Choosing coffee beans is not a walk in the park. It is not as easy as picking one from a brand you easily recognize or one with the lowest price. Instead, it requires thorough evaluation based on certain factors, and one of the most important is the type of beans.
Your choice of beans impacts the overall flavor and aroma of coffee. The effect goes beyond color or appearance. Read on and learn more about coffee beans, including how they are different from each other.
Characteristics of Coffee Bean Types
Are you looking for beans for your caffeine fix? Level up your coffee knowledge and learn about the four main types of coffee beans, including their most important characteristics.
Up to 60% of coffee consumed in the world is Arabica. It is common to see many commercially available coffees labeled as 100% Arabica. More than being more popular than the other types, it is also superior in terms of flavor.
Arabica is a coffee that originated in Ethiopia. No wonder, the latter is known as the birthplace of coffee. It is believed to have originated in the Kingdom of Kefa in 1,000 BC. This is where the ancient tribes crushed coffee beans and combined them with fat. From there, it would cross the Red Sea and find its way to lower Arabia, which is also where it got its name.
Flavor-wise, Arabica is impressive, which is also why it is the most popular. If you drink wine, then you will find it comparable to merlot. It has a light and airy sweetness, which is heavily influenced by the mountains where the beans grow.
Aside from being slightly sweet, it also has flavors reminiscent of caramel, nuts, and chocolate. You might even taste traces of fruits, especially berries. There is a pleasant acidity and minimal bitterness.
While it has good flavors, some people might not like Arabica because it is acidic. This acidity is the culprit to some of the coffee’s most common side effects, such as an upset stomach.
One of the reasons why it tastes so good is because of the environment where it is grown. The climate isn’t harsh. It prefers mild temperatures, which usually range from 59 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some of the best places that grow Arabica coffee are the following:
- Costa Rica
The next most popular type of coffee bean is Robusta. It is made using a plant known as Coffea canephora. Along with Coffea arabica, these are the only two coffee varieties grown commercially. It constitutes 40% of global coffee production. If you do not like acidic coffee, this is for you.
Looking at its history, we can trace the origins of Robusta coffee to Africa, specifically in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, it is also grown in many other countries, including the following:
Robusta coffee can grow well even in locations with full sun. It is more climate-resistant compared to Arabica. Nonetheless, it can also suffer from the effects of global warming, which can negatively impact flavor, especially when compared to its more popular counterpart.
Another characteristic of Robusta coffee is that it is naturally pest resistant. This makes it easier and quicker to grow.
In terms of taste, there can be variations depending on the processing and growing locations. In general, however, it is earthy and rubbery. It can also have a sesame or peanut aftertaste. Some might not appreciate its bitterness. If you want it to be milder, consider some of the best ways to make coffee less bitter, such as by changing brewing methods and having add-ons.
Now that we talked about the two most common types, let’s also discuss the two least popular. This might be your first time hearing about Liberica, which is unsurprising given that it is the rarest type of coffee beans.
This coffee is originally from Liberia, which explains the name. From West Africa, it found its way to other countries. Today, the most notable source of this coffee is the Philippines, where it is locally known as Barako coffee. You will also find it in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Liberica may not be as popular as Arabica or Robusta, but that does not mean that the taste is inferior. If you ask avid coffee drinkers, they will agree that Liberica is a great option for a caffeine fix. It has a full-bodied, smoky, and woody taste, providing a complex flavor profile.
A notable characteristic of Liberica is that it is the tallest of coffee trees. The height can reach up to 17 meters. As for the beans, it has a jagged central part, a long oval shape, asymmetrical sides, and a hooked tip.
It has a pulp-to-parchment ratio of 60:40. For comparison, both Arabica and Robusta have pulp-to-parchment ratio of 40:60. It means that Liberica has a longer drying time, which is also one thing that contributes to its fruity flavor.
Wrapping up our list of coffee beans is Excelsa. Before 2006, it is characterized by a unique variety. Today, however, it already falls under Liberica. Despite that, it deserves its spot on this rundown.
Even if it is under Liberica, Excelsa has different physical characteristics. For instance, it is much smaller and rounder, unlike Liberica, which is long and oval.
Liberica accounts for less than 2% of global coffee production, so many people have not even tried it yet. Accessibility can also be a problem since it grows in limited regions. Today, it is found almost exclusively in Southeast Asia.
Sweet and fruity are two of the most common things that you can expect from Excelsa beans. Depending on growing conditions and processing, it can also be tart. Often, Liberica is added to Arabica coffee to give it more depth and character.
However, while it comes with pleasant fruity flavors, the aroma can be annoying. Some people describe it as being unpleasant, which can also be quite strong.
How to Find the Best Coffee Beans
Choosing coffee beans goes beyond knowing the different types available. To help you prepare the best cup of joe possible, below are some of the best things to keep in mind.
1. Roasting Date
Freshness is a crucial consideration, so do not forget to look at the roasting date when buying coffee beans. Since it is an agricultural product, coffee is best consumed when it is fresh, which is when it will have peak flavors and aroma.
The bag of beans should have a clear print showing the roasting date. Otherwise, it can be a way to trick buyers, which also means it is no longer fresh. The flavors will be at their best one to two weeks after roasting. After which, it can deteriorate. To keep it fresher longer, pay attention as well to the right way of storing coffee beans.
2. Roast Level
Aside from the date of roasting, another thing to consider is the roasting level. Roasting brings out the flavors in coffee beans. A common misconception is that the darker the roast, the more bitter coffee is, but such is not the case. Here is a quick look at the common roast levels:
- Light Roast: The beans were exposed to heat for a minimal time. The color is light brown. It retains most of the bean’s original characteristics. You can expect the flavor profile to be bright and smooth without pronounced bitterness.
- Medium Roast: To get a medium roast, the beans are removed from the roaster just before the second crack. It has lower caffeine compared to its light roast counterparts. The flavor can be toasty, although it still depends on the type of beans used.
- Dark Roast: With the use of high temperatures, a lot of the natural oils are extracted from the beans. It results in having a shiny and dark brown color. Because the beans are cooked the longest compared to the other roasting levels, it also has the least caffeine level.
3. Blend or Single Origin
By looking at whether it is a blend or a single origin, you can understand where the coffee is from. Consequently, you will have an idea of its overall flavor profile since growing regions are highly influential in coffee quality.
A single origin means that the beans are from a single estate. Meanwhile, it is a blend when it is a mix of several states, providing a more complex flavor profile. If you like your coffee black, the single origin is a good choice. Meanwhile, if you enjoy it with milk, you will love a blend.
In sum, there are two main types of coffee beans – Arabica and Robusta, which account for almost 100% of global coffee production. A small percentage is from the Liberica variety. Under the latter is Excelsa, which used to be an entirely different category.