Types Of Coffee Beans: A Comprehensive Guide

types of coffee beans

More than 70% of coffee consumers might not know that most of their coffee comes from just two types of coffee beans. Many people look for the perfect coffee, but everything starts with the beans. Arabica and Robusta beans each offer unique flavors and caffeine levels, influencing how people around the world enjoy their coffee.

Coffee enthusiasts also explore less common types like Liberica and Excelsa, adding new flavors and smells to their experience. This journey deepens their understanding and appreciation of coffee from around the world, making each drink more meaningful.

Key Takeaways

  • Arabica coffee beans grow best in high areas and have a wide range of flavours that change based on their growth location.
  • Robusta coffee beans contain more caffeine compared to other types, making them stronger and slightly bitter. These beans adapt well to lower altitudes and are often used in instant coffee production due to their rich flavour.
  • Liberica and Excelsa coffee beans offer unique taste profiles with Liberica having woody and smoky notes, while Excelsa is celebrated for its tartness mixed with fruity undertones. Both types are rarer but highly valued among coffee enthusiasts.
  • The method of harvesting (hand – picking vs mechanical) significantly impacts the quality of the coffee bean as does the choice between wet or dry processing methods which alters flavour profiles distinctly.
  • Growing conditions such as altitude, climate, soil type alongside roasting varieties deeply influence the flavour of each bean type offering a vast array of tastes within coffees like espresso, French press or cold brew depending on how they’re brewed.

Coffee Origins

Coffee stands as a global phenomenon, cherished by millions for its rich aroma and energising effect. Its journey from bean to cup has significant economic implications worldwide. In many countries, coffee production is a major source of income, supporting the livelihoods of countless farmers and communities.

The diversity in coffee culture across continents is remarkable. From the espresso savoured in Italian cafes to the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, each culture adds its unique touch to coffee preparation and consumption. This global love affair with coffee has fostered an ever-growing demand for quality beans and innovative coffee drinks.

ethiopian coffee ceremony

Key Regions

Brazil leads the pack as the world’s largest producer of coffee, a title it has held for over 150 years. Other key players include Vietnam, Colombia, and Ethiopia, each contributing significantly to global output. These countries lie within the “coffee belt,” an equatorial zone ideal for growing coffee plants due to its optimal climate conditions.

The uniqueness of regional coffees can be attributed to their distinct profiles – from the fruity notes found in African coffees to the bold flavours characteristic of South American beans. Such diversity offers coffee lovers an endless array of tastes and aromas to explore.

Climate Influence

Climate plays a pivotal role in shaping the character of coffee beans. Variations in temperature, rainfall patterns, and altitude all influence bean quality significantly. For instance, consistent rainfall ensures adequate hydration for coffee plants during critical growth phases.

Temperature fluctuations can either enhance or diminish bean quality; too much heat may speed up ripening but at the cost of flavour development. Conversely, cooler temperatures slow down growth but allow more complex flavours to emerge. This delicate balance underscores why certain regions are famed for their exceptional coffees.

Types of Coffee Beans


Arabica beans are known for their smooth, complex flavour profiles. They often carry hints of fruit and sugar, with a higher acidity compared to other coffee bean types. This variety is particularly favoured for its aromatic qualities, offering a wide range of scents from sweetly floral to tangy fruits.

They require high altitudes for cultivation, thriving best between 600 to 2,200 metres. This altitude contributes to the bean’s density and depth of flavour. Arabica’s dominance in the specialty coffee market is unmistakable. It represents about 60% of the world’s coffee production, making it a staple in premium blends and single-origin coffees.

arabica coffee beans


Robusta beans pack a punch with their high caffeine content. This not only gives them a stronger, more bitter taste but also enhances their natural resistance to pests and diseases. Their robust nature allows them to thrive in harsher climates where Arabica would struggle.

The preference for Robusta in certain blends and espresso comes from its bold flavour and creamy texture when brewed under high pressure. Its resilience and distinctive taste make it ideal for those who appreciate a potent cup of coffee or need an extra kick-start in the morning.


Liberica offers something truly unique with its fruity and floral notes that stand out from other coffee varieties. These beans are larger and more irregular in shape, adding to their distinctiveness.

Despite its captivating flavours, Liberica occupies a niche market due largely to its rarity outside specific regions such as West Africa and Malaysia. For adventurous coffee drinkers seeking something out of the ordinary, Liberica presents an intriguing choice with its exotic flair.


Excelsa beans are celebrated for their tartness combined with fruity undertones which contribute to a light body yet complex profile. They excel in blending by introducing an unexpected twist that can elevate the overall flavour experience.

Primarily grown in Southeast Asia, Excelsa has carved out its spot among enthusiasts looking to add complexity without overpowering traditional tastes. Its use is somewhat specialised but highly valued within certain circles for this very reason.

Coffee Bean Anatomy


At the heart of every coffee cherry lies a structure intricate and crucial to the flavour profile of your morning brew. The anatomy comprises several layers: the outer skin or exocarp, followed by the mucilage (a sticky pulp), then a thin parchment-like layer encasing the beans themselves. At its core, you find one or two seeds, commonly referred to as coffee beans.

The bean’s structure plays a pivotal role in flavour development. During growth, these layers protect and nourish the seed, influencing its final taste. For instance, beans from a denser cherry often result in a more complex and nuanced cup.

Differences in structure are not just biologically interesting but also influence how we experience our coffee. Arabica beans are typically larger with an oval shape, contributing to their smoother flavour profile. Robusta beans are smaller and rounder, which correlates with their stronger taste and higher caffeine content. This diversity means that coffee drinkers can enjoy a wide range of flavours based on bean type alone.

green coffee bean


Coffee beans boast an intricate chemical composition that includes caffeine, acids, sugars, lipids, and over 800 aroma compounds that define each cup’s unique sensory experience. Caffeine needs no introduction; it’s responsible for coffee’s energizing effects. Acids contribute to the overall brightness or sharpness of the flavour.

These compounds significantly influence both taste and aroma. For example, chlorogenic acids impart bitterness but also carry health benefits like antioxidant properties.

During roasting, this composition undergoes dramatic changes—a process akin to alchemy—transforming raw green beans into aromatic brown gems through Maillard reactions and caramelisation. Sugars break down into sweeter components; acids mellow out; new flavours emerge while others dissipate.

Growing Conditions

Soil Quality

The perfect soil for coffee cultivation is rich, volcanic, and well-drained. These conditions allow coffee plants to absorb the necessary nutrients effectively. The type of soil directly impacts the flavour profile and quality of the coffee beans produced. For instance, volcanic soil tends to yield beans with a more complex flavour due to its mineral-rich composition.

Sustainable farming practices are crucial for maintaining healthy soil conditions. They ensure that the land remains fertile and productive over time. Techniques such as crop rotation and organic farming help preserve the natural balance, benefiting both the environment and the coffee’s taste.

Altitude Effects

Altitude plays a significant role in determining bean density and flavour complexity. Higher elevations provide cooler temperatures, which slow down bean maturation. This extended growth period allows beans to develop a denser structure and a more sophisticated flavour profile.

Arabica beans thrive at altitudes between 1,200 and 2,200 meters, while Robusta prefers lower elevations of around 200 to 800 meters. However, cultivating coffee at high altitudes comes with challenges like increased labour costs and access difficulties due to rugged terrain.

Temperature Needs

Coffee plants require an ideal temperature range of 18°C to 24°C (64°F to 75°F) for optimal growth. Temperature variations can significantly impact harvest cycles; too cold or too hot environments can lead to reduced yields or even crop failure.

Global warming poses a threat to traditional coffee production areas by shifting temperature patterns. As temperatures rise globally, suitable cultivation zones move upwards in altitude, reducing available land for growing certain types of coffee beans.

Harvesting Process

Picking Methods

Harvest time is crucial for coffee growers. They must decide between hand-picking and mechanical harvesting. Hand-picking allows for selective picking, where only ripe cherries are picked. This method ensures high-quality beans but is labour-intensive. It requires a significant workforce, which can be challenging to secure in remote areas.

Mechanical harvesting speeds up the process but lacks the precision of hand-picking. Machines collect all cherries, regardless of ripeness, leading to a mixed quality crop. For specialty coffee producers, who prioritise quality over quantity, hand-picking remains the preferred method despite its higher costs and efforts.

coffee bean harvesting

Processing Techniques

Once harvested, coffee beans undergo processing to remove their outer layers. There are three main methods: wet (washed), dry (natural), and honey.

The wet process involves washing the beans to remove the pulp before drying them. This method produces a clean and vibrant flavour profile but uses a lot of water, raising environmental concerns.

Dry processing is simpler; beans are dried with their pulp intact before removing it. This technique imparts a sweet and fruity flavour to the beans but requires consistent sunny weather for drying.

Honey processing sits between these two extremes; some flesh from the cherry is left on during drying. It offers a unique flavour profile that combines sweetness with clarity but requires careful monitoring to prevent spoilage.

Each method significantly impacts both flavour profiles and environmental footprint of coffee production.

Flavour Profiles

Arabica Flavours

Arabica beans boast a wide range of flavour profiles. They can taste fruity or nutty, depending on where they’re grown. This variation is largely due to terroir, which refers to the environment in which the coffee is cultivated. It significantly influences Arabica’s taste.

They are often the choice for specialty coffee enthusiasts because of their nuanced flavours. The dedication to sourcing and roasting Arabica beans highlights their unique flavour and delightful aftertaste.

Robusta Flavours

Robusta beans are known for their strong, bitter flavour and full body. They often carry chocolatey and woody notes, making them distinct from other types of coffee beans.

Their robust nature adds strength and crema to espresso blends. This makes them a popular choice among those who prefer a more intense cup of coffee. Their original flavour profile contributes significantly to the depth of many popular coffee blends.

Liberica Flavours

Liberica beans offer a distinctive woody and somewhat smoky flavour profile that sets them apart from other varieties. They have an exotic appeal due to their rarity in the global market.

These beans also have underlying floral and fruity notes, adding complexity to their overall taste profile. Coffee drinkers seeking something out of the ordinary often turn towards Liberica for its unique character.

Excelsa Flavours

Excelsa boasts tart and fruity flavours that provide a refreshing departure from more traditional coffee tastes. Its light body and refreshing acidity contribute to its distinctive appeal.

Blends featuring Excelsa are celebrated for their complexity and depth, thanks in part to these unique characteristics. It serves as an excellent option for those looking to explore beyond conventional coffee flavours.

By understanding these diverse flavour profiles, it becomes evident how each type of bean contributes uniquely to the world of coffee. Coffee drinkers appreciate the variety available through different blends that incorporate these distinct tastes. Whether one prefers the nuanced flavours of Arabica or seeks out the boldness found in Robusta, there exists a perfect blend tailored towards any palate.

Hand-PickingWorkers select and pick ripe coffee cherries by hand.Ensures only ripe cherries are picked, leading to higher quality beans.Labour-intensive and time-consuming.
Mechanical HarvestingMachines remove cherries from the plant, regardless of ripeness.Speeds up the collection process significantly.Lacks precision in selecting ripe cherries, which can affect bean quality.

Roasting Varieties and Their Effects on Flavour

Roasting coffee beans can significantly influence their flavours and aromas. Light roasts bring out the bean’s natural acidity and floral notes, while dark roasts deliver a stronger, smokier taste with caramelised undertones.

Light Roast

Light roast coffee beans undergo minimal roasting, preserving the natural flavors and acidity. These beans often have a more complex flavour profile with subtle notes of nuts or chocolate.

Arabica light roast beans turn into a smooth-surfaced, light brown shade after roasting, making them an excellent choice for those seeking a rounded and nuanced coffee experience.

Different brewing methods can greatly influence the flavour profile of light roast coffee. Espresso extraction under pressure produces rich flavours quickly, while French press immersion results in deeper tastes, offering versatility to cater to diverse preferences.

Medium Roast

Medium roast coffee beans are characterised by a well-balanced flavour profile, often revealing hints of nuts or chocolate. Arabica beans exhibit a smooth surface and turn light brown after roasting, while Robusta takes on a darker shade with an oilier texture.

On the other hand, Liberica becomes somewhat dark but maintains its distinct shape. Excelsa deepens in colour but retains a slender form. For those seeking nuanced flavours best captured through the French Press technique, light to medium roasts offer an ideal option.

The medium roast emerges as a versatile choice for coffee lovers who desire a balanced flavour alongside subtle undertones of nuttiness or chocolate notes. It provides an excellent platform to experience the nuanced profiles inherent in different coffee brewing techniques such as French Press or drip-brewing methods.

Dark Roast

Transitioning from medium roast to dark roast, we delve into the bold flavours and intense richness that define dark roasted coffee beans. Dark roasts are characterised by pronounced notes of chocolate or smokiness, offering a robust and satisfying taste experience.

When preparing espresso, many aficionados prefer the rich and intense flavour imparted by dark roasted beans. The choice of bean type and roast level is pivotal in creating a delightful cup of coffee, with dark roasts being particularly favoured for their bold profile and ability to stand out in specialty brews such as lattes or iced coffees.

coffee roast levels

Influence of Brewing Methods on Coffee Flavour

Brewing methods have a significant impact on the flavour of coffee. Each method, including espresso, French press, and cold brew, extracts unique qualities from the beans resulting in diverse aromas and tastes.


Espresso is a concentrated coffee beverage made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee. The choice of bean type and roast level plays a crucial role in the flavour profile of espresso.

Dark roasted beans, such as Arabica or Robusta, are commonly preferred for their rich and intense flavour when used to make espresso. Different brewing methods interact with various types of coffee beans and roasts, enhancing the overall drinking experience significantly.

In addition to being enjoyed on its own, Espresso serves as the base for popular mixed drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, and Americanos, making the selection of beans and their roast essential aspects that impact the flavour of these beverages.

French Press

Transitioning from espresso to the French Press, this brewing method offers a rich and aromatic coffee experience. Medium to coarse ground beans are essential for optimal results in the French Press.

The grind size influences the brewing time and flavour extraction, making it a key consideration for enthusiasts. Moreover, using light to medium roasts amplifies nuanced flavours, while retaining more oils from the beans enhances aroma and taste.

These factors intertwine to create a unique sensory experience tailored towards discerning coffee aficionados.

cold brew coffee

Cold Brew

Cold brew coffee is known for its smooth and mild flavour profile, favoured by many for its reduced acidity compared to hot brewed coffee. The cold brewing process involves steeping coarsely ground coffee beans in cold water over an extended period, usually 12-24 hours, resulting in a refreshing and less bitter beverage.

This method tends to bring out the subtle flavours of light to medium roast coffees with fruity or floral notes. Consequently, it has gained popularity among those looking for a milder alternative without compromising on taste.

The increasing demand for cold brew reflects consumers seeking less acidic options while still enjoying the nuanced characteristics of different types of coffee beans and roasts. Its refreshing nature makes it a delightful choice on warm days or as an energising pick-me-up any time.

Selecting Quality Beans

When selecting quality beans, look for those with vibrant colours and a fresh, aromatic smell. Inspect the beans for any signs of damage or irregularities before making your purchase.

Freshness Indicators

Fresh coffee beans should have a strong and inviting aroma and vibrant, unblemished appearance. Packaging should allow gases to escape while preventing air from entering to preserve freshness. Improper storage can lead to rapid deterioration of flavour and aroma in coffee beans. Here are the indicators to look for when determining the freshness of coffee beans:

  • Aroma: Fresh coffee beans emit a rich, aromatic scent that is indicative of their quality and freshness.
  • Appearance: High-quality coffee beans appear vibrant and unblemished, showing no signs of discolouration or damage.
  • Roast Date: Check the roast date on the packaging; fresher beans will have a more recent roast date, indicating their shelf life.

Inspect these indicators when selecting your coffee beans to ensure a fresh and flavourful brew every time.

types of coffee beans


When storing coffee beans, it’s crucial to keep them in an airtight container at room temperature. Avoid exposing them to direct sunlight or heat, as this can lead to flavour and aroma deterioration.

Additionally, it’s best to use the coffee beans within two weeks of opening the packaging for optimal freshness. Proper storage ensures that the gases escape while preventing air from entering, preserving the beans’ flavour and quality.

Storing coffee beans in an airtight container at room temperature prevents exposure to direct sunlight or heat.


Understanding the intricate world of coffee beans can unlock a realm of rich and diverse flavors . Exploring the complexities underpinning the aromas and tastes tailored towards different brewing methods not only enhances your appreciation but also allows you to dive into seeking more than just a morning pick-me-up.

Whether it’s the smooth, fruity notes of Arabica or the robust bitterness of Robusta, each bean holds its own story waiting to be unveiled. As you navigate through the ever-evolving coffee industry, remember that selecting quality beans is essential in unlocking bespoke coffee experiences designed to enhance your daily brews.


1. Which coffee type is considered the best quality?

The perception of “best quality” varies among coffee enthusiasts and experts. Generally, Arabica beans are praised for their smooth, complex flavour profiles and are often considered higher quality compared to other types. However, the best quality also depends on specific growing conditions, processing methods, and individual taste preferences.

2. Which Arabica coffee is best?

The “best” Arabica coffee can depend on personal taste, but single-origin Arabica beans from regions like Ethiopia, Colombia, and Costa Rica are highly regarded. These beans are celebrated for their unique flavour notes, ranging from fruity and floral to nutty and sweet, influenced by their specific growth environment.

3. What are the basic coffee beans?

The two basic types of coffee beans are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans are known for their smooth, nuanced flavours, while Robusta beans offer a stronger, more bitter taste and higher caffeine content. These foundational beans form the backbone of the global coffee industry.

4. What is the difference between Arabica and Robusta coffee?

Arabica and Robusta beans differ in taste, caffeine content, and growth conditions. Arabica beans have a wider range of flavours, often with a sweeter, more aromatic profile, and grow best at higher altitudes. Robusta beans are more bitter, contain more caffeine, and are more disease-resistant, making them easier to cultivate at lower altitudes.

5. Which is better, Colombian or Arabica coffee?

Colombian coffee is a type of Arabica coffee known for its high quality and rich flavour. The comparison often lies between Colombian Arabica and other Arabica beans from around the world. Colombian Arabica is esteemed for its smooth, mild flavour and balanced acidity, but “better” is subjective and depends on personal preference.

6. Why mix Arabica with Robusta?

Mixing Arabica and Robusta beans can create a well-rounded coffee blend, balancing the smoothness and complex flavours of Arabica with the strength and body of Robusta. This combination can enhance the coffee’s texture, provide a caffeine boost, and reduce costs, offering a versatile and appealing product for a wide range of consumers.

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