In most texts that have anything to do with coffee, you can usually find the common distinction between two types of coffee beans- Arabica and Robusta. However, this doesn’t do justice to all the types of coffee beans and their characteristics.
There are actually four main different types of coffees- along with the two popular ones I also have Liberica and Excelsa coffee beans.
Truth be told, Arabica is by far the most popular type of Coffea plant, and I have already described it in great detail before, which is why I’ll only mention the very basics in this text. I will focus mostly on the new types of coffee beans and the taste they produce.
Liberica (Liberian coffee)
This type was first grown in Africa- of course, in Liberia (the name which stayed), Uganda, and Angola. For the reasons I’ll mention in the next paragraph, Liberian Coffea plant spread all over South East Asia, especially in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Seychelles.
Nowadays it’s not easy to find Liberica coffee beans, but the situation was much different back in the 19th century. Threatened by a “coffee plague” or the so-called coffee rust, farmers had to find more resilient types of coffee to grow. It’s safe to say that Liberica saved the day, as it was pretty much impossible to grow the disease-struck Arabica anywhere.
Types of coffee beans from around the world had to be replaced with Liberica, as only this kind could grow at that time.
The Philippines began producing tons of Liberica, but after the environment became more suitable to grow Arabica again, and after the US began to throw jabs at the Philippines, Liberica slowly returned to shadows, where it stays even today.
Beans of Liberica plants are large and quite asymmetrical. People are not used to this kind of asymmetrical shape, so that’s why customers may find it repelling, especially when compared with today’s almost-perfect top-notch Arabica beans. The taste also plays a role, with Liberica beans having a distinct “smoky” taste- some even compare it with tobacco. Others report tasting a wood-like note, and earthy aftertastes.
In other words, a beverage made from this type of Coffea plant might have an astringent, strong taste, that’s tricky to get used to.
Although this product is quite rare, you can still find Liberica coffee beans for sale, especially on Alibaba. Most of the offers concern bulk-buys. Finally, you can also buy Coffea Liberica seeds here.
Liberica trees are pretty tall, something you wouldn’t expect from the two “mainstream” variants (Arabica and Robusta).
Excelsa also grows on tall trees, and thanks to this and other similarities with Liberica, it was recently classified as a sub-species of Liberica. Excelsa coffee characteristics make it suitable for various blends and mixtures with Arabica and Robusta.
This coffee bean type has a somewhat fruity flavor, and some users report tasting the undertones like tart, or light roast.
Excelsa is grown in South East Asia, so you’ll be able to find numerous Vietnamese producers who also sell this type of coffee beans. By the way, Vietnamese people really love coffee! Don’t hesitate to try some Vietnamese specialties if you come across them.
People who tried Vietnamese Excelsa report a strong taste, especially the back palate flavor which reminds of burnt wood. On the other hand, Excelsa generally has low acidity and oils. As the sharp back palate taste might be too much for some caffeine-enthusiasts, be sure to try Excelsa with cream or caramel, perhaps you’ll like it better that way.
Excelsa coffee, just like Liberica, has a low concentration of caffeine, and the two species have less caffeine than Robusta and Liberica.
This is the type of Coffea plant everybody’s talking about. It is the most common variant, found everywhere around the globe, virtually in all types of coffee blends. Usually, Arabica is used as a base for blends, after which Robusta, Excelsa, and (rarely) Liberica, are added. The ratio of Arabica and other types of coffee beans practically determines the taste of your favorite caffeinated drink.
Everybody knows Arabica, and many flavors of this popular type of coffea beans. It’s hard to pinpoint the real, essential tastes of Arabica, but it’s widely accepted that most Arabica-based blends have more acidic flavor and less caffeine than, say, Robusta.
Arabica is probably the first Coffea plant to enter large scale production, and it originated in Yemen, first being mentioned way back in the 12th century.
This type of coffee also has other names, like mountain coffee, and coffee shrub of Arabia. Arabica trees also grow quite tall (above 9 meters- 30 ft), resembling that of Liberica.
These are only the basics of the Arabica bean type. In other texts we’ve written, you can find much more. As we all probably know, Brazil is the “land of Arabica”- the giant from South America produces about 75% of the world’s Arabica.
Taste, appearance, and experience of Arabica
Arabica’s taste is rather sweet, at least for experienced coffee-drinkers. Robusta’s taste is sharp, strong and bitter, due to the high caffeine amount. Some coffee drinkers say that Arabica is fruity, nutty and even chocolaty.
Arabica grows on high attitudes, Robusta loves low land where it has more sunny and warm days. That is the reason why Robusta gives earlier harvest and more beans than Arabica.
Arabica beans have a more ecliptic shape than Robusta, which is more like rounded and slightly smaller. While Robusta loves the sun, Arabica is happy in light shade. Both types of coffee plants are rather tall when fully mature, but as we’ve seen, Liberica is probably the tallest. Of course, farmers don’t allow them to grow so high because then it wouldn’t be so many coffee beans on plants.
Robusta coffee type is the underdog, the sidekick. It does account for a significant proportion of the world’s coffee production (up to 40%), yet we still don’t talk about it that much. It probably originated somewhere close to Arabica’s cradle, in sub-Saharan Africa.
Robusta is much more bitter and has more caffeine than Arabica (not necessarily more than Liberica). Robusta is also less acidic than Arabica and has more antioxidants.
However, while people all around the world consumed Arabica (remember, it was first mentioned back in the 12th century), Robusta’s mass production began relatively recently, in the 19th century. French colonists decided to start a big coffee business in their newly-conquested colonies (especially Vietnam).
If you remember what we talked about Liberica and the Philippines, the same goes for Vietnam and Robusta. The country from South East Asia was from the very start the biggest producer of this variety, which still holds true today. Vietnam produces about 40% of robusta coffee, even surpassing Brazil, which produces two times less Robusta. In Brasil, they call it conilon. On this Robusta- list, Indonesia is placed on a very good third place. Then – India and Uganda who together produce less than Indonesia.
It is not a matter of taste, why farmers in South-east Asia grow Robusta so much, but rather it is about economic reasons. Robusta is easy to grow and gives a rich harvest. It is cheap to produce. It is more resistant to pests and diseases then Arabica, so it is pretty clear why Asians and Brazilians love to grow this very sort.
Difference between Robusta and Arabica
What is the difference in taste between Arabica and Robusta? Which sort is better? Well, it is hard to say, it depends on taste. Arabica is widespread in societies that have a tradition of home-made coffee, like, for example, in Southern Europe, or Asia Minor (most notably, Turkey, where the name actually comes from). But Robusta is a pure classic in the Western World.
You cannot imagine espresso without Robusta. Because, if you want to taste good espresso – then it must be made of high-quality Robusta beans, which are added to the Arabica base. Millions of people could not imagine a morning without a cup of good hot espresso. So, yes – Robusta rules.
Approximately, Robusta is twice cheaper than Arabica.
It is interesting to say that Robusta is used not only as a drink but –as a cure. It is used in skincare therapy. Rich in antioxidants, Robusta is used in cellular rejuvenation. So, people not only drink it, they put it in facial masks to remove dead cells and excess oil.
Maybe, the best conclusion we can make is that it is good to have both of them – Arabica and Robusta. Usually, every brand of coffee is a mixture of these two species. Arabica gives it a taste, Robusta gives a strong kick of caffeine.
Some people think that there are even more types of coffee beans. Biologists don’t agree. As a matter of fact, most of them don’t even accept Excelsa as a separate sub-species, but we’ve decided to separate it nevertheless as there are indeed some differences between Liberica and Excelsa.