Species of Coffee Beans
Time to get to know your coffee beans! In this part of the guide we’ll outline the different types of coffee beans and species (Arabica, Robusta, Liberica etc). After having reading this you should have a firm sense of general types of coffee beans and how they
There are more than five hundred "genera" - a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms - in the Rubiaceae family, including Coffea with six thousand species.
That said, the coffee trade is mainly concerned with two species of coffee tree: Arabica and Robusta.
differ in terms of production and taste.
Even though we're primarily concerned with just two species, the flavor profile of any coffee can vary significantly depending on the growing conditions and processing method used.
This makes it difficult to generalize about the taste of different types of coffee.
Coffee flavor can differ widely and can also be difficult to predict because the environment where the beans are grown affects their taste.
For example, Kona coffee is a type of Arabica bean that is only grown in the Kona district of Hawaii.
The unique environment there gives the beans a unique flavor that is not exhibited when grown elsewhere.
Arabica Coffee Beans
The caffeine content of Robusta beans is higher than that of Arabica beans, but Robusta beans are considered inferior in taste. Arabica beans are smoother and less acidic.
According to the USDA, 101,968 bags of Arabica coffee were produced in 2021, which accounted for 58% of the world’s total coffee products. 49,700 of those bags were produced by Brazil1.
Arabica coffee, which still grows best on elevated ground, began its story in Ethiopia.
Coffee beans are of course the seeds of coffee plants. The plants produce beautiful flowers that smell wonderful, and these same flowers eventually produce ellipsoidal fruits that contain the coffee beans.
The shrub can grow to 5 meters, but coffee bushes are usually pruned to a height of about 2 meters so that it is easier to harvest the coffee cherries.
Arabica coffee plants have two sets of chromosomes, which allows them to self-pollinate. This helps the plants to stay stable, because cross-pollination is less likely.
The two most common varieties of Coffea arabica are Typica and Bourbon.
Typica was the first variety of the species to be discovered and is prized for its excellent cup quality. Typica coffee is grown at altitudes of 1,500 to 6,000 feet above sea level.
The country of origin for the Typica varietal is Yemen, though it is also grown in Central America and South America.
Bourbon is a high-yielding variety that is valued for its resistance to disease. It is a parent of most other coffee varieties.
Bourbon seeds were originally brought to Reunion Island (a French overseas department located east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean) by Pierre Poivre, "the pepper", who was head administrator of the French island holdings in the East Indies and director-general of imperial forests (1719– 1786)2.
Robusta Coffee Beans
Coffea canephora, more commonly known as robusta, is the most common varietal of coffee. This variety is less demanding and has a higher resistance to pests and disease, making it a more resilient choice for coffee production.
It is also a faster-growing and earlier-maturing crop with higher yield.
It has a less complex flavor profile than Coffea arabica, the more sought after varietal of coffee. The majority of robusta beans are grown in Asia, particularly Vietnam and Brazil (Corbett, 2005).
Chlorogenic acids are important for the flavor profile of coffee.
However, Robusta coffee has more of these acids than other species, and studies have shown that these acids can produce unpleasant flavors3.
Robusta is a varietal of coffee and is not a coffee species in itself. There are a number of subtypes of the Robusta bean, each exhibiting unique characteristics such as immunity to disease and increased production capacity.
These subtypes thrive in areas where Arabica would be devastated by fungus and other diseases and pests.
The Robusta grows well at higher humidity and adaptation to the environment. After flowering, the beans take almost a year to ripen.
The plant is self-sterile; therefore, cross-pollination by wind and bees and other insects is necessary for the plant to reproduce. As with Arabica, there are approximately 40 million bags of Robusta coffee produced every year.
Liberica Coffee Beans
Coffea liberica is a species of Coffea that has its origins in the country of Liberia. It was first scientifically classified by French botanist Jean-Baptiste Robineau de Courset (1756–1834).
Liberica coffee plants grow well within tropical and subtropical climates, like most other arabica plants. They are covered in a somewhat waxy bloom and can be identified by their bright red cherries (similar to those of the Caturra varietal) and orange seeds.
The coffee produced from these beans is generally described as having a 'winey' flavor, often lacking the bitterness normally associated with the robusta plant.
Like arabica plants, they can also be affected by fungal disease and pests such as the coffee borer beetle.
Although it has a semi-fermented seed (popularly known as red bean), it is not usually used to make coffee and instead is processed and manufactured into products such as soap or lotions.
Coffee Beans Used For Espresso
There are many different types of espresso, but all of them use coffee beans that have been roasted specifically for espresso. These beans are generally darker and have a stronger flavor than beans that are roasted for other types of coffee.
Espresso is made by forcing hot water through a small amount of ground coffee. This process extracts more caffeine and flavors from the beans than other brewing methods, which is why espresso is known for being strong and flavorful.
Those who are new to espresso should start with a light roast bean and work their way up to darker roasts. And remember, the quality of the bean is just as important as the roast.
Difference in Brewing Coffee Made With Arabica Coffee Beans
Arabica coffee beans are known for their sweeter, more nuanced flavor. They are also less acidic than Robusta beans. This makes them a popular choice for those who want to enjoy a smooth cup of coffee. When brewing with Arabica beans, it is important to use a light hand – too much pressure can result in a bitter cup of coffee.
Robusta coffee beans have a bolder, more robust flavor. They are also more acidic than Arabica beans. This makes them a popular choice for those who want to enjoy a strong cup of coffee. When brewing with Robusta beans, it is important to use a heavy hand – too much pressure can result in a weak cup of coffee.
If you want a smooth, sweet cup of coffee, then Arabica beans are the way to go. If you prefer a bolder, more robust flavor, then Robusta beans are the way to go. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which type of bean you prefer. Try brewing coffee with both types of beans and see which one you like best.
Cost Difference Between Arabica and Robusta
Robusta coffee beans are generally more affordable than Arabica coffee beans. The price per pound of Robusta beans is typically about 20-30% lower than the price per pound of Arabica beans. This is because Robusta beans are easier to grow and produce, and they yield a higher volume of coffee per plant.
The cost difference between Arabica and Robusta beans may also be affected by market conditions. For example, if there is a shortage of Arabica beans, the price of Robusta beans may go up. Similarly, if there is an oversupply of Robusta beans, the price may drop.
The Economics of Robusta and Arabica
Arabica coffee beans are more delicate, and therefore more expensive. They are typically grown in higher altitudes, and produce a sweeter, more mellow cup of coffee. Arabica beans make up around 75% of the world's coffee production, but only account for around 30% of the global market due to their higher price point.
The economics of coffee production heavily favour Robusta beans, but many coffee connoisseurs believe that Arabica beans make a superior cup of coffee. This debate is unlikely to be resolved any time soon, but one thing is for sure - the popularity of coffee shows no signs of slowing down.
Did You Know?
Due to their rarity and complexity in processing, Liberica coffee beans make up only ~2% of world’s overall coffee consumption. One reason for its rarity is the overall difficulty of harvesting and processing these coffee beans. Their limited supply actually makes them more high sought after and they tend to be more expensive in comparison to Arabica and Robusta.
What kind of coffee beans does Starbucks Use?
Starbuck’s uses 100% Robusta coffee beans, citing the more consistent and superior flavor.
Where do Liberica coffee beans grow?
Liberica is named after its origin country of Liberia, West Africa. Today it is grown mostly in the Philippines, and some parts of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Why is Bourbon coffee called “Bourbon”?
What we now call “Bourbon” coffee beans were originally brought from Yemen to an island in France called “La Réunion”. That island was, at the time, called “île Bourbon”. Although the coffee beans were first introduced in the 1700s they actually were not cultivated off the island until the 1900s so referring to them as “Bourbon” coffee beans was a name that stuck.