It is easy to think that there are thousands and thousands of different coffee species. After all, all the coffee companies are screaming, “Buy our beans, they are best on the market”. In reality, there are only a few different species of coffee. However, there are thousands of different origins and roasteries, and they all produce very different tasting coffee.
Coffee beans come from the Coffea plant, which is harvested for its cherries. There are about 25 different sorts of Coffea plant species, but only 3 of these are used for the loved beverage you and I call coffee.
These are Arabica, Robusta, and Liberica. Most people have heard about the two first, while Liberica might be new to you. Since these are the only three Coffea species used for coffee all around the world, many cultivars have emerged. Depending on the cultivar, there might be a big difference in the taste and optimal conditions.
I’ll go through both the different species, origins, cultivars and brands below, but if you are looking for something special, here is the table of contents:
- Coffee species
- Coffee Cultivars
- Info about coffee cultivars
- Coffe cultivars list
- Coffee origin
- About coffee origins
- Single origins
- Coffee blends
- Altitude for coffee
- Coffee brands
- Best coffee for cold brew
- Best coffee for iced coffee
So first, what is the difference between the different coffee species?
Arabica is the most popular coffee species of the three and originates from Ethiopia. It stands for a majority of all the coffee produced and has in history stood for somewhere between 60% and 70%. However, 2019/2020, the Arabica production is “only” counted for about 56% of the total production.
Coffee Arabica – Production and Processing
The Arabica-species is expensive to grow because of its sensitivity to temperature, humidity, and sunlight. But, because of the high demand and its fantastic taste profile, many framers choose to grow it still. The biggest producer is Brazil, followed by Colombia, Ethiopia, and Honduras.
Arabica is often grown in steep terrain, and therefore machine harvesting is hard or even impossible. Instead, the coffee cherries are picked by hand. This increases the quality of the coffee since fewer under, or overripe cherries are picked. But it’s labor intense and therefore also more expensive.
Coffee Arabica – Taste
Arabica is because of its taste, often preferred by any coffee connoisseur and expert. The flavors you get from using Arabica beans are sweet tones of nuts, caramel, chocolate, berries, and fruits. Of course, the exact taste depends on the origin, cultivar, and roast.
Robusta is the second most grown Coffea plant, and it is mostly grown in Vietnam, Brazil, and Indonesia. It stands for about 40% of the total coffee production and has become more and more popular over the years. A lot has to do with its high resistance to diseases, temperatures, and different weather conditions. Therefore, it is often more economical and especially more secure to produce Robusta than Arabica.
Coffee Robusta – Production and Processing
To decrease the prices and production cost, machines are often used for Robusta harvesting and processing. This increases the amount of under and overripe cherries used for the coffee. Which also decreases the quality of the coffee. To be able to use machines for harvesting, the plants are often grown on gentle slopes or fairly level fields.
Coffee Robusta – Taste
The Robusta taste profile is often described as bitter or burned with earthy and woody tones. The flavors are harsher than the ones from Arabica, and therefore, you usually don’t drink Robusta coffee black.
However, it is sometimes used for espresso in order to increase the caffeine content. Robusta contains almost 2x the caffeine of Arabica. Robusta is also often used for instant coffee since it is cheaper and the typical instant coffee buyer premier price over taste.
Liberica or “Liberian Coffee” is the least produced coffee of the three Coffea species. It only stands for about 2% of the total coffee production, and it has its origin in Liberia. It is, just as Robusta, more resistant to diseases and temperature than Arabica. Therefore, it was brought to Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines to replace the Arabica plants. This happened in the end of the 19th century after the spread of “rust leaf disease”.
Coffee Liberica – Production and Processing
The Liberica cherry is much bigger than the other two species, and the plants are huge. They can grow up to 65feet tall, which is about 4-5times higher than the Arabica plants, and 3times taller than the Robusta plant.
As I already mentioned, Liberica is mostly grown in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. But, what’s impressive is that Liberica accounts for 95% of Malaysia’s coffee production.
Liberica usually is very hard to find, which you will understand if you try to google it. However, if you want to try some Liberica beans, you can find them at BeanShipper. The Liberica beans they sell are from “My Liberica”, the biggest producer of Liberica in Malaysia and probably the world. My Liberica has their own coffee plantation, processing facilities and roastery, so you know that Liberica experts handle the whole process.
Coffee Liberica – Taste
If you search through the web, you’ll quickly find different thoughts about Liberica, some extremely positive and some not as enthusiastic. What’s agreed on is that the flavor profile is very complex, and therefore, Liberica is sometimes added to coffee blends in other to create depth in taste. Some of the tasting notes you can find in Liberica is smoky, nutty, dark chocolate, caramel, jackfruit, and berries.
The flavors are bold and dense and sometimes described as “Not for everyone”. In the Philippines, it’s even called “Manly coffee”. However, it is also a sweet coffee, by some even considered sweeter than Arabica, which should make it perfect for cold brew or milk based coffee drinks.
Even though there are only 3-different species of Coffea used for coffee, there are many different cultivars. These cultivars have been developed in an effort to, for example, increase quality, production quantities, disease resistance, etc.
There are cultivars of both Arabica and Robusta, even though the varieties of Arabica are probably more interesting. The two most common Arabica cultivars are Typica and Bourbon. Here is a short description of those. But also of some of all the other varletess/cultivars of Arabica, Liberica, and Robusta coffee.
List of coffee cultivars
Baron Goto Red
A Hawaii grown coffee variety which is very similar to Catuai Red (red-fruited Catuai). This bean has been developed by combining Arabica and Robusta.
A high quality large bean size variety. Batian is not only a great quality coffee, but it is also high yielding.
Grown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica and was introduced as far back as 1728. This variety is old, but gold and is one of the most expensive coffee cultivars on the market.
This one of the most common and important cultivars. It was introduced in the early 1700s and is known for its excellent quality (primarily when grown on high altitudes).
An exceptional hybrid cultivar with high yielding potential. Grown on lower altitudes, 1000-1600m.
A hybrid of Mundo Novo and Caturra, developed in Brazil. High yielding and grown on lower altitudes.
Is Spanish for “peaberry”. Theses cherries only contain one bean (it usually should be two beans). This gives another shape and, according to some, another taste to the beans.
Developed in Portugal in the 50s and now grown mainly in Latin America, Indonesia, and Vietnam. One of its great benefits is its high resistance to coffee leaf rust.
This is a great quality very high yielding hybrid cultivar. Grown on very low altitudes in Central America.
Charrier is naturally caffeine-free, which makes it very special. It’s a newly found Robusta cultivar and isn’t commercial grown yet.
Together with Bourbon, this is one of the most important cultivars. It is well adapted for colder conditions, produce high-quality coffee, and it has a very high susceptibility to the rust disease.
There are many more cultivars, and I will probably add some to this list every now and then. However, if you want to read more about different cultivars, you can find many of them at World Coffee Research’s varieties list.
Origin has a great impact on the coffee you drink every day. Anything from country, city, and farm will impact the flavors and quality. There is probably no surprise that different farmers use different cultivars, and there are also differences in climate.
Farmer A from Brazil will probably produce a different tasting coffee than farmer B from Colombia. Even though they would use the exact same beans. This is because of the differences in climate and soil. But also because of the differences in processing.
Therefore, a single origin coffee might be to prefer over blended coffee. Blended coffee often contains beans from a lot of different farms, coffee that doesn’t really taste good together. That’s why single origin coffee usually is better.
Single origin is something the coffee community speaks a lot about. However, it is often hard to understand what it means exactly, and therefore it could be misleading.
Single origin means that the coffee is from a specific geographic origin. But how specific? This is the problem. Single origin can mean either a single farm, a single region in a country or even a whole nation. So single origin coffee might come from, for example, Brazil (which is a huge country) or from a single small farm.
Single farm coffee is often where you find the greatest coffee, because this is where you find farmers who love their products. These farmers put in their best effort to produce the best possible coffee.
Coffee blends might be random blends with coffee from a lot of different origins. But, there are also coffee blends that have been blended to achieve a specific aroma. For example, is, as we already covered, Liberica sometimes added to other coffee to get greater depth in taste.
The altitude has a significant impact on the aroma of the coffee beans. Most good coffee grows on elevations between 3,500 and 7000feet. At levels around 3,500feet, the coffee gets an earthier taste with nutty and chocolate aromas. The higher up, the higher the acidity, but also more floral fruit notes come forward.
However, there are always exceptions, and some great coffee grows on even lower altitudes.
When it comes to brands, there is a lot to say. The brands you often buy the coffee from are brands that purchase raw coffee beans from farmers and then roast and sell the coffees. That said, some farmers that brand their own coffee, which you then can buy directly from them, and some brands sell generic pre-roasted coffee from huge roasteries.
Even though the brands most of the time has nothing to do with the coffee beans production, the roasting and handling of the beans have a huge impact. If brand X doesn’t roast or handle their coffee well, it won’t matter how good the raw beans are, the end result won’t be any good.
If you want excellent quality coffee, make sure that (if possible) the coffee is freshly roasted. Of course, you also want the roast to be the best potential for the specific beans. However, this is hard to know anything about before you buy the beans. I guess the best way is to read reviews, ask professionals, or just try it.
The best coffee beans for cold brew
This is a blog focused on coffee and especially cold brew, so I should cover what beans that work the best for it.
First, cold brew is very different when it comes to extraction. A lot less acidity is extracted when cold brewing, which makes the coffee taste very different from if you had used any hot brewing method. Even the other aromas have a lower extraction when cold brewing, therefore cold brew is often done with a higher coffee-to-water ratio.
For the same reason, most coffee beans used for cold brew are dark or medium roasted beans with strong chocolate, nutty, and earthy flavors. For example, DripBeans different coffee beans are all medium to dark roasted. That said, you can, of course, use lighter roasted beans as well, a lot of people like it.
When it comes to different species, Arabica is the go to choice. But, I think Liberica actually might be something worth trying for cold brew. If you haven’t had the chance yet, give it a try. Liberica is described as even sweeter than Arabica, which usually would be a good thing for cold brew.
In the end, it all comes down to your personal preference, but if you are new to cold brew, I suggest starting with a medium dark roasted bean with earthy aromas. Feel free to check out our coffee, but there are many other great choices out there as well. Maybe take a trip to your local roastery and ask for their advice.
The best coffee beans for iced coffee
Iced coffee is different from cold brew coffee. It’s brewed hot and then cooled down by either using ice or putting it in the fridge to chill. Therefore, the coffee taste is also very different, and you would get the same aromas as if you had served the coffee hot.
Just as with cold brew coffee, it all comes down to your personal preference, so make sure to try some different coffees. However, because of the acidity you get from hot brewed coffee, many make their iced coffee with cream or a lot of milk. Therefore, I would suggest a medium or dark roast coffee.
There are a lot of different coffees, but only three different species – Arabica, Robusta, and Liberica. They all taste different and depending on both the beans but also processing:
Arabica – Sweet floral, berries, fruits, nuts, chocolate, and caramel tones.
Robusta – Very earthy and with a less sweet taste.
Liberica – Sweet and very complex flavors. Earthy tones of nuts and chocolate.
There are also many different cultivars, especially of Arabica and Robusta. These have been produced in order to, for example, create a better taste, resist diseases, or increase the coffee cherry quantity.
As this wasn’t enough, the origin matters a great deal as well. Origin impacts the altitude, weather, soil, etc., and this is only taking into concern the broad geographical aspects. If we’re talking farm origin, almost anything could be different between the different farms.
No matter how good raw coffee a brand uses, the roast and handling are of great importance. A bad roast or handling, and even the best possible coffee beans will result in, at best, a “just okay”-coffee.
So, if you want high quality coffee, make sure to get your coffee from a brand that knows what they do. A brand that roasts their coffee in the best possible way, and lets you buy the coffee freshly roasted. This is often possible if you go directly to a local roastery or order online from specialty coffee brands.
Cold brew and iced coffee
No matter if you make cold brew or iced coffee, the coffee choice comes down to your personal preference. However, the better beans, the better the coffee. If you are making cold brew coffee or iced coffee with cream or a lot of milk, I would recommend using a medium or dark roast.
I would also suggest you go to your local roastery and ask for what coffee they would recommend, or, why not test DripBeans coffee? Always freshly roasted and specialized for cold brew.
That’s all you need to know about coffee beans, at least about the different sorts of beans, their species, cultivars, origins, and brands.
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