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Are you intrigued by the diverse world of coffee beans and want to learn more about their origins and characteristics? You’re not alone! Millions of people around the globe start their day with a hot cup of coffee, but few know about the different types of coffee bean varieties they are drinking. In this article we’ll explore the captivating world of coffee bean varieties and the factors that shape their unique flavours and characteristics. So, grab your favourite brew, and let’s learn together!
A Brief History of Coffee
Firstly a quick condensed history of coffee. The origins of coffee cultivation date back to 9th century Ethiopia, where coffee plants grew wild and were first discovered by a goat herder named Kaldi. Over time, coffee consumption evolved from crushed coffee cherries mixed with animal fat to the roasted and brewed beans we know today. Coffee spread from the Arabian Peninsula to the Americas, driven by the Dutch during the 17th century, leading to the development of diverse coffee species and varieties. Today, coffee cultivation is a sophisticated global industry focused on quality, sustainability, and ethical practices, reflecting the rich history and evolution of coffee.
The 4 Main Types of Coffee beans
In this world there are four main types of coffee beans that dominate the market and form the backbone of the coffee industry. Arabica and Robusta, Liberica and Excelsa. Each type possesses unique characteristics, flavours, and growing requirements. Let’s explore these four coffee bean types in more detail.
Arabica (Coffea arabica)
Arabica is the most widely consumed coffee bean in the world, accounting for 60-70% of global coffee production. Known for its mild, nuanced flavours and pleasant acidity, Arabica beans are highly sought after by coffee drinkers. The beans are typically oval-shaped, with a curved crease. Arabica beans originated in Ethiopia and are now grown in various high-altitude regions across Africa, South America, and Central America. They require specific growing conditions, including high altitudes, steady rainfall, and shade, making them more challenging to cultivate compared to other coffee beans.
Some well-known Arabica varieties and cultivars include Typica, Bourbon, and Gesha, each with distinct flavour profiles and attributes.
Robusta (Coffea canephora)
Robusta beans are the second most popular coffee beans globally, known for their strong, bold flavours and higher caffeine content compared to Arabica beans. Robusta beans are smaller and rounder than Arabica beans, with a straight crease. These beans thrive in lower altitudes and are more resistant to diseases and pests, making them easier to grow. Predominantly grown in Africa and Southeast Asia, Robusta beans are often used in espresso blends and instant coffee due to their full-bodied taste and ability to produce a rich crema.
Liberica (Coffea liberica)
Liberica beans are a rare and unique type of coffee bean, accounting for a small fraction of the global coffee production. These beans are larger and irregularly shaped compared to Arabica and Robusta beans. Liberica coffee is known for its fruity, floral notes and bold, smoky flavours. Originally from Liberia in West Africa, Liberica beans are now primarily grown in countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Excelsa (Coffea excelsa)
Excelsa beans, a variant of the Liberica species, are another rare and unique type of coffee bean. These beans have a distinct flavour profile, characterised by tart, fruity notes and a light body. Like Liberica beans, Excelsa beans are primarily grown in Southeast Asia, particularly in countries like Vietnam and the Philippines.
Peaberry Coffee Beans
Peaberry coffee beans are a special and relatively rare occurrence in the coffee world, prized for their unique shape and often considered to have superior quality compared to regular coffee beans.
In a typical coffee cherry, there are usually two beans that develop side by side, resulting in their flat, oval shape. However, in about 5-10% of coffee cherries, only one bean develops, forming a more rounded, pea-like shape – hence the name “peaberry.” This unique shape is believed to result in better roasting consistency, as the round beans roll more evenly in the roaster.
Peaberry beans are also often hand-sorted and meticulously processed, ensuring that only the best beans make it to the final product.
Peaberry beans are usually harvested and processed alongside regular coffee beans. Due to their rarity and the additional labor involved in sorting and processing, peaberry beans are often sold at a premium compared to regular coffee beans.
Coffee Growing Regions and Terroir
Coffee is grown in various regions around the world, with each region imparting unique flavours and characteristics to the beans. The combination of altitude, climate, soil, and local cultivation practices significantly influences the flavour profile and quality of the coffee beans.
Countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Peru are famous for producing high-quality Arabica beans, often characterised by their bright acidity, medium body, and fruity, nutty notes.
Nations like Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Honduras are renowned for their excellent Arabica beans, which often feature bright acidity, medium to full body, and complex flavours ranging from citrus to chocolate.
Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, is known for its diverse Arabica varieties with distinct flavours, including fruity, floral, and wine-like notes. Kenya is another African country famous for its high-quality Arabica beans, often characterised by their bright acidity, full body, and an intense fruity palate.
Asian countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines produce a mix of Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa beans. Indonesian beans, for example, are often known for their full body, low acidity, and earthy, spicy notes.
Terroir, a term borrowed from the world of wine, refers to the combination of environmental factors that influence the flavour and characteristics of agricultural products, including coffee. Factors such as altitude, soil type, climate, and cultivation practices all contribute to the unique flavour profiles of coffee beans from different regions. For example, coffees grown at higher altitudes often exhibit bright acidity and complex flavours, while those grown at lower altitudes may have a more full-bodied and earthy taste.