The Big Four: A Complete Guide to the 4 Main Types of Coffee Beans

Look down at that cup of coffee in your hands. Whether you take yours with cream and sugar or you’re one of the 35% of people who prefer to drink it black, your drink has a history to it. It may have taken seconds to brew, but where did it originate? You know coffee comes from beans, but not every cup is the same.

Today, we’re sharing a few key details about the four main types of coffee beans so you can be more informed the next time you indulge. Ready to learn more? Pour a second cup and let’s dive in!

1. Arabica Beans (Coffea arabica)

Of all of the different types of coffee beans, Arabica ones are the most popular. In fact, these beans make up around 60% of the total coffee consumption worldwide!

Though they’re the most popular beans, they’re also the most delicate. Arabica trees grow best in areas of a steady amount of both rainfall and shade. They’re sensitive to both heat and humidity, originating in the Ethiopian highlands. Growing no taller than six feet, the trees are easy to prune and maintain in their ideal climate. This means that it’s also easier to harvest the beans themselves. The caveat? This simple maintenance can come with a price. Unless the environment is just right, the trees can be prone to disease and fickle. That means that while growers can attempt to grow them in areas unlike their natural habitat, it takes double the effort to help them thrive.

This is especially the case when coffee makers attempt to grow Arabica beans in vast quantities to meet high demands. Known as a monoculture, this farming practice leaves the already-sensitive trees even more susceptible to blight and other diseases. And, when one tree becomes compromised, it can affect the entire crop.

The Best Cup

The highest-quality beans are those that come straight from the source, grown in smaller quantities to preserve their condition. How do you know if you’re drinking a cup of these? The coffee will have a bright body, just the right amount of acidity and layers of intricate flavors and aromas.

Brewing some at home? This is one bean you’ll want to taste hot. Its quality diminishes when you add ice or creamer, so stick to simple pour-overs or drip coffee for the best effect.

2. Robusta Beans (Coffea caniphora)

Robusta beans are second only to Arabica ones when it comes to global consumption. As their name implies, the trees they grow on are hearty and robust. Unlike Arabica trees, Robusta varieties are tolerant to almost any environment and aren’t too prone to disease. They can thank their high amounts of caffeine for this trait (almost double that of Arabica!), as the caffeine acts as a natural defense mechanism. Though they’ll thrive in a variety of altitudes, they prefer hot climates with irregular rainfall. This makes the Eastern Hemisphere ideal for their production, with most growing activity centered in India, Africa, and Indonesia.

The Best Cup

Looking for a morning pick-me-up? Robusta beans deliver the jolt you crave, though the highest-quality beans will be low-acid and smooth with every sip. You may even taste a hint of chocolate in the flavor profile! For the best drinking experience, look for coffee that’s grown in the climates intended for Robusta beans. In an effort to capitalize on the variety’s mass appeal, some farmers will grow the trees in unfavorable climates, leading to a low-quality product. You’ll know you’re drinking the wrong cup if the aromas fall flat and the taste is rubbery. While Arabica beans are best enjoyed black, go ahead and break out the creamer for Robusta! If you’re drinking a top-quality variety, you can’t weaken it with milk and sugar.

3. Liberica (Coffea liberica)

Enjoy a little history with your coffee? Let’s go on a brief journey back in time. In 1890, a foliar fungal disease known as “coffee rust” eliminated more than 90% of the world’s Arabica beans. In an effort to satiate the tastebuds of coffee drinkers around the globe, both farmers and government agencies looked at the Liberica plant as an alternative. A U.S. territory at the time, the Philippines tried this move first. Taking the risk proved to be a smart move, as the company was the sole coffee supplier for a time. However, when the Philippines declared independence from the U.S. in the early 1930s, it lost access to the resources required to supply the Liberica beans. The supply of trees dwindled and Liberica beans ceased to be a major player in the coffee space until 1995. At that time, they made a reappearance on the scene, though the tree supply was critically low at that point. To salvage the remaining crop, conservationists transferred the trees that remained to a region in the Philippines where they could thrive. By that time, Arabica beans were the go-to coffee variety. Thus, when the Liberica trees were ready for harvest, interest, and attention had diminished. Even today, it’s difficult to find pure Liberica beans, as they’re becoming even rarer.

The Best Cup

If you’re lucky enough to snag a cup of pure, roasted Liberica beans, it’s time to celebrate. These beans asymmetrical and larger than most, notable for their singular shape that’s unlike any other coffee bean. Fruity and floral with a distinctive aroma, Liberica coffee has a woody and smoky taste that’s unexpected for some!

4. Excelsa Beans (Coffea excelsaCoffea liberica var. dewevrei)

Though some classify Excelsa beans into the Liberica family, the two are distinct and possess their own unique characteristics.  The only similarities between the two? They both grow on extra-tall trees (20 to 30 feet tall) at comparable altitudes, and both have an almond-like shape.  With growing production focused in Southeast Asia, Excelsa trees account for only 7% of the global coffee circulation. You’ll often find it included in blends, where it’s favored for the complex boost of flavor it provides.

The Best Cup

Pure Excelsa beans will be tart and fruity, with full-bodied flavors. With features of both a light and dark roast, it’s an interesting combination that leads cultured drinkers around the world to try a taste.

Try These Types of Coffee Beans For Yourself

Now that we’ve explored the background and flavors of some of the four main types of green coffee beans, are you ready to try them for yourself? If so, we’d love to fill your cup. We’re a specialty importer and supplier of wholesale green coffee beans, importing the best varieties from around the world.

Contact us today to learn more about what we do and how our business works. We’re out to change how you think about (and drink) your favorite blend.

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