Are you an avid coffee lover or someone who’s just learning about the delicious world of coffee? Knowing the different types of coffee beans can deepen your knowledge and appreciation of this little cup of goodness. While there are two particularly common beans (arabica and robusta), there are actually four main types of coffee beans. The type of beans, where they’re grown, and how they’re processed all lend to different flavor profiles and thus different coffee drinking experiences.
Here, we’ll show you everything you need to know about the four main types of coffee beans including robusta, arabica, liberica, and excelsa. You’ll learn about their flavor profiles, production methods, and what makes each one unique. The next time you’re browsing coffees at your local grocery store or coffee shop, you’ll be able to pick out the best bean for your favorite type of brew.
Different Types of Coffee Beans
While most of your coffee drinking centers around arabica and robusta beans, you may also come across the two other less common types of coffee beans. Read on to learn more about the four main types of coffee beans and what makes each one stand out.
Arabica Coffee Beans
When browsing the coffee bean aisles, you’ve likely come across bags labeled “arabica coffee”. You may even have wondered what that means. Arabica is one of the most popular types of coffee beans. In fact, arabica beans make up about 70-80% of the world’s coffee beans.
Arabica beans come from the Coffea arabica coffee plant. The plant is native to the highlands of the Kingdom of Kefa, now known as Ethiopia. The arabica plant dates back to 1,000 B.C. and local tribes crushed the bean into balls to consume as a stimulant. The name arabica first came to prominence when producers transported the bean across the Red Sea to the lower Arabia region (today’s Yemen).
Flavor Profile and Cultivation
Arabica coffee beans are among the most high-quality beans. They offer a light and airy body with a mild and slightly sweet flavor. It has low acidity and a more intricate flavor profile compared to other types of coffee beans.
The beans have different flavors depending on where farmers produce them. Ethiopian arabica beans have a floral flavor while Bali coffee varieties have stronger earthy notes. In Brazil, which is responsible for most of the world’s coffee production using arabica beans, popular varietals include caturra, typica, and bourbon.
Like all coffee beans, Arabica beans are grown in the Bean Belt. The Bean Belt is located between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Colombia, Guatemala, Ethiopia, India, and Brazil are among the largest producers of arabica coffee beans.
Arabica beans need to grow at high altitudes — typically 2,000 or more feet above sea level — and in areas with plenty of rain. The plants are more susceptible to disease and climate so they are more expensive to grow and produce. Brazil is the largest producer of arabica beans. However, the beans are grown in a huge range of countries from Costa Rica to Indonesia.
Robusta Coffee Beans
Robusta coffee beans come from the Coffea canephora plant. It’s the second most common type of coffee bean. The beans originated in Central and West Africa in the regions comprising present-day Liberia and Tanzania down to Angola. Robusta beans became popular late in the 19th century and are known for a stronger flavor.
In contrast with arabica beans, Robusta beans grow in lowland areas. They thrive in hot and humid environments and are resistant to disease and bacteria. Farmers believe these plants handle the changing climate better. They are also cheaper to grow compared to arabica plants. Vietnam is the world’s largest producer of robusta beans. Many instant coffee powders use robusta beans, which are known for their bitter taste.
Robusta beans have stronger flavors and tend to be more bitter. The flavor profile has a fuller body with earthy tasting notes. The beans often have notes of oak and nutty flavors. The true taste of robusta beans depends on the roasting process. Light roasts provide layered and nuanced flavors while dark roasts will typically feature one, strong tasting note — like peanut and chocolate.
Robusta beans also have a higher amount of caffeine — which is what makes the plants more resistant to diseases. Thus, these beans are particularly well-suited for making espresso, in coffee blends, or adding stronger-tasting notes to types of coffee drinks that have milk or creamer. The coffee cherries are larger compared to arabica beans as well.
Liberica Coffee Beans
Liberica coffee beans are rare in the North American market, but they are popular in the Asian coffee production industry. The Coffea liberica plant is native to Liberia and neighboring regions in central and western Africa.
The beans were mainly consumed in Africa. This changed after a widespread coffee rust disease outbreak in Southeast Asia. The disease wiped out arabica plantations there and producers switched over to liberica plants, which were hardier and more disease-resistant. Today, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia are the largest producers of liberica coffee beans. In the Philippines, liberica beans are known as kapeng barako. Liberica beans are larger than arabica beans and have a Robusta-like shape.
Liberica beans offer a floral, fruity, and woody flavor profile. It often has a smoky finish that coffee drinkers either love or hate. It has a stronger cult following and also generates more distaste due to its unique tasting notes. The beans offer a mildly bitter flavor and can have a metallic afternote. The flavor of the beans can vary dramatically depending on where they are grown and how they are cultivated. It’s worth trying if you can get your hands on these rare beans — just know it may taste different than your normal cup of coffee.
Excelsa Coffee Beans
There’s some disagreement on whether excelsa coffee beans are truly a unique type of coffee bean. Some experts now classify excelsa beans as a variant of liberica beans. Others still consider it a stand-alone type of bean. Here, we’ll cover it as a unique option for coffee drinkers.
Like the other types of coffee beans on this list, excelsa is native to Africa. The beans were originally discovered in 1903 and are also known as dewevreie. This coffee plant grows at elevations between 3,000 and 4,000 feet above sea level. In contrast with other coffee plants, excelsa is more of a tree than a shrub plant. It is hardy and disease-resistant but does require greater pruning and management.
Excelsa coffee beans offer complex tasting notes. To elicit these flavors, producers roast the beans at higher temperatures. This produces intricate flavors including fruity and berry-like notes. Darker roasts may also have hints of chocolate and woody tones while others have a popcorn-like flavor. It also has less caffeine content.
Discover Your Love for Coffee
If you’re looking for high-quality coffee, knowing the different types of beans can help you find the best flavor for your preferences. Roasters around the world use these four types of coffee beans to produce complex and unique flavor profiles that you can savor in your cup. Whether you prefer higher-quality arabica beans or a single-origin liberica coffee bean, there’s something for every coffee drinker.
Looking for the best coffee or want to learn more about coffee beans, production, and flavor profiles? Check out Cup & Bean, where you’ll find guides to coffee from all the coffee-producing nations. Plus you’ll find informational guides on how to brew coffee and pick the best drinks for your taste preferences.