While looking around the coffee aisle of your local grocery store, you have probably come across bags with ‘Arabica’ and ‘Robusta’ written on them. Have you ever wondered what these names mean? Well, these are names of the various types of coffee beans that tell us about the taste and other bits of information about the coffee. Arabica and Robusta are two of the main species of coffee plants available worldwide with Arabica accounting for 60 to 70 per cent of total global production. There are other types available that are far less to be found. The different types of coffee when brewed taste different.
When it comes to selecting coffee, we usually consider the roasting profiles or the origin of the beans. But there is more to it that is unique to each of the types.
Types and Characteristics of Coffee Beans
There are four primary types of coffee beans available commercially – Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. Let’s delve more into each of these types available and their uniqueness.
Arabica remains the most popular coffee beans, accounting for over 60% of total coffee production in the world. The popularity of this coffee lies in its delicate and distinctive flavour and less acidity. Arabica beans are farmed at high altitude areas with plenty of rain and adequate shade. With two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest lying within Brazilian territory has helped the country become the world’s largest producer of Arabica beans. The plants are fairly delicate and badly affected during adverse environmental conditions. Farming in large quantities is a challenge as these plants are susceptible to plant diseases and need constant attention. This pushes up the cost of beans considerably, though coffee drinkers do not mind paying the price due to its softer and sweeter taste. The plant grows no taller than 6 feet, making it easy to prune and harvest.
One point that needs highlighting is that the multi-layer intricacies of its taste could diminish when served cold or with a blend of milk or creamer. High-quality coffee is best served black and hot. However, you could give the drink a taste by adding some flavour to it.
In terms of global production, Robusta comes second in the list of farmed coffee beans after Arabica. True to its name, the Robusta species is very tolerant of its environment and quite resistant to diseases. The high caffeine content, almost double the amount of Arabica, makes the plant so robust. Caffeine acts as the plant’s self-defence against diseases.
Compared to others, Robusta beans are larger and more rounded. In general, Robusta has a burnt or rubbery taste, which makes it less popular, except where strong coffee is the favoured choice. The top-quality beans are single-origin coffees and have a smooth texture, and often have mild chocolate and rum associated with their flavour profile. The coffee is crafted from small-batch roasters. For the best tasting experience with your daily dose of caffeine, brew the coffee, adding cream and sugar to reduce its flavour.
Liberica is a rare treat these days. The beans are grown in specific climates of the Philippines that results in its scarce production to satisfy global needs. Liberica beans are often asymmetrical in shape, and larger than others. Those who have had the coffee said the beans have an aroma of fruity and floral aroma notes and possess a somewhat “woody” taste.
Although Excelsa is reclassified as a member of the Liberica family, the two species are so markedly different that many coffee drinkers still consider them as separate species. Similar to Liberica, Excelsa grows at similar altitudes, the trees reaching a height of 20-30 ft, and the beans have an almond-like shape. Excelsa boasts a tart and fruity flavour and has both light and dark roast notes to create its unique profile, luring coffee connoisseurs to seek out this variety.
How to pick your choice of coffee
Let’s be clear at the outset – drinking coffee is about finding your choice and sticking to it. If you like the best available flavour and don’t mind paying the extra buck, go for 100% pure Arabica. If extra coffee with little bitterness is your choice, which doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket, then a bag of Robusta or a blend of Robusta or Arabica will be the best bet. For something unusual, delicious but hard to find, then Libercia or Excelsa would be the right choice. Drinking coffee is about trying different things and finding the right brew you enjoy.
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