A lot of us claim to be coffee aficionados, but how much do we really know about coffee? Did you know that there are four main types of coffee beans?
Each of these has its own unique properties, and if you really want to understand what separates one bean from another, you need to delve into each of the four types, and even try them out.
Arabica coffee beans
Arabica beans are the most popular in the world. In fact, in certain countries if you shop for coffee beans in supermarkets or on the high street, it might be hard to find anything that is not arabica.
The trees tend to be small and easy to harvest the coffee beans from. Usually, they’re less than 6 feet in height.
Arabica trees are really heavily influenced by their surroundings, and the other trees grown nearby. For instance, in some farms where a lot of arabica plants are grown, it is possible that there can be a disease that rips through and ruins the whole crop.
Similarly, arabica is very heavily influenced by soil and altitude, which is why so many arabica coffee beans have such different flavours to enjoy.
Associative image taken from unsplash.com
Robusta coffee beans
Robusta get their name from being robust. This makes it easier to grow, even in more challenging climates. This leads to a mixed-bag when it comes to results.
There are some beautiful coffees in the robusta variety, but actually there are plenty of poor-quality versions.
Because it can grow in tough conditions, some farms are poorly kept or in less-than-ideal locations for growing coffee.
This means that it can end up with a rubbery taste. Some cheap coffee is robusta, with farmers being able to grow it in big bulk and sell it, even if they are in areas of the world less-known for coffee. There are many locations for growing coffee beans.
If a company just wants to find the cheapest supplier of beans, they’ll find some robusta coffees in there.
The robustness of the coffee means that it is very hard for them to pick up any sort of disease.
While there are cheap and nasty versions of the coffee as a result, a nice robusta with info on the methods used in growing and processing can have a delicious chocolatey taste and rich aroma.
Liberica coffee beans
Take a walk around your local supermarket and it is virtually guaranteed you won’t find a bag of liberica coffee. This is extremely rare, but this hasn’t always been the case.
In the 1900s, coffee rust wiped out most of the arabica stock in the world. The liberica plant was the solution, as this type of coffee was not as susceptible to disease. It was almost completely grown in the Philippines, but the USA eventually cut off their supplies.
Conservationists salvaged this type of coffee in the 1990s, but there were only a few plants left, and it’s still relatively rare. You’d have to look really hard to find a liberica coffee at your local coffee shop.
The beans of liberica coffee are inconsistent and irregular, and though the aroma is said to be exceptionally fruity, the coffee has also been described as smoky, earthy and woody.
While most of us will probably never get to experience liberica coffee, it is fair to say that it is hugely different from the other varieties on the market.
Associative image taken from unsplash.com
Excelsa coffee beans
Excelsa coffee was once viewed as its own entity, but is now classified as liberica. The two are really different, and the excelsa coffee is even rarer. It is said to account for an estimated 5% of coffee in the world, but in the western world it is even more sparse.
The liberica trees grow up to 30 feet, the beans are inconsistently shaped, and the trees can grow at similar altitude to liberica, but that is really where the similarities end.
The taste of excelsa is said to be dark and fruity, with a tart sourness impacting the back palate when you drink it. It’s certainly an unusual variety of coffee.
Many people seek out varieties grown and processed in the Dalat Highlands area of Vietnam, and though many asian coffees fit the arabica varietal, there is more variety in this part of the world when compared to some coffee grown in South America and Africa.
Understanding these four types of coffee beans is just one piece of the jigsaw that goes to make up the flavour. On top of this, the altitude, soil, roast and processing all make such a huge difference.
The world more-or-less runs on arabica coffee in the 21st century, but those who go searching can certainly find some really interesting rare types of coffee that can give them exciting new possibilities when it comes to taste. In the case of liberica coffee beans, there are even fascinating stories through history of the impact of these types of coffee.