Your guide to Arabica coffee beans
Even if you’re completely new to the coffee scene, chances are you’ll be familiar with the word ‘arabica’. Accounting for over 60% of global coffee produced each year, Arabica is the most popular coffee in the world, so you’ll often see coffee products proudly promoting statements such as “100% Arabica beans”.
In our below guide, we explore the world’s most popular coffee, covering everything from where it’s grown, how it differs from other popular types of coffee, and our top five recommendations for the best Arabica coffee beans.
What is Arabica coffee?
There are currently over 120 different species of coffee tree grown around the world. However, only two types are grown at scale and commercially - Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora. Arabica coffee is made from the fruit of Coffea arabica plants, whereas Robusta coffee is produced by the Coffea canephora.
The Arabica coffee plant, also known as the "coffee shrub of Arabia" is thought to be the first-ever species of coffee to be cultivated, with cultivation dating as far back as 12th century Yemen. Spread by the Egyptians and Turks, Arabica made its way around the world and today is grown in dozens of countries worldwide.
Globally, Arabica plants differ greatly in their fruits, colours and yields and through natural mutations and cross-breeding, many different types (varieties) of the coffee tree exist. Popular varieties include Typica (thought to be the original variety of plant from which all others mutated), Mundo Novo, Maragogype, Bourbon, Geisha, Blue Mountain, Caturra, Catuai, Pacamara, Pacas and Kent - to name but a few.
Interesting fact: Generally, Coffea Arabica grows at 1,300-1,500m above sea level. This is why you’ll also hear this type of coffee referred to as “mountain coffee”.
What can affect the taste of Arabica coffee beans?
Many factors influence the massive variety of tastes and flavours you’ll find in different Arabica beans. From variety to roasting methods, here are six things that change the flavour of your coffee bean.
- Local growing conditions
- Harvesting practices
If you choose to go for coffee beans produced by a Typica rather than a Maragogype or opt for a Mundo Novo variety over a Kent, you’ll be getting a very different and distinct flavour experience. An easy comparison to make is with wine. Coffee varieties influence the taste of your cup of coffee just as grape varieties influence the taste of your glass of wine.
Where your coffee plant is grown (aka its terroir) will have a big impact on its taste. Arabica beans from Rwanda taste entirely different from those sourced from China. Even within the same country, you’ll find hugely varying flavour profiles of beans grown in other regions. Colombia’s coffee triangle [link to Colombia article], for example, is known for producing a wide range of flavours from fruity and sweet to chocolatey and nutty.
Environmental elements that will shape the flavour profile of a bean include soil type, climate, altitude and surrounding vegetation.
How beans are harvested also affects their flavour. For example, in Brazil machine harvesting is a common practice. This process involves collecting coffee cherries by robotically stripping or shaking whole branches of coffee plants at the same time. While saving labour costs and speeding up the harvesting process, yields from machine harvesting ultimately contain both unripe and ripe beans, which if missed in the sorting process, will negatively influence flavour.
Conversely, hand-picking beans allow coffee farmers to ensure only the ripest cherries are selected, resulting in higher quality beans. There are also unique harvesting processes such as those used in Kopi Luwak coffee, where civets (small catlike animals), pick, eat, partially digest and excrete coffee cherries, which are later collected, cleaned and processed by coffee farmers. The civets only pick the the sweetest beans available, resulting in an enhancement of flavour in this type of bean.
Processing, the post-harvest process of separating coffee beans from cherry flesh, also has a significant effect on the taste of your bean.
Dry or natural processing can either add delicious fruity and earthy flavours to the bean, or if beans aren’t regularly turned, result in unsavoury and unpleasant tastes. Wet or washed processing, where cherries are left to soak in water, is renowned for producing beans with more complex flavours. Lastly, pulped natural processing is known for creating sweeter and ‘cleaner’ coffee beans.
Whether your coffee beans are single-origin or blended is another factor to consider. Many Arabica beans can be combined with beans from other regions and countries to produce completely new, unique flavours that are a world away from their original taste.
At Coffee Direct, for example, alongside our 53 single-origin roasts, we have a diverse range of 35 Arabica blends. With over 30 years of blending experience, our roasters expertly combine different bean types to produce the finest coffee blends. These blends undergo countless taste tests and are roasted on order to guarantee you only ever receive the freshest possible beans.
How long your roaster decides to roast the beans will drastically affect their colour and taste. While there are exceptions with each roast, generally, light roasts tend to produce diverse, floral flavours with vibrant aromas. Medium roasts, being roasted for longer, have caramelised sugars inside the bean, creating sweeter, smoother flavours. Dark roasted Arabica beans typically have less acidity and are full-bodied with deep, rich and intense flavours.
5 of the best Arabica coffee beans
All our 100% Arabica coffee beans are freshly roasted to order, prepared for a wide range of brewing methods, and packaged in foil fresh bags with a one-way valve, to guarantee the best Arabica experience.
You can view our entire range here or get some inspiration from five of our best coffee Arabica roasts below.
Monsoon Malabar (From £10.99)
Our Monsoon Malabar beans are produced in one of the wettest regions of southern India and are exposed to monsoon conditions for three to four months. The result is a heavy-bodied coffee with beautifully mellow flavours and nutty aromas.
“Amazing coffee full of flavour and a lovely rich crema produced. This one is for when you have guests as it’s certainly going to impress! Very satisfying when taking the first few sips of the first coffee of the day. If you’re a serious coffee drinker, you will know exactly what I mean.”
Steve R. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee (From £10.99)
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is a big customer favourite and among one of our best washed beans. The high-quality coffee beans produce a smooth, fruity and mild brew that can be enjoyed at any time of the day.
“A light, drinkable coffee without a bitter aftertaste.”
John H. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Beans (From £10.99)
Made using a 100% chemical-free decaffeination process, our Swiss Water Decaf blend is an excellent pick if you’re looking to cut down on your caffeine intake. 99.9% caffeine-free, this medium roast Arabica from Brazil is a versatile blend that tastes as delicious as a filtered brew as it does a short, sharp espresso.
“The Swiss Decaf is, without doubt, the best decaf coffee we have ever tasted! Honestly tastes just as good as high-quality full caffeine beans.”
Tom B. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Blue Mountain Jamaica (From £39.99)
Grown at high altitudes in the cool climates of the legendary Blue Mountains, Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is a contender for the most exclusive and sought-after coffee in the world. The luxurious beans produce a clean, subtle cup with nutty flavours and a signature smooth aftertaste.
“This is no doubt the best coffee in the world.”
Linda S. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Breakfast Blend Coffee (From £9.99)
Made with a selection of Arabica beans, as its name suggests, this light roast blend is the perfect way to start your day. Despite being mild in strength, the beans are full of flavour and retain plenty of body to wake up your senses in the early AM.
“This is a nice way to start the day! A flavourful coffee, strong yet smooth with a pleasant aftertaste”
Martin S. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Arabica coffee vs Robusta coffee
One of the most frequently asked questions we hear on the subject of Arabica coffee is ‘How is it different from Robusta coffee?’
As we established earlier on when discussing Arabica/Robusta, Robusta coffee beans come from a different coffee plant species - the Coffea canephora. Compared to the Coffea arabica, the Coffea canephora grows at lower altitudes, in higher temperatures and is less affected by diseases and pests. Much easier to grow, Robusta coffee beans are the more affordable option and Arabica beans with their more intricate coffee production processes are generally more expensive.
However, when it comes to the 'which bean is better - Robusta/Arabica’ debate, there is no correct answer. Taste is completely subjective, so you’ll find some people prefer Robusta beans and other Arabica. Arabica beans have higher acidity levels and sweet, soft and fruity flavours, whereas, Robusta beans have very little acidity and intense, woody flavours. Due to the intensity of their flavours, Robusta beans are often used in instant coffee, as a base for Arabica blends, or as an espresso staple on the Italian coffee scene.
Does Arabica coffee have caffeine?
Yes. Although Arabica coffee beans vary in caffeine content, unless you choose a decaffeinated roast, you’ll find caffeine content in your Arabica coffee beans.
Are Arabica beans the best?
Which coffee bean is better Arabica or Robusta? Ultimately, when it comes to Arabica and Robusta, taste is subjective and will vary from person to person. This said, generally speaking, if a group of people were to take an Arabica and Robusta taste test, you’re likely to see coffee Arabica emerge as the preferred choice over coffee Robusta.
However, if you're looking to keep costs as low as possible, prefer instant coffee or a brew with incredibly intense flavours, Robusta beans for coffee are the way to go.
What brands of coffee are made with Arabica beans?
You’ll be able to tell if your coffee is Arabica by giving your coffee packaging a quick scan. Coffee Direct has over 65 single-origin and blended roasts that are 100% Arabica. You can browse our selection of Arabica, aka ‘mountain coffee’ here.