Understanding Different Types of Coffee Beans and What the Brewed Taste Reveals

  • , by Frank Masotti
  • 17 min reading time
Understanding Different Types of Coffee Beans and What the Brewed Taste Reveals
Coffee lovers know that not all coffee beans are created equal. The world of coffee is rich with different types of beans, each bringing its own unique flavors and aromas to our cups. Understanding the differences between these beans can help us appreciate our brews more and even choose the perfect coffee for our tastes. By exploring the types of coffee beans, we can discover how brewing methods and bean origins impact the final taste in our cup.

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n our article, we will guide you through the fascinating varieties of coffee beans and what you can expect from their brewed flavors. Whether you are a seasoned coffee connoisseur or just starting your coffee journey, learning about these beans will enhance your coffee experience.

Basic Types of Coffee Beans

There are four main types of coffee beans: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. Each type has unique characteristics that affect flavor, aroma, and overall coffee experience.

Arabica Beans

Arabica beans are the most popular coffee beans, making up about 60 to 70% of the world's coffee. Grown at high elevations, these beans are known for their smooth, complex flavors. They often have a hint of sweetness and can include tones of fruit, sugar, and nuts.

Arabica plants are sensitive to their growing environment. Climate, soil, and altitude all influence the taste. These beans are typically grown in Latin America, East Africa, Asia, and parts of Oceania.

Due to their delicate nature, Arabica beans tend to have a lower caffeine content compared to Robusta beans. They are often used for high quality coffee blends and single origin coffees.

Robusta Beans

Robusta beans are the second most common coffee beans. They are hardier and can grow at lower altitudes. These beans have a stronger, more bitter taste than Arabica, with earthy and nutty flavors.

Robusta plants have a higher caffeine content, which gives the coffee a more robust and less acidic taste. The beans are generally used in espresso blends because they add body and crema.

Robusta beans are primarily grown in Africa and Southeast Asia. Because they are easier to care for and yield more crops, they are often less expensive than Arabica beans.

Liberica Beans

Liberica beans are less common but have a unique flavor profile. They are grown mainly in West Africa and Malaysia. These beans have a distinct, smoky taste with floral and fruit notes.

The beans are often larger than Arabica and Robusta beans and have an irregular shape. The taste of Liberica coffee can be quite strong and sometimes has a woody flavor.

Liberica is often used in blends to add complexity and depth. They are not as widely available, but they offer a distinct coffee experience for those looking to try something different.

Excelsa Beans

Excelsa beans, although part of the Liberica family, have their own distinct characteristics. They are mostly grown in Southeast Asia.

These beans have a tart and fruity flavor with a unique depth. The taste can be somewhat mysterious, combining light roast qualities with dark roast hints.

Excelsa beans are often used in blends to add complexity. They help to layer different flavor profiles, adding depth and dimension to the coffee.

By exploring these four basic types of coffee beans, we can better appreciate and choose our preferred coffee flavors.

1) Arabica Beans

Arabica beans are one of the most popular types of coffee beans in the world. They make up about 60 to 70% of global coffee production. These beans originated in the highlands of Ethiopia and are known for their smooth, complex flavors.

Arabica coffee plants thrive in cooler temperatures and higher altitudes. They grow best in rich, volcanic soil, which helps to develop their unique taste. Brazil is the largest producer of Arabica beans, producing millions of metric tons each year.

The flavor of Arabica coffee can vary greatly depending on where it is grown. Beans from different regions can have notes of fruit, sugar, and even floral undertones. Generally, Arabica coffee has a sweeter, more delicate taste compared to other types of beans.

When brewed, Arabica beans produce a cup of coffee that is balanced and usually less bitter. This makes them a favorite for many coffee lovers who enjoy a more refined taste. We often find that Arabica beans work well for various brewing methods, including pour over and drip coffee.

2) Robusta Beans

Robusta beans come from the Coffea canephora plant. They are known for their strong and bold flavor. Compared to Arabica, Robusta beans have a higher caffeine content, typically around 2.7%.

We often find Robusta beans to have a deep, rich taste. Common flavor notes include dark chocolate, nuts like almonds, and even hints of whiskey. The beans are more acidic, contributing to their strong taste.

Robusta beans are usually used in espresso blends. Their deep flavor adds a robust kick to the coffee. They also produce a thicker crema, making them popular in certain coffee traditions, especially in Italy.

Harvesting these beans is more labor intensive. The coffee cherries ripen quicker than Arabica, maturing in about 6 to 8 months. This higher yield makes them a staple in various coffee growing regions like Africa, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Many of us might recognize the earthy aroma from Robusta beans. This type of coffee has become a favorite for people who enjoy a stronger, more intense cup of coffee. While they can have a burnt aftertaste when brewed improperly, the right methods can bring out their unique flavors.

3) Liberica Beans

Liberica beans are unique and stand out due to their large almond shape. They have a distinct flavor profile that combines floral, fruity, and smoky notes. This makes them quite different from the more common Arabica and Robusta beans.

Liberica coffee is known for its lower caffeine content. Compared to other beans, it has about 1.23 grams of caffeine per 100 grams. This makes it a good choice for those who prefer less caffeine in their coffee.

We can trace the origins of Liberica beans to West Africa, particularly Liberia. Today, they are grown in various tropical regions.

The flavor of Liberica coffee is bold and fruity, with a hint of nuttiness. It's a surprise for many coffee lovers. The taste can be quite smooth with a unique aftertaste.

Additionally, Liberica beans contain some beneficial nutrients. They have vitamins B2, B3, and small amounts of vitamin E. They also include minerals like potassium, magnesium, and a bit of calcium and phosphorus. This adds more value to drinking Liberica coffee.

4) Excelsa Beans

Excelsa beans are one of the lesser known types of coffee beans. They are part of the Coffea liberica family but stand out due to their unique characteristics.

These beans are typically grown in Southeast Asia. They are harder to find compared to the common Arabica and Robusta beans because they are not cultivated on a large scale.

Excelsa beans are known for their distinct, elongated shape and larger size. They have a glossy appearance due to their thin outer layer called the "silverskin."

In terms of flavor, Excelsa offers a unique taste profile. We can expect a mix of fruity and tart notes. Some describe the flavors as having hints of dark berries and citrusy qualities.

The aroma of Excelsa coffee is also quite distinctive. It often has a fruity and tart smell, which can remind us of dark berries. This aroma sets it apart from other types of coffee beans.

When brewed, Excelsa coffee is smooth and well balanced. The low acidity and bitterness make it a pleasant choice for those who prefer a milder cup. Despite its rarity, it offers a rich and flavorful experience for coffee enthusiasts looking for something different.

5) Geisha Beans

Geisha beans are one of the most unique and sought after types of coffee beans. Originating from Ethiopia, these beans are now grown in high altitude regions like Panama. The trees producing Geisha coffee grow tall and have distinct elongated leaves.

The beans themselves are oval and almost peaberry shaped. They are picked by hand and meticulously processed to bring out their best qualities. Geisha beans are known for their high aromatic properties, which make them stand out.

When brewed, Geisha coffee offers a complex flavor profile. We taste floral and fruity notes, which provide a delightful drinking experience. The flavors are delicate and nuanced, making this coffee a luxurious choice for enthusiasts.

For brewing, we recommend using pour over methods or a French press. Using a medium to medium fine grind helps bring out the delicate flavors. It's important to control the water temperature carefully to avoid over extraction.

Roasting Geisha beans is also critical. We find that roasting at a temperature of 400 to 425°F for 10 to 12 minutes works best. This ensures that the beans are evenly roasted and that their natural flavors are preserved.

The cost of Geisha coffee is high, sometimes reaching up to $68 a cup in places like Dubai. This price reflects the careful cultivation and processing that these beans undergo. Overall, Geisha beans offer an exceptional and refined coffee experience.

6) Maragogipe Beans

Maragogipe beans are a unique type of Arabica coffee known for their large size. Often called "elephant beans," they are about 40% larger than regular Arabica beans. This large size is due to a natural mutation of the Typica coffee plant.

Originating in Brazil, near the city of Maragogipe, these beans were first discovered in 1870. They are distinctive not just because of their size, but also due to their porous texture. This texture allows them to absorb surrounding flavors and aromas more easily.

Maragogipe beans are popular for their mild and smooth flavor profile. When brewed, they often produce a cup with delicate notes and a light body. We may also notice hints of floral and fruity undertones, making them a unique addition to any coffee lover's palate.

One challenge with Maragogipe beans is their susceptibility to diseases such as leaf rust and nematodes. This makes them difficult to cultivate on a large scale. Despite these challenges, their distinctive qualities make them a sought after variety for those looking to try something different.

7) Typica Beans

Typica beans are a well known variety of Arabica coffee. They originate from Ethiopia and have a rich history. Known for their high quality, these beans produce an exquisite cup of coffee.

Typica has a complex yet balanced flavor profile. The taste is often described as sweet, smooth, and clean. We can also notice fruity and chocolatey notes, with medium to high acidity and low bitterness.

These beans are elongated and curved. They are grown in Central and South America, as well as Southeast Asia. Typica coffee trees are quite tall but produce fewer beans compared to other varieties.

When brewed, Typica beans shine in methods like espresso and pour over. These brewing methods highlight their diverse and delightful taste. The rich history and exquisite flavors make Typica a favorite among coffee enthusiasts.

Typica's influence has been significant globally. Many contemporary coffee varieties trace their roots back to this impressive bean. For those of us who appreciate high quality coffee, Typica is a gem worth exploring.

8) Bourbon Beans

Bourbon coffee beans have an interesting history. Originating from what was formerly known as Île Bourbon, now Réunion Island, these beans were propagated by the French. This variety has shaped the coffee culture significantly.

We find Bourbon beans to be medium sized and uniformly shaped. Their oval shape and medium brown color, often with a slight reddish tint, make them distinctive.

These beans are commonly grown at high altitudes. The elevation contributes to their density and flavor profile. They often produce a smoother and silkier cup of coffee.

There are two popular types: Red Bourbon and Yellow Bourbon. Red Bourbon beans have more glucose, making them creamy and nutty. Yellow Bourbon beans, with more fructose, are sweeter and fruitier.

Bourbon coffee beans thrive in various climates but are susceptible to diseases. Despite this, their rich flavors make them a favorite for many coffee lovers.

Our cups brewed from Bourbon beans offer a unique taste experience ranging from creamy sweetness to fruity notes, making them a delightful choice.

9) Catimor Beans

Catimor beans are a hybrid variety that was developed in Portugal during the late 1960s. This variety is created from a cross between the Timor Hybrid and Caturra varieties. Its primary advantage is its high yield and strong disease resistance, which makes it a popular choice among growers.

This coffee variety is grown in several regions, including Central and South America, India, and Indonesia. The beans have a slightly rounded shape and a medium small cherry size. They tend to grow best at medium elevations.

Flavor wise, Catimor beans can offer a range of tastes depending on the growing conditions. When cultivated properly, they provide a sweet and crisp cup with nutty and herbal notes. The acidity can be bright and fruity, making for an interesting and enjoyable brew.

One distinct feature of Catimor plants is their dwarf size, with bronze colored leaf tips. This variety's adaptability to different environments allows it to thrive in various climates. While these beans typically have a bit less caffeine than other varieties, their resilience and unique flavor profile make them a favorite among many coffee lovers.

10) Caturra Beans

Caturra beans are a popular variety of Arabica coffee. Originating in Brazil in the early 1900s, they are a natural mutation of the Bourbon coffee plant. The name 'Caturra' comes from a Guarani word meaning "small," which reflects the compact size of the plants.

These beans are known for their high yield and quick maturation. The trees thrive in altitudes between 3,900 to 6,500 feet, enjoying cool temperatures and rich volcanic soil. Too much sun can damage their leaves, so shading can be important.

Flavor wise, Caturra beans offer a sweet, complex, and crisp profile. The taste can vary depending on the region where they're grown, similar to how wine flavors change with terroir. This makes Caturra a versatile choice for coffee lovers seeking unique experiences.

Flavor Profiles of Coffee Beans

Different coffee beans offer a variety of taste experiences. These flavors depend on the bean type, where it is grown, and how it is processed.

Arabica Taste Notes

Arabica beans are renowned for their mild and nuanced flavor. They often have a sweeter, more complex taste with a range of notes.

We can taste bright acidity in many Arabicas, which often includes citrus or fruity flavors. Other common flavors may include hints of chocolate and nuts. Due to their delicate profiles, Arabica beans are highly valued and often used in specialty coffees.

Robusta Taste Notes

Robusta beans are known for their strong, bold flavor. They tend to have a more bitter and earthy profile compared to Arabica.

Robusta often includes notes of nuts and wood, with less acidity. The higher caffeine content contributes to its strong, sometimes harsh taste. These beans are often used in espresso blends to provide a fuller body and a denser crema.

Liberica Taste Notes

Liberica beans have a distinctly unique flavor that sets them apart from Arabica and Robusta. Their taste can be described as fruity and floral, but also woody.

When we brew Liberica, it often has a smoky and nutty flavor, with subtle hints of dark chocolate. This bean offers a complex taste experience that is not as common as the other types.

Excelsa Taste Notes

Excelsa beans, a variety of Liberica, contribute to full bodied blends with a tart and fruity profile. They are often used to add depth to coffee blends.

We can experience flavors that are both sweet and somewhat spicy, with hints of dark fruits like berries. Excelsa beans provide a rich complexity that makes them highly sought after in specialty coffee blends.

Factors Affecting Coffee Bean Flavor

The flavor of coffee beans is shaped by various conditions. These include where they are grown, how they are processed, and how they are roasted. Each of these factors influences the final taste of the brewed coffee.

Growing Conditions

Climate: The temperature and rainfall a coffee plant receives can change the flavor of the beans. For instance, beans grown in cool climates often have bright, acidic notes.

Soil Composition: The minerals in the soil are absorbed by the coffee plants and affect the beans’ taste. Rich volcanic soils, for example, can lead to beans with a vibrant, complex profile.

Elevation: Higher altitudes tend to produce beans with more pronounced flavors. Elevated areas offer consistent temperatures, which slows the growth and allows sugars to develop.

Processing Methods

Natural (Dry) Process: Beans are dried with the fruit still on. This can give the coffee a fruity, sweet flavor but also makes it more likely to have uneven tastes.

Washed Process: The fruit is removed before drying. This process tends to highlight the bean’s intrinsic flavors, making the coffee cleaner and brighter.

Honey Process: A middle ground between natural and washed. Some of the fruit is left on the bean during drying. This can produce a coffee that has both the sweetness of natural and the clarity of washed processes.

Roasting Techniques

Light Roasts: These roasts preserve the bean’s natural flavors and are often described as having a bright or acidic profile.

Medium Roasts: Balance between the bean’s natural flavors and the flavor developed during roasting. They have a fuller body and a balanced acidity.

Dark Roasts: These roasts develop strong, rich flavors often described as smoky or chocolatey. The roasting process becomes the dominant flavor, sometimes masking the bean's original characteristics.

Roasting times and temperatures need to be carefully controlled to bring out the best in each type of bean.


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