Coffee Beans: What's in Your Brew?
What’s in a brew?
A good brew is all in the beans
Coffee is truly an art form. And when it comes to art, there are several different types, styles, and mediums. The same is true in the culinary world. With wine, there are all different types of grapes, all with their own complex flavors and thriving in different climates. With tea, there are all the different methods of preparing the leaves once they are harvested, that gives life to all the different types of tea. From green to black to pu’erh. Coffee, too, has a few different types of beans that all contribute to different, but equally superb cups of coffee.
The four types of beans
While many people are familiar with the two main types of coffee beans, Arabica and Robusta, many may be surprised to learn that there are actually four different types of coffee beans. Arabica and Robusta, as well as two others, the Liberica and the Excelsa. To better acquaint ourselves with these four superb types of beans, let’s start with the fabulous Arabica.
Scientifically known as Coffea Arabica, the Arabica bean is known for its high quality, but also the quantity, making up 60% of the world’s coffee consumption. Arabica beans are a special and delicate type of coffee bean. Arabica beans are ideally grown at high altitudes and with plenty of precipitation. Arabica loves rain and shade.
Arabica beans are also very delicate, they react very strongly to the environment they are grown in, and if a disease or blight hits one Arabica plant, the whole crop, or monoculture, could very well be doomed.
When it comes to taste, Arabica beans generally possess moderate levels of acidity and many complex aromas and flavors. Arabica coffee contains lots of lipids and sugar. These come into play when it comes to flavor and taste. The high amount of sugar, in particular, imbues Arabica beans with a full body texture, a pleasant mouthfeel, an amazing taste, and less bitterness than other types of beans. Arabica beans can be brewed any way, hot or cold as both methods can unlock many nuanced and special flavors possessed by Arabica beans.
Arabica beans originated in the Ethiopian highlands, the birthplace of all coffee and coffee culture. A superb type of Arabica coffee bean is the Ethiopian Yergacheffe. Yergacheffe beans are known to be spicy, fragrant, aromatic and sweet. Many Arabica beans are also grown in Latin America, and thus Colombian, Cuban and Costa Rican coffee beans are also superb choices.
The second most consumed beans in the world, Robusta, or Coffea caniphora is a staunch and hardy bean. Hence the name “Robust”. The Robusta can withstand different types of environments more effectively and easily than Arabica can. Though, Robusta grows the most effective in hot, dry climates. Robusta is naturally tougher against diseases, resulting in higher levels of caffeine. Robusta beans have twice the caffeine that their Arabica cousins possess. This is also in part why they earned the name “robust” because of their bolder flavors.
Robusta beans are often roasted in a way that results in a harsh and bitter flavor, one that has a decent amount of acidity. This plays to their advantage as they make for a better bean to mix with sugar or cream. Robusta is ideal for espresso shots, Vietnamese style coffee, and iced coffee. Robusta’s flavor is generally smooth and can take on an almost chocolaty taste. This also makes Robusta great for Dutch and Cold Brewing. Robusta is also used to produce instant coffee.
Robusta is commonly grown in Africa, Vietnam, and Indonesia. In fact, Robusta is only grown in the Eastern hemisphere. A great coffee type to represent Robusta include the Sumatra bean. Sumatra beans are often characterized by their low acidity and full-bodied texture.
Now on to the rarer of the beans. The Liberica, or Coffea liberica, was originally intended as a replacement for Arabica beans. During the 1890’s a fungus known as “coffee rust” wiped out over 90% of the Arabica crop population.
This resulted in a mad dash for a replacement bean for the Arabica. Eventually, the Liberica plant from the Philippines came to be the successor of the Arabica in this dark time of Arabica-lessness. During this time, the Philippines were still a colonial holding of the United States, but when the Philippines declared independence, the United States cut off trade and supplies to the Philippines, and the Arabica bean was allowed to resurge back into the market and back to being the top coffee bean.
Liberica still exists, mostly in blends with other more common beans. But one can still find Liberica coffee in the Phillipines and other parts of maritime Southeast Asia, however, and it is quite rare. The beans themselves have a unique appearance, being larger and more asymmetrically shaped than other coffee beans. This rarity echoes to the core of the bean, which is said to possess a one of a kind aroma, one that is fruity and floral. The taste of the beans are said to be smoky and some commentators have even referred to the flavor of these beans as “woody”.
Our last bean is another unique one in our list of coffee beans. Excelsa, or Coffea excels/ Coffea liberica var. dewvrei. This bean gets a special mention because while it is today considered a variant of the Liberica bean, most coffee connoisseurs view it as a fourth and distinct bean. It is similar to Liberica because it grows in a similar way, in massive trees that are usually around 20-30 feet (6-8 meters) tall, and in similar environments and conditions. Oh, and the peculiar oblong shape that Liberica beans also happen to come in.
But the real differences become apparent when it comes to brewing. Excelsa beans are generally fruity and have a tart flavor. They can generally be found in blends where an extra kicking up of flavor and punch is needed. The bean is special because it simultaneously combines the notes of light and a dark roasted bean in one.
This bean is another rare one to find on its own, it only accounts for 7% of the worlds consumed coffee beans. And like Liberica, these beans grow in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is a country in particular that sells these beans where they are often used in blends as well as to help give Vietnamese style coffee a fanciful flare of dramatic and complex notes.
Types of Roasts
But the beans are just half the battle. Behold now, the types of roasts, of which there are also four. The roast of the bean is very important because that determines the character and taste of the beans. Different roasts are ideal for different types of coffee beverage and release different tastes, too. These are a spectrum, with many in between and a fusion of more than one. Let’s take a look in more detail at some roasting types.
This is the roast used on softer, milder beans. The color of light roasted beans is light brown and there are no oils, due to the beans not being roasted long enough. Some examples of light roasted beans include;
- Light City
- Half City
These roasts are often the preferred method of roasting in the United States, in fact, they are alternatively called “American roasts”. The Medium roasts are medium brown and have a more robust flavor but without an oily surface. Some medium roasts include:
Medium Dark Roasts
On to the darker roasts. These roasts possess a little oil on the surface; have a thick, dark color and an after taste that is both bitter and sweet. The main type of medium dark roast is:
- Full City
The beans of this roast are deep black with a shiny exterior. The surface of the beans is oily and they are certainly bitter tasting. Though, for those who do not like an acidic coffee, the darker the roasts, the less acidic the coffee will be. This makes the dark roasts great for Cold Brews. The dark roasts also possess a large roster of bean types:
- New Orleans
More than just beans
Coffee is an enjoyable and pleasurable art. And one that we can enjoy on a daily basis, too! In the world of coffee, the artfulness and enjoyment of a great cup of coffee are always in your hands, whether your preferred beans are Arabica, Robusta, Liberica or Exelsa. And whether you like your roast light, medium light, medium dark, or dark roasted, your coffee experience is always in your hands.
- “Coffee Bean Varieties.” Coffee Bean Varieties, Coffee Robusta, Coffee Arabica, www.coffeechoiceguide.co.uk/coffee-beans.htm.
- Hutson, Caitlyn. “A Definitive Guide to the 4 Main Types of Coffee Beans | Atlas Coffee Club.” Atlas Coffee Club Blog | Club Culture, 14 May 2019, club.atlascoffeeclub.com/4-main-types-of-coffee-beans/.
- “National Coffee Association.” NCA, www.ncausa.org/About-Coffee/Coffee-Roasts-Guide.
“The 4 Main Types of Coffee Beans: A Complete Guide.” CoffeeChannel, 22 Apr. 2019, coffee-channel.com/different-types-coffee-beans/.