jember" is Amharic for "sunset."
Nowadays, Jember beans are popular in Ethiopia, where the company Jember Coffee focuses on producing sustainable income and cultivation practices for local coffee farmers. Ten percent of proceeds from the Jember Coffee you purchase will go towards educating Ethiopia children.
Liberica is a common coffee bean variety that originated in western and central Africa. In fact, its name Liberica came from Liberia, the country where locals discovered the plant. It gained popularity in Southeast Asian countries when Indonesians replaced it with arabica trees—since the Liberica variety holds up better against coffee rust disease, its hardiness attracted them.
Liberica's bean size is larger than average, and they have an irregular shape. The plants are relatively rare, with limited availability on the global market. As a result, Liberica beans are more expensive than arabica and robusta beans. However, lovers of caffeine may balk at the fact that of the three coffee varieties, Liberica beans have the least amount of caffeine.
If you can get past its lower caffeine content, you'll likely be amazed that Liberica tastes differently than any other coffee you've tried. Among hints of a floral and fruity flavor, this coffee also has a woody and smokey undertone.
Liberica is commonly added to other coffee bean varieties to offer a fuller, more robust flavor to a coffee blend. Despite its disease-fighting advantages, coffee growers around the globe tend to favor cultivating arabica and robusta. For this reason, Liberica is an endangered species.
As another arabica coffee bean variety, the Mocha plant is from Mocha, Yemen. Its berries are unique from that of other coffee plants; they're pale yellow, small, firm, and with an irregular round shape.
Historically, Mocha is commonly mixed with Java beans since Indonesians would pass through the Mocha port on their way to Mecca. Although this combination has lost some popularity with the invention of so many different coffee varieties, it's still possible to purchase it in certain coffee shops and online.
Nowadays, farmers most commonly cultivate Mocha in Yemen and Hawaii. People enjoy that it has a chocolatey flavor.
Mundo Novo Beans
Translated to "New World," the Mundo Novo bean is aptly named; it's grown primarily in South America. The advantages of this coffee plant species are that it grows quickly and produces some of the greatest quantity of berries of any coffee species.
The Mundo Novo plant has an average bean size, and the plant grows on the tall side. Its leaves are green or bronze, and it takes about three years for it to begin producing berries.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest reasons it hasn't gained more traction worldwide is its susceptibility to diseases. Coffee leaf rust and coffee berry disease are among some of the factors that can devastate entire crops of Mundo Novo plants.
Robusta is the second most popular type of coffee bean after arabica. It originated in Africa and is now commonly grown in tropical climates across the globe. Several factors make robusta stand out from arabica. They include:
- 1.2% more caffeine
- Fewer lipids and sugar
- More antioxidants
- Hardier to hold up against pests and disease
- Requires less herbicide and pesticide
Robusta coffee has low acidity and more bitterness than arabica beans. A higher caffeine concentration is the reason for its more bitter flavor. Some people enjoy its full-bodied, earthy taste, while most consumers prefer the smoother, more acidic flavor of arabica coffee. Coffee lovers most commonly use robusta for making espresso, instant coffee, and as a filler for coffee blends.
Currently, Brazil is the biggest producer of arabica, and Vietnam is the largest producer of robusta. Robusta is attractive for coffee farmers since it's a cheaper bean to produce. The reason being is that it's easier to tend to, requiring fewer pesticides and insecticides, and it offers a higher bean yield than arabica.
Whereas most coffee drinkers would choose arabica coffee over robusta coffee, there's one notable difference—Italian espresso. Robusta beans are used almost exclusively in espresso since they create a foamier consistency and have more caffeine.
It may sound like a strange name for a coffee plant, but SL-34 has its origins in Kenya, where Scott Agricultural Laboratories (hence "SL") handpicked the best coffee plants of this variety. It's a tall plant that offers exceptional quality at high altitude elevations. The beans are large and give coffee farmers a high yield.
Although SL-34 makes for a delicious cup of coffee, the plant is prone to coffee berry disease. For this reason, it hasn't gained as much worldwide traction as other coffee varieties, although it's the most exported coffee variety in Kenya.
People lovingly nicknamed SL-34 a "blueberry bomb" because of its fruity flavor. The taste lingers longer in the mouth than most types of coffee.
As part of the Bourbon bean variety, Villalobos (also called Villa Sarchi) is a hardy coffee plant that farmers primarily cultivate in Costa Rica. It grows best in high altitude areas and holds up well against strong winds. Its yield potential is fair, although it doesn't produce as many coffee beans as other species.
Due to a single-gene mutation, Villalobos coffee plants are short, and their beans are smaller than average. It's most well known for pairing well with hybrid coffee plants to help prevent coffee leaf rust.
Coffee made with Villalobos beans has a strong acidic taste. It also contains a sweet flavor, even though it is grown best in poor soil conditions.