Exploring the Characteristics of Coffee Beans
When choosing a new coffee, you may have a good idea of what you are looking for when it comes to flavours and strength, acidity and aroma, but the actual bean variety may not be so clear. We’ve put together a short guide on the most popular coffee varieties produced in the world – the Arabica and Robusta beans – along with a few lesser-known varieties, each of which are currently available at Coffee-Direct.
While there are over 120 different species of coffee tree grown around the world, only two types are grown commercially at scale - Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora, popularly known as Arabica and Robusta.
The Arabica Bean
Believed to be the first coffee species cultivated, dating back to 12th century Yemen, the Arabica bean now represents around 60% of global production and is used in the majority of our range, with more than 60 of our coffees coming from 100% Arabica beans. Originating from Ethiopia, Arabica is usually grown at elevations of around 1,300-1,500m, sometimes higher, and predominantly grows in subtropical climates with high altitudes, such as in Brazil, Colombia and Central America.
Given the ubiquity of the Arabica bean, the range of characteristics that are revealed in the coffees produced is vast, complex and exciting. Our own range of 100% Arabica coffees covers a great scope of flavour profiles, with coffees that are fruity and earthy, nutty or woody, sweet, chocolatey or smoky.
Arabica is generally considered to be the superior bean, with the most well-regarded coffee blends being made up of 100% Arabica. However, many good quality Robusta blends are available and enjoyed around the world.
The Robusta Bean
As the name suggests, Robusta coffee beans are robust, in that they are able to grow in higher temperatures and lower altitudes than Arabica beans, and the trees are more resistant to disease. Discovered in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 19th century, Robusta beans are cheaper to produce compared to Arabica, due to the way they are grown.
Interestingly, through genetic sequencing it has been determined that Robusta is actually a parent of Arabica; likely somewhere in southern Sudan, Robusta crossed with another coffee species known as Coffea euginoides to produce Arabica, and this new species spread throughout Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee.
Our Uganda Medium Roast and Uganda Light Continental Roast are excellent examples of 100% Robusta coffees, displaying strong toasted flavours, lovely smoky notes, bold bodies and high caffeine levels.
Arabica / Robusta Blends
While the Arabica bean contributes to the majority of coffees enjoyed around the world, there are many great blends of Arabica and Robusta available, opening up a range of fantastic flavours and characteristics.
As Robusta beans tend to offer more body than Arabica beans, they are often used in espresso blends that require a full-bodied taste. In fact, Italian espresso is generally made using a combination of these varieties. This approach can be experienced in some of our Arabica/Robusta blends, roasted to our Espresso Roast specifications: Caffè Marcos, Italian Coffee and our popular Director’s Coffee are all great blends that create delicious espressos.
Robusta coffees contain around twice the amount of caffeine than Arabica coffees, so are great to drink when you need a burst of energy.
Other Bean Varieties
While Arabica and Robusta make up the majority of coffee production, there are some additional varieties that create exciting and unique coffees.
Harar Longberry Beans
An Arabica coffee, grown in Ethiopia's Eastern Highlands, this may be the oldest coffee bean still being produced. Grown at around 2,000m above sea level, Longberry beans are sun-dried and come in a distinct pointed shape and golden colour. Harar beans can be divided into three categories, with the Longberry variety being the largest and considered to be the finest.
These fine flavours are present in our own Harar Longberry coffee, which offers flavours of fruity wine and mocha, and a pleasing, medium acidity.
Peaberry beans are created when a natural genetic mutation occurs in a coffee cherry, causing a single bean to grow instead of the usual two beans. These single beans are smaller than standard coffee beans and are considered to produce a coffee with a distinctive aroma and complex flavour.
Some roasters of Peaberry beans believe that the rounder berry shape means they can be heated more efficiently, rolling around more easily in roasting drums, while fans of the bean may suggest that it contains more nutrients and offers a superior cup of coffee.
Our Kenya Peaberry coffee is smooth, with an intense flavour and fine acidity, coupled with a well-rounded aroma and fruity notes.
Maragogype Coffee or “Elephant Beans”
Maragogype coffee beans, or “Elephant” coffee beans, are the product of a genetic mutation of a variety of Arabica beans, which results in a bean that is larger than others. Grown in high altitudes of up to 1,200 metres, this rare bean can be found in the temperate climates of several countries in Central and South America, although a majority of Maragogype beans are cultivated in Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico. Maragogype cherries mature slowly and ripen to a bright red colour and the large beans are sometimes left to dry inside the cherry, where natural sugars further enhance their taste.
The elephant bean is used in our much-loved Dark Maragogype coffee, which offers a rich, rounded flavour and delightful aromas, low acidity and a medium body.
If you’re interested in a particular bean variety or flavour profile, why not take a look at our Coffee Finder tool and find your perfect coffee today.