As you walk down the coffee aisle at your local grocery store, you have probably noticed at some point that most, if not all, of the bags say, "Arabica Coffee" or "Arabica Beans." Did you ever wonder why? There are several different types of coffee beans, with Arabica being the most common. It accounts for 60-70% of the coffee produced globally, but there are a few other types that are much less common in the United States.
Most of the time when we think about how coffee is classified and marketed, we tend to think of things like roast profiles or source of origin. Sure, this information is helpful in identifying what to expect from a particular coffee, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Let's take a closer look at what types of cafes exist and what makes each of them unique.
Characteristics of types of coffee beans
There are four main types of coffee beans that we will discuss here: Arabica , Robusta , Liberica and Excelsa . Let's find out what differences define these different types of coffee.
As mentioned above, Arabica is the most common (and certainly most marketed) type of coffee in Australia. That's because it actually tastes sweeter and more delicate, and the coffee itself tends to be less acidic. Arabica beans are grown in areas with high altitudes above sea level, particularly those where rainfall is abundant. In fact, Brazil, known for its lush rainforest, is the world's leading exporter of Arabica beans. The plants themselves are quite delicate, requiring a fair amount of pruning and constant attention to environmental factors. The Arabica coffee species is particularly prone to disease, so growing in large quantities is a challenge. This greatly increases the cost of the bean in the global market, but many coffee drinkers around the world are happy to pay the difference due to the milder and sweeter taste.
One point to note about the popular but sensitive bean is that its flavour has a reputation for tapering off a bit when served cold or mixed with milk or cream. While that may be the case, it's fair to say that the difference probably won't be noticeable when you add a little extra flavour to the drink anyway.
When it comes to world production, Robusta coffee beans rank second on the list and are the most popular in Australia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Its name does this bean justice as it is known for its strong and often harsh flavour profile. Robusta coffees have extremely high levels of caffeine, which makes the plant much more resistant than the Arabica species. The Caniphora coffee species is also particularly tolerant of its environment, so it can be grown in any number of altitudes and climates. Due to its reputation for having a burnt or rubbery taste, robusta is generally not a very popular coffee product, except where very strong coffee is a cultural norm. However, because it is much easier to grow and harvest than Arabica beans, many farmers tend to make higher profits when they can sell Robusta. So where does it go? Robusta can be used for discount lines like instant coffees and is sometimes used as a filler in dark roasts. By using 3 parts Arabica to 1 part Robusta in a given batch, a roaster could save up to 20% on the cost of raw beans. However, if this seems to you that you sacrifice the quality of the product for the result, you are correct.
There are some instances, however, of delicious, high-quality Robusta coffees hitting grocery store shelves. These are typically single origin coffees made with small batch artisanal roasters. The best Robusta coffee beans will have hints of chocolate and rum within their flavor profile, but, they are not always available. At the end of the day, if your main interest in a cup of coffee is to have a daily dose of caffeine, you would probably do just as well with a standard cup of Robusta and cut the flavour with cream and sugar.
Liberica coffee beans are a rare delicacy. They are grown in very specific climates and production is too low for farmers to scale their operations to truly satisfy a global market. Still, the beans are considered a pleasant surprise. Many who have tried coffee compare the aroma to fruits and flowers and describe the taste as something "woody."
There was a time when Liberica coffee was incredibly popular. Near the end of the 19th century, a plant disease now known as "coffee rust" had established itself and wiped out almost all Arabica plants on the entire planet. Because coffee was such an important product, even at that time, farmers and government agencies set out to find suitable substitutes. The Philippines was the first to harvest and sell the Liberica plant in remarkable volume and, as the sole supplier, the nation saw its economy grow tremendously. At this point, the Philippines was a territory of the US But as its economy grew, the nation declared its independence. As a result, the United States imposed heavy economic sanctions and cut off supplies to the country. This ultimately led to the fall of the Liberica coffee bean in the global market, as no other nation was able to step up and match the production that the Philippines had pioneered.
The last type of coffee bean we are introducing today is Excelsa. Excelsa is technically a member of the Liberica family, but her species is incredibly different. Like the Liberica coffee described above, Excelsa is grown primarily in Southeast Asia and accounts for only a small fraction of global coffee production. Excelsa boasts a more acidic and fruity taste and is known for displaying the attributes of light and dark roast coffees to create a unique profile that coffee enthusiasts often seek.
How to choose what to buy
We've said it before and we'll say it again, drinking coffee is finding what you enjoy and sticking with it. Knowing that Arabica and Robusta are the most prevalent and affordable options you'll find on a regular basis, think about how you really like to drink your coffee: hot, iced, with or without creamer. Generally, if you are more of a coffee purist who enjoys a simple, hot, fresh black coffee, then a light Arabica bean like our Crema Coffee Beans would be an ideal choice. If you generally prefer to pour your coffee over ice or enjoy it with some additional flavor add-ons, we recommend that you give our Mocha Coffee Beans a try. The main thing to remember is that it's all about finding what works for you, so try different things and enjoy the process.