Drinking coffee has become a key point of our daily routine and clearly one of the moments we love the most. Some enjoy an energizing espresso in the morning, others prefer a cappuccino and there are even those who enjoy cold coffee.
We clearly love it. But have you wondered what coffee you are drinking and why not all taste the same? Many have been curious about it, so we bring you this time a complete but simple guide on the varieties of coffee.
What varieties of coffee are there?
To begin with, you should remember that coffee is actually a seed. It is found within a fruit known as the coffee cherry, which in turn is born from the coffee tree, a shrub or small tree of the botanical genus Coffea.
In the wild, depending on the species, it can measure up to 20 meters, but in the crops, it is kept more or less 3 or 4 meters high so that it is easy to harvest.
Generally, all coffee beans are given that way and in each cherry, there are two of these. Except for very specific varieties in which only one is born.
Although all coffee trees produce such cherries, there are different species that create differences in the resulting coffee beans. Within the botanical genus of coffee, more than 100 species can be found. However, the classification is reduced only to 4 species: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. But, despite the large number of species, only 2 are produced and marketed on a large scale and have global economic importance: Arabica and Robusta.
Before starting the tour of the different species, we will show you below a brief summary of each.
|Commerce||It is the most widely traded coffee variety worldwide.||It is the second most commercial variety in the world.||It is not a variety of much commercial importance.||Like Liberica, it doesn’t have much production or commercial relevance.|
|Crop||Its crops are delicate and require varied care.||Its crops are more resistant and don’t need as much care.||It is a strong plant and resistant to pests such as rust.||It is strong and resistant to pests.|
|Caffeine||It generally has 1.5% caffeine.||Its percentage of caffeine is 2.5%.||Low caffeine concentration.||Low caffeine concentration.|
|Plant||The shrub can reach 10 meters with dark green oval leaves.||The plant can reach 12 meters and has a shallow root.||The plant can reach 18 m.||The plant can measure up to 20 m and has large leaves.|
|Flavor||It is more acidic and its taste is soft and pleasant.||It has a stronger and bitter taste.||It has a very strong flavor and woody notes, even hints of chocolate.||Smoky notes and an acidic, fruity body.|
|Smell||Its smell is aromatic and fragrant.||It’s not so fragrant.||It has a blend of fruity and floral aromas.||Tiene una mezcla de aromas de tueste oscuro y ligero.|
|Bean||It is considered the best quality bean.||It has a medium-low level of quality.||The beans are of poor quality.||The beans are of poor quality.|
Of all the species of coffee, the Arabica or Arabian coffee is definitely the queen of all being the type of the highest quality, best taste, and the most marketed in the world. About 60% of coffee beans exported internationally are Arabica type.
History and origins
It is native to Ethiopia in Africa and the oldest species known to date. It is said that it was this bush that the goat shepherd Kaldi found in the popular legend that tells the possible origin of coffee. It began to be known by that name after this variety crossed the Red Sea from Ethiopia to what is now Yemen and Southern Arabia, hence the name “Arabica”.
- The Arabian coffee is known to have a soft but aromatic taste, with sweet and floral notes.
- Its caffeine level is one of the lowest, it is about 1.5%. This contributes to it having the best taste.
- The bush of this variety can grow in the wild up to more than 5 meters in height, but usually, in crops, it is maintained at 3 or 4 meters to facilitate the harvest.
- Arabica coffee is ideally given at altitudes between 900 and 2000 meters (2950-6560 ft) high and at temperatures of 15 to 24 °C (59-75 °F).
- Crops above 1000 meters are considered to be of the best quality.
- The fact that this coffee is grown in tropical areas favors it to have a better taste, aroma, and acidity.
- It is a delicate plant and its crops require a lot of care and protection especially because they are very susceptible to rust. This is a factor that influences it to be of more quality.
What varieties of Arabica coffee are there?
And since coffee is a whole universe, the main species also have other varieties or subspecies within them. These have occurred over time thanks to the mutations and adaptations coffee trees suffer. It can be because of the climate, the terrain, or the conditions and production needs of each country. In fact, it is a situation that also happens with the wine grape and the varieties it has, for example, sauvignon, chardonnay, etc.
In the case of the arabica type, you can talk about a significant number of subspecies. However, this time we will show you the most recognized.
It is one of the most important Arabica coffee varieties and even the oldest. Its value is mainly genetic since it is of high quality. It could be considered as the mother of many other subspecies of coffee because from this, more varieties have been born.
It is believed to be born after Arabica seeds had been brought from Ethiopia to Yemen. Then these seeds were grown in India and then transported to the island of Java in Indonesia. It was these last seeds that were grown that are believed to have originated this variety.
As for its taste, it is recognized for being sweet and clean. The end result is a cup of coffee of the best quality with elegant notes of flowers and fruits. But, although it is well known for its high quality, it has a low production since it isn’t a resistant crop. This is very susceptible to diseases such as rust and to winds. Despite this, it is still cultivated and in fact, the famous Blue Mountain Coffee from Jamaica is of the Typica variety.
If Typica is the mother of varieties, Bourbon would come to be the father. Not only because it also had an early appearance in the history of coffee, but because of its excellent quality. This has allowed many varieties to be born from Bourbon or the mixture of this with the Typica. This variety is mainly produced in Burundi, Rwanda, and Latin America. Its most recognized types are red, yellow, and pink bourbon.
The history of Bourbon is very similar to that of Typica because they passed through similar routes. Its birth is also thanks to the result of the journey that Arabica coffee trees made from Ethiopia to Yemen. The difference is that it came to Réunion Island, near Madagascar, formerly called Bourbon.
This variety results in a high-quality specialty coffee, with citrus, chocolate, caramel, and nuts notes. Also, despite being little resistant to diseases, it is of higher yield than the Typica and is usually cultivated more.
Gesha / Geisha
The Gesha or Geisha variety comes directly from a village in Ethiopia called Gesha. However, the most important and known today is from Panama. Originally, this variety was given in Africa but was sent for research to different laboratories in Tanzania until it reached Central America. Later it was distributed in Panama due to its resistance to rust. However, it was a physically weak plant so it was not very welcomed by farmers.
The Gesha of Panama appeared on the world scene in 2005 after this variety entered the auction “the best of Panama”, where it had the best ratings and was sold for a record price.
As for its taste, it is one of the most peculiar. It is known for its notes of tea, great sweetness, bright and clean taste, and aromas of jasmine, bergamot, orange blossom, and other delicate floral tones.
This variety comes from Yemen and is usually grown in a traditional way. Its name comes from the most important exporting port of that country called Mocha.
This variety is mainly known for its outstanding chocolate notes, with hints of cardamom, cinnamon, sweet spices, and even hints of fruit. It is usually mixed with another variety, Indonesian Arabic java, resulting in one of the best-known blends: Mocha Java coffee.
It is a natural mutation of the bourbon variety and is native to Brazil. It is a plant that stands out for being low-growing. This means that, in terms of height, it is much lower than other varieties. This allows coffee growers to harvest it in larger quantities.
It has high adaptability and tolerates the sun better than other varieties. But, it is also very susceptible to rust. Despite its size, it is a high-yielding plant and has excellent productivity.
As for its taste, it is characterized by being very pleasant. It has an intense aroma with caramelized notes and medium acidity and body.
This variety is born in Brazil from a crossbreeding made by The Agronomic Institute of São Paulo between two natural mutations of the arabica variety: the Caturra and the Mundo Novo. It stands out for having high productivity due to its small size, as this allows it to be planted up to twice the density. Although it is native to Brazil, it has more commercial value in Central American countries such as Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, among others.
As for flavor, it stands out for having several notes: honey, almonds, spices, caramel, hints of chocolate, and sweet grass. It produces a cup of good quality coffee and it is preferable it has a medium or low roast to make the most of its qualities.
Where is it grown?
For a coffee tree to be grown, certain climatic and geographical conditions are required. The areas of the world where coffee is produced are Latin America, Central Africa, India, and Indonesia. That is the countries that are located in the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. This area is known as the coffee belt.
The arabica variety is the most cultivated and produced worldwide. It is one of the most delicate crops and the most demanding conditions in terms of height, climate, and geography. That is why only some countries are 100% dedicated to producing this variety. However, those who do, are the most recognized for having the best quality. Within the coffee belt, those who grow it the most are in Latin America and a few are African countries. Some of these are Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, among others.
On the other hand, some countries are engaged in the cultivation and production of the Arabica and Robusta varieties. They are also exclusively within the coffee belt but are spread across the 3 main continents. Here we highlight that Brazil, the world’s largest producer and exporter of coffee, is one of the countries that sows both varieties.
Below you will see a map with the countries that plant 100% Arabica and those that grow both varieties:
R: Robusta variety / M: Arabica and robusta varieties / A: Arabica variety
The species Coffea canephora or robusta is, after the arabica, the second most important and exported worldwide. In general, it is of a flatter taste than the arabica, with more vegetable aromas, but of course, much more bitter. This is why it is usually considered as a coffee of inferior quality to the arabica type.
But despite this, the robusta has achieved a place in the world economy. Thus, about 40% of coffee beans exported internationally are of Robusta variety.
It is a variety characterized by being especially resistant, not requiring much care, and having a lower cost of production. Therefore, it is very common to find brands or brews that make blends. These have a significant percentage of Arabica beans and a low percentage of robusta beans. It doesn’t mean that they are not of quality, in fact, these blends are often very well complemented and produce a drink of very good body and flavor. A clear example of these blends is found in instant coffee.
History and origins
This variety was first discovered approximately in the 1800s in what was once the Belgian Congo. Native plants of this species were also found in the tropical forests of Uganda. It later reached the Asian continent after rust destroyed arabica crops, especially in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
From that moment, it began to expand and commercialize in greater quantities thanks to its high resistance against pests and diseases.
- The robusta coffee is known to have a more bitter taste, it is more intense, strong, less aromatic, and full-bodied.
- Its caffeine level is high, it has about 2.5%. Hence its bitterer taste.
- It is a large, strong shrub with large, wide, bright green leaves.
- Robusta coffee is produced in more varied areas and climatic conditions due to its great resistance.
- It can be grown at both low and high altitudes and grows well even in conditions of high humidity.
- It has a high resistance to rust and different diseases or fungi.
- It produces small cherries but in larger quantities, which makes it a high-yielding and low-cost plant.
What varieties of robusta coffee are there?
For this case, there are really few subspecies of robusta. In general, the best-known varieties are Conilon, Kouilloi, Niaouli, and Uganda. However, it is more common to see hybrids or crossbreeding between arabica and robusta coffee species. The most well-known combinations are:
This hybrid was created in 1959 in Costa Rica from the crossbreeding between Caturra and Timor. What was sought from this combination was to achieve a high-yield coffee that had the rust-resistant properties of robusta and the quality of Arabica beans. The result was not 100% what was expected since, in the end, the quality was not close to that of other arabica plants that were sown at the same height.
Similarly, plantations of this type of robusta can be found in Indonesia. Its flavor manages to combine the herbaceous notes provided by the robusta with fruity touches of arabica.
It is a hybrid made in Brazil that results from the combination of Catuai and Icatu. This coffee exists in two colors: yellow and red. Like the robusta, it is characterized by being a strong plant, resistant to rust, and adaptable. As for the cup of coffee that is given with this variety, it has a heavy body with fruity and slightly sweet notes.
Where is it grown?
As we had already seen before, the robusta species is characterized by being very resistant and adaptable. That is why it can grow at both low and high altitudes.
The best coffees are sown at high heights because they only do well in those conditions, but that makes their harvesting more difficult and expensive. Instead, as the robusta can grow in several heights, it is easy to sow it between 500 and 1200 meters (930-2190 ft), making its production less expensive and easier.
This variety is also given in the countries of the coffee belt, located in West and Central Africa, Asia, and South America. It is grown mainly in Uganda, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Brazil, and Vietnam, the latter being the largest producer of robusta coffee in the world.
Perhaps you have heard very little about this variety since without a doubt all the spotlights are on the arabica and the robusta. However, Liberica coffee is produced and marketed only in a much smaller proportion. This is mainly because its taste is not very appetizing.
History and origins
This variety of coffee originally comes from Monrovia, Liberia, in West Africa. Thanks to its resistance to rust, its cultivation expanded between 1880 and 1905 through Indonesia. However, later it was replaced by other varieties of coffee.
- Its taste is not very desirable for its smoky notes, bitter taste, and for having a heavy body and a lot of strength.
- It is a strong and good-sized plant that can measure up to 18 meters in height.
- Its leaves are large and have a texture that resembles leather for being hard and flexible.
- Its seeds are much larger than those of the most well-known varieties.
- This variety is resistant to the sun and its fruits ripen faster.
- It has a high resistance to rust and other diseases of coffee.
Where is it grown?
There are currently very few areas that grow this variety. It is mainly produced in some West African countries and Malaysia.
As the Liberian variety, Excelsa coffee is another type that is currently grown and produced. However, it is not of commercial importance nor is it exported on a large scale, as is the case of arabica and robusta. The reason is that it produces very low-quality grains and there is not really much demand for the taste that this variety has.
History and origins
It was first found more or less at the beginning of the 20th century on Lake Chad, located in Africa between 4 countries: Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger.
- It has a very strong, bitter taste and is full-bodied, so it is not very demanded.
- It is a high plant that can reach up to 20 meters.
- Its fruits and seeds are small.
- Its quality is inferior to the Liberian one.
- It is a strong and rust-resistant tree
- It is usually grown on test plantations or on small portions of land.
Where is it grown?
The Excelsa coffee variety grows in semi-arid areas, a factor that also influences the poor quality of the bean. Today it is possible to find some crops in countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines.
In crops, since it is a very tall plant, collecting the beans is difficult and so, many times the fruit is collected directly from the ground when it falls. The above, added to the fact that the fruit is very soft and not very resistant, means that in the end very few coffee beans can be collected and that those processed are of very poor quality.
What are the differences between Arabica and Robusta coffee?
After the tour we made through the world of coffee varieties, we finally want to show you the main differences that exist between Arabica and Robusta. Thus, later you will be able to distinguish them. Also, you can use it as a guide when choosing what type of coffee you want to drink.
Differences between Arabica and Robusta coffee IMAGE
Finally, we hope that this guide to the varieties of coffee has served you to know a little more about the delicious world of coffee. Also, help you later to distinguish its different varieties, flavors, and aromas. You can review it later as a reference when choosing a coffee product based on its characteristics and types.