Last Updated on August 18, 2023 by Barry Gray
For years I thought all coffee was the same. I knew it came in different forms from beans to ground and there were different ways of making coffee, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
Instead, it’s the beans themselves. You see, I was brought up just hearing the word “coffee” all on its own with no mention of a particular type of bean.
I do feel a bit stupid having thought like this about coffee, especially when I did learn several years later that there were actually a number of different types of coffee beans. This alone opened up a whole new world in what I had to learn, and I want to pass that knowledge on to you to help you with your own coffee quest.
But while you have seven different beans, almost all of the coffee in the world is made from just four of them, so those four are the beans I will focus on.
The four key coffee beans are Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. However, even out of these four, most coffee is made from Arabica or Robusta. Yet there are some differences between the various coffee beans that change the way your coffee will taste.
With each bean, you get a different flavor as they will often be grown in different locations and conditions. So, what should you expect if you make coffee using Arabica or Robusta?
Arabica Coffee Beans
If you want to use the most popular coffee bean in the world, it has to be Arabica. It’s estimated that Arabica coffee beans appear in almost 80% of the coffee produced in the world.
Now that’s a huge amount, and it doesn’t leave much room for the other beans to grab a slice of the market.
But why? What makes this coffee bean so popular?
Arabica Beans Have a High Yield
One of the main reasons why Arabica coffee beans are so popular is thanks to their high yield. What that means is these beans are relatively easy to grow, and if something is easy to grow it makes sense it will become extremely popular.
Also, knowing you will be able to successfully harvest the beans encourages people to grow the plants on a larger scale. So, you will see massive coffee plant farms in different areas of the coffee growing regions.
The Growing Conditions for Arabica Beans
As well as offering a high yield, the popularity of Arabica coffee beans is further enhanced by the fact they are easy to grow. These plants do not require the same intensity when it comes to the growing and harvesting, so farmers can effectively allow the plants to just grow without standing over them all the time.
You see, these plants do not require very specific soil for the plants to grow. They can cope with a broader range of growing conditions compared to other coffee plants, so you can see why most farmers would look at Arabica beans as the easy option.
Where are Arabica Beans Grown?
Arabica coffee beans are grown in various parts of the world, but the plant is especially loved in Latin America. However, you will also find it grown in parts of Africa and even in Yemen.
What Does the Arabica Coffee Bean Taste Like?
But never mind the growing conditions, you want to know what Arabica beans taste like as that’s the crucial part.
Generally, Arabica beans are known for being pretty smooth when it comes to their taste profile. I love this about them as I’m not too keen when you sip some coffee and it comes across as quite sharp and jarring.
But a word of warning. Arabica beans do come with a touch more acidity surrounding their taste than you generally experience with other beans. It’s still not overpowering, but it’s undoubtedly there, and you just need to be aware of it.
From an aroma perspective, I tend to pick up some floral notes with Arabica beans. However, darker roasts will also bring out caramel and even nut flavors, so Arabica beans are pretty versatile when it comes to what they offer.
Robusta Coffee Beans
Robusta is the second most popular coffee bean in the world, but it still lags far behind Arabica. Generally, you are looking at Robusta beans being used in just over 20% of all coffee.
Also, you may find coffee blends, especially in pods or capsules, that combine both Arabica and Robusta.
Where are Robusta Beans Grown?
Robusta beans are typically grown in Asia while you will also find it in pockets of Africa. Brazil is another location, but it always feels to me as if Brazil just grows every single type of coffee bean, so that’s not a surprise.
What Does the Robusta Coffee Bean Taste Like?
If I was to sum up what the Robusta coffee bean tastes like, then I would generally describe it as like the Arabica bean, but dialed up to a whole new level. Basically, it’s pretty intense in its flavor and that’s why some people are not too keen on using this bean.
If you had the same coffee drink with one made from Arabica and the other from Robusta beans, I think most people would notice the Robusta drink to have a stronger kick to it. For some, it would be very apparent, and it’s the type of coffee that delivers a jolt and a real caffeine hit.
But how much caffeine is in Robusta beans? Typically, it’s believed that the caffeine level is double in Robusta beans, so you can see why it has that powerful impact.
But if you plan on consuming a drink made from Robusta beans, I would suggest you forget all about those floral and fruity notes you get with the Arabica variety. Instead, it’s often more of a nutty aftertaste without any sense of sweetness.
Liberica Coffee Beans
Liberica coffee beans may not be something you are familiar with, and I understand why. After all, it falls way behind Arabica and Robusta in the popularity stakes.
To show you how rare these beans are, they make up less than 5% of the total beans consumed globally. That makes them very rare, and some people do then view coffee made from Liberica beans as being more of a gourmet coffee as a result.
Liberica coffee beans are also viewed as something of a luxury. Often, coffee made from it will be more on the expensive side while there are more than a few coffee lovers who will only indulge in Liberica beans simply because it’s so rare.
Personally, I don’t buy the snobbery surrounding these coffee beans. You either like the taste and aroma of a bean, or you don’t.
What Does the Liberica Coffee Bean Taste Like?
I admit I’ve not experienced Liberica coffee too often, but the few times I’ve indulged in it I’ve been impressed.
From a taste perspective, I’d say Liberica coffee beans sit in the middle ground between Arabica and Robusta, and that’s a pretty cool place to be.
What that means is you will experience pretty much the full range of flavors you could possible expect from coffee. It has the smoothness you get with Arabica beans along with floral and fruity notes. At the same time, it also incorporates a nutty flavor and dark chocolate without generally being too bitter.
This happens all in the one coffee, so a whole lot is going on for you to pay attention to. It’s almost as if it takes your taste buds, throws them around, and confuses them by allowing so many flavors to develop.
Honestly, I can see why some people argue you will never move away from Liberica beans after tasting them. It comes across as almost the perfect balance from a coffee, as long as the barista doesn’t make a mess of things afterward.
Excelsa Coffee Beans
The final coffee bean I want to mention is the Excelsa coffee bean, and this is a rare bean so I understand if you have neither heard of it nor tasted it.
But I have a word of warning for you. Some coffee-loving individuals try to argue Excelsa is merely a variant of the Liberica coffee bean and that it’s not something distinct and unique.
Well, I’d argue against that, and I’m not alone in saying this. Instead, the flavor profile you get from Excelsa coffee beans comes across as being different enough to merit it being listed as a type of coffee bean all on its own.
Where is the Excelsa Coffee Bean Grown?
You will pretty much only find the Excelsa coffee bean grown in parts of Asia. This region delivers the perfect growing conditions for the plants, but it’s still only produced in selected areas.
This is partly due to the space given to growing Arabica and Robusta beans and their popularity. Also, the yield from Excelsa plants will tend to be lower than Arabica, so farmers don’t want to put in the effort of growing plants where more energy is required.
What Does the Excelsa Coffee Bean Taste Like?
Some individuals feel the taste of the Excelsa bean is no different from Liberica, but I don’t see it this way.
There’s a sharpness surrounding both the aroma and flavor. Also, expect some tart undertones when you brew coffee with Excelsa beans and this may be one of the most distinguishable features of the beans.
But it’s not a muted type of coffee bean. Instead, it knows how to deliver a punch both in aroma and taste, so expect it to blow your socks off, especially at the first time of asking.
I know most people will stick to Arabica beans simply because they are so widespread and appear in almost every type of coffee you will typically get your hands on. However, if you want to experience different aspects of coffee, then search around for Liberica or Excelsa beans.
For me, coffee is all about experimenting and trying different drinks made from various beans certainly forces you down the road of having to try out various coffee drinks. I don’t see that as a problem, and at least it will be a lot of fun checking out your options.