Coffee is one of the most popular drinks on the planet, and it all comes from that magical coffee bean. There is a good chance that you already know the coffee bean is a seed from the coffee plant. But did you know there are four primary kinds of coffee beans?
These beans have very different flavor profiles, and this is much of what allows coffee blends to create all the flavors and effects we expect out of our favorite bag of grounds. So, let’s take a look at the four most popular coffee beans out there.
There is a very good chance you already know this bean because it is by far the most popular variety on the planet. This mighty coffee bean accounts for more than 60% of the entire world’s production. There are several reasons for this, starting with their generally easy care.
Arabica plants grow to a small size, generally no larger than 6′. This makes Arabic trees very easy to prune as well as harvest.
These plants grow at a high altitude under heavy shade with steady rain. Arabica is easily affected by its environment, so it makes it difficult to grow in sub-optimal environments.
Unfortunately, these plants are quite vulnerable to disease not only because of their innate vulnerability but also due to their popularity. Growers often wish to grow these plants in vast quantities, referred to as monocultures.
These innately disease vulnerable monocultures can allow diseases to easily spread from plant to plant. This means when one plant contracts an illness, it is quite possible every plant will catch it.
High-quality Arabic beans have a multi-layered mixture of flavors and a bright body. Satisfyingly acidic Arabica coffee made from arabica beans is best sampled on the front of the palate to most enjoy the sweetness and salinity of this bean.
For the homebrewer, try to look for beans with low acidity and a full body. Also, keep in mind that the quality of brews with this bean drop when enjoyed cold or with cream. This coffee is best prepared hot with a drip or pour-over technique.
Robusta is the second most common coffee bean on the planet, so there’s a good chance you’re already aware of this bean. But, you may not know that coffee produced from this bean contains nearly twice the caffeine of Arabica.
This high caffeine content has to do with its main draw for growers, and that is its extremely high disease resistance. Caffeine acts as natural protection against disease.
This, coupled with its high tolerance for a variety of environments and altitudes, allows growers a more forgiving experience than other beans. However, for an optimum environment, this bean looks for a hot climate with irregular rainfall.
For flavor, Robust, high-quality beans possess a heavy body, low acidity, smooth texture, and often a hint of chocolate in its flavor. To best enjoy Robusta coffee’s bitter notes, try sampling it on the back palate.
Also, for homebrewers, try looking for single-origin or other coffees that possess origin about its place of origin. After all, with this plant’s considerable durability, there are many who look to grow it in less than optimal climates and take advantage of its popularity. This can result in a rubbery taste and weak smell as well as a generally less flavorful brew.
Luckily this brew is great for additives such as cream and sugar. Even with these additives, it still retains its flavor, making it optimal for many specialty coffee drinks.
Liberica has become a rarer coffee bean to see nowadays, but it certainly has had a rich history. This bean becomes popular as a result of a crippling coffee plant affliction called coffee rust.
Back in the year 1890, coffee rust destroyed over 90% of the entire world’s supply of Arabica coffee beans, leaving growers and coffee consumers alike thirsty for a solution. This came in the form of the new breed of coffee plant Liberica. This new plant was first grown in the Philippines, and for a while, this variety was only grown there.
Though popular for a while, international conflict caused this bean to nearly become extinct and only return to serious growth in the last few decades. Even now, this bean is often difficult to find.
However, if you are lucky enough to come across this bean, know that it is a large, asymmetrical shape with a floral, fruity aroma. Its taste is smoky with an extremely full body that is unlike most other blends.
Though now technically classified as a genus of the Liberica species of coffee, the Excelsa has long considered a unique variety of beans with good reason. Its flavor is completely different.
Despite this, the plant does grow in a similar range to ordinary Liberica beans and possess a similar appearance, only smaller. Found in medium altitudes primarily from Southeast Asia, these beans represent about 7% of the world’s stock of coffee beans.
Though not as popular as the sole bean for coffee, it is often used in blends due to its complex, almost mysterious flavor. This bean produces a tart, fruity flavor to the palate, similarly to a light roast, but with notes of dark, roasted flavor just like a dark roast. This gives it a complex flavor profile that is hard to pin down, perfect for adding to blends.
Despite its mixed flavor profile, it is said that coffee made with this bean is best sampled on the middle and back of the palate to enjoy it fully. For iced coffee enthusiasts, you can rejoice that this bean tastes wonderful cold.
This depends on what you are hoping for from the beans. If it is caffeine, you are looking for a brew purely for high caffeine, then look for Robusta as this contains significantly more caffeine than any other bean. But, if it is the flavor you are looking for, you cannot beat Arabica for a strong, delicious taste.
However, if you are looking to try something new, it’s worth it to hunt out the rarer Liberica and Excelsa beans. These brews can give you unusual flavor profiles you will not regret trying.
Now you know what goes into the coffee you love and probably enjoy pretty much every day. Armed with this knowledge, feel free to try new beans and perhaps find new blends to satisfy your coffee craving.
We have told you about the four well-known beans that account for the majority of coffee bean production around the world today. But, there are still countless varieties of small production beans out there. Let’s talk about a few of the better-known examples of these.
These coffee beans were developed by French Monasteries and became a popular variety in Africa and the Americas. A predecessor to many other beans on the market, these coffee trees benefit from a relatively large crop size. Unfortunately, they also suffer from a weak resistance to disease. Flavor-wise, these beans are described as possessing a fruity flavor with a sweet, almost caramel undertone.
These beans were developed relatively recently as a cross between Caturra and a lesser-known breed to be resistant to disease. Unfortunately, these beans can have a worse flavor profile when grown at a high altitude. When grown correctly, however, their taste can be adequate.
These Jamaican beans are one of the oldest varieties in the Americas and certainly one of the best. This coffee bean possesses an all-around balanced flavor profile, light-body, with mild acidity.
These beans have a mild flavor profile with any different variants. They are famously grown on the Hawaiian islands, where they grow well.
The Caturra bean is a mutated product of Bourbon coffee growths that was developed into a unique product in Brazil. Later it moved to Colombia and Central America, where it thrives. These beans are also a predecessor to many other varieties of beans. Coffee made with these beans possesses a citrus flavor with a light body.
The Jember bean hails from Indonesia, where it was developed from the Kent and S228 varieties of bean to be a hardy disease-resistant plant. It resulted in a rich, full-bodied bean with deliciously sweet undertones.
Roasting is the cooking that turns the raw green coffee into the recognizable dark beans you find in the store.
Coffee beans are roasted to unlock the flavor and aroma present inside them. Before roasting, the beans are stored in their natural green state until they are ready for consumption. This is because until they are roasted, they can be stored for long periods of time without loss of flavor.
But once roasted at a high temperature, the chemical process alters the flavor and draws out moisture, turning them into the beans we all know. However, this toasted flavor diminishes quickly, so once roasted, they should be used quickly for maximum quality.
An expert coffee roaster can make a split-second decision on when a bean is done with nothing more than a momentary glimpse. This skill is necessary to prevent costly ruined batches and bring that sweet, dark nectar to your pot. But, it takes years of training to develop this rare talent.
We would like to tell you there is an easy guide to all the roasts out there, but unfortunately, there is little standardization between coffee roasters to determine exactly what kind of roast you are getting. Generally, though, these roasts at least loosely fall into one of four categories: light, medium, medium-dark, and dark.
The best roast is a personal preference as it does not change the caffeine content significantly, though light roasts have a slightly greater quantity. In the end, it really comes down to what flavor tastes best to the drinker. So, let’s take a look at a little bit of what you can expect out of these different roasts.
Light roasts possess the mildest flavor of the different roasts, a light-brown color like you might expect from the name. The exterior of these beans is not oily due to cooking too lightly for oil to escape to the surface.
The flavor of medium roasts is stronger than light roasts and the color darker, but the exterior is still not oily. This roast is the most popular brew in the US, so it is sometimes known as the American roast.
This roast is dark with a full, rich flavor. It has been roasted long enough to bring some oil out to the surface and give it a slightly bittersweet tone in the aftertaste.
Dark roasting produces beans with a black, oily surface and a deep bitter flavor. Correspondingly the darker the roasting process, the less acidic the brew. It is hard to tell from the name how dark the brew you are getting is, and “dark” roasts run the entire spectrum from slightly dark to charcoal, so try to check your beans before purchase.
Coffee Brewing methods are varied across the world, and there’s no limit to the innovations people have made to create that delicious bean brew. So, we can’t go into detail on every way people have tried to brew a cup, but let’s take a look at some of the most popular methods out there.
The French press method was developed from the plunger pot invented unsurprisingly in France. This technique uses a plunger to press hot water through your grounds and a filter screen into a pot.
The drip brewing method pulls regular water from a reservoir, heats it, and then passes it through a filter full of grounds. This allows it to brew and drip down into a waiting carafe now full of that wonderful brew.
This method of brewing is performed by placing grounds and filter inside a funnel. Then simply pour the water over and through the funnel into your waiting mug. This can produce a richer flavor than regular brewing without some of the poorer flavors. This is achieved by wetting the grounds then waiting a few minutes before pouring more water through. This allows the grounds to release some of their gases.
Cold brewing can be a great technique to avoid some of the bitter flavors associated with hot brewing. This can achieve a more balanced taste, but it takes time to brew. Often a good cold brew takes up to 24 hours of time brewing. During this, water and ground coffee are mixed and simply left to wait overnight. The following morning you can strain the grounds out and enjoy your brew.
Espresso is made by heating water until it is nearly boiling and then putting it through a thick filter at very high pressure. Not only does it make a strong brew this way, but it also suspends a great deal more of the material and gases in the coffee grounds with the beverage.
With normal coffee, it is a mostly thin liquid, but with espresso, the solids suspended in the liquid leave it with an almost creamy texture topped by an aromatic foam. This method of brewing is the most popular way to enjoy coffee in much of Europe, and it is definitely a staple in much of the US as well.
Homebrewers certainly haven’t sat idle. Home espresso brewing machines have boomed in popularity in the last few years, making it possible for anyone to enjoy this beverage in their own home.
There are infinite varieties of beans, roasts, and methods to produce the coffee people around the world enjoy every day. The flavors and consistencies vary across every spectrum, but this is part of the beauty of coffee. No matter what you are looking for, light and tart or dark and caramel, you can find a coffee to satisfy what you are craving.