visualize robusta beans

Nothing beats a great cup of coffee. But great coffee starts with great coffee beans. With all of the choices of coffee beans on the market, how do you know which beans to get? Is price just marketing? Should you choose expensive coffee or inexpensive coffee?

Although there are 4 main types of coffee beans, the most common are arabica and robusta beans. You may have noticed that some beans are much more expensive than others, and there are good reasons for that. Keep reading to find out why arabica beans are more expensive than robusta beans and which ones you should choose.

4 Types of Beans

educational; visualize 4 coffee bean varieties

The four main types of coffee beans are arabica, robusta, liberica, and excelsa. Each bean has a different flavor profile. Some are more popular than others and some are simply harder to find.

Liberica.

This species of coffee is unique and makes up only 2% of the world’s coffee. It generally comes from Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. This type of coffee grows on a larger type of tree than other coffee types, up to 65 feet tall. The berries are large and irregular in shape. Liberica coffee trees are more tolerant of hot and humid climates and are more likely to grow at lower altitudes.

The flavor of this type of coffee bean can be described as smoky, nutty, and dark chocolate with a biting aftertaste. Not everyone finds this dark flavour palatable, and so it has been nicknamed “manly coffee.”

educational: infographic about 4 different varieties of coffee bean
Infographic from MedLife

Excelsa

Although excelsa beans used to be considered their own species, they have been reclassified as a variety of liberica coffee. Excelsa trees are not quite as large are liberica trees, growing to about 20 to 30 feet at medium altitudes.
Excelsa beans are used to add complexity to other blends because the flavor is tart and fruity and also dark. However, the aroma and taste of this type of coffee is lighter than other types, so it might be considered a ‘weak’ cup of coffee when brewed. Neither liberica nor excela coffee beans are as popular as robusta and arabica beans.

Robusta Coffee Beans

Robusta coffee beans are the second most popular type of coffee bean. Robusta beans primarily grow in Africa and Indonesia. This type of bean is one of the least expensive varieties because the trees are hardier, more disease resistant, and can grow at lower altitudes than the other types of coffee trees. These trees grow between 15 and 20 feet tall. The actual coffee beans are larger than other varieties and they have a more rounded shape.

Robusta beans sometimes get a bad rap for their lack of flavour. The coffee made from these beans is said to taste more bitter, burnt, and harsh than other varieties of coffee. However, they have a very strong, flavourful aroma and more caffeine than you would find in arabica coffee. Instant coffee is typically made from robusta beans. Since robusta beans are less expensive to grow and harvest, they are often used alongside arabica beans to make a less expensive coffee blend.

Arabica Coffee

Arabica beans make up about 60 percent of the world’s coffee, which means they are significantly more popular than the other varieties of coffee beans. They are also significantly more expensive. Arabica beans brew a coffee that is smoother and less bitter with a complex flavour, which makes them very palatable. The beans probably originated in Ethiopia, but became popular in 7th century Arabia, which is now known as Yemen.

Arabica beans are expensive to purchase because they are much harder to grow than other types of beans. These trees need more water and shade to grow than the other types of beans. They also need to grow at an altitude of at least 2000 feet. These types of coffee trees are only eight to fifteen feet tall and have much lower yields per tree than robusta beans have. These trees are not as hardy as robusta coffee trees and are more susceptible to diseases.

Why are arabica beans more expensive than robusta?

So although there are four distinct types of coffee, you will most likely drink either robusta coffee or arabica coffee or a blend of both. Arabica, by far, is tastier and smoother, with more lipids and a higher sugar content which increase its palatability. Robusta beans have a higher caffeine concentration, which helps protect the coffee cherries from insects and disease. The trees are much larger and have a higher yield, as well. So although arabica beans are the most popular with gourmet brands, robusta beans are about half the price because they are easier to grow, cultivate, and harvest.

This isn’t to say that all robustas are of lower quality than arabica beans. Superior quality robusta beans definitely taste and smell better than any poorly grown and harvested arabica beans. Your enjoyment comes down to personal preference as well. You may love the bitter taste of robusta and find the sweet notes of arabica to light. The brewing and roasting process have a lot of influence on the final flavour profile, as well. For example, although McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ all use arabica beans to make their coffee, America’s favorite, Folger’s classic blend, uses a blend of both arabica and robusta beans for a rich, full-bodied flavor that isn’t too expensive and is high in caffeine.

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