Get to know some of the history of coffee beans and their well-traveled cultivars
Quicklist: Coffee Beans
- Jamaican Blue Mountain
- Mundo Novo
- Villa Sarchi
Coffee beans are actually fruit seeds found inside bright red berries. The word ‘coffee’ comes from the Arabic term for ‘wine of the bean.’ The legend goes that Ethiopian shepherds noticed that their goats became energized after consuming coffee berries. A monk then drank the berries and discovered that the beverage kept him alert. By the 16th century the cultivation of coffee beans had spread to Yemen, Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey.
Coffee is next only to crude oil when it comes to the world’s most traded commodity. The global consumption reaches approximately 2.25 billion cups of coffee each day. The best climates for growing coffee beans are known as The Bean Belt and this includes Papua New Guinea, Brazil, Sumatra, Honduras, Peru, Guatemala, Colombia and Ethiopia.
Grown mainly in countries straddling the equator there are two main types of coffee bean: Arabica and Robusta. A third, Liberica, native to western and central Africa, is less commercially available. Excelsa coffee beans, thought to be a category unto themselves, have recently been reclassified as part of the Liberica family. Below, in alphabetical order, we outline each type of coffee bean and explore some other favorites.
1. Arabica Beans
Over 60 percent of the world’s coffee is made out of Arabica beans. The beans are grown at high altitudes and receive the perfect amount of shade and rainfall for taste. Arabica trees are usually fairly small – no more than six feet in height – and they are generally easy to take care of.
Arabica beans are bright and slightly acidic, and they come in a number of varieties of both aroma and taste, such as Bourbon, Blue Mountain, Typica and Caturra.
Sample the coffee on your front palate where sweetness and salinity are found. Arabica bean coffee is always better tasting when you serve it hot or with a pour-over or drip coffee maker, mainly because the taste of the beans diminishes if you serve the coffee with creamer or when it’s cold.
2. Bourbon Beans
French monks developed the Bourbon varietal from Arabica beans in the 18th century on the island of Bourbon (now La Réunion). The beans have a very fruity flavor with a sweet caramel undertone. Popular in the Americas and throughout Africa, Bourbon is the predecessor to many other types of coffee beans found on the market today.
3. Catimor Beans
A hybrid cross between Timor and Caturra coffee beans, Catimor strains are mostly found in El Salvador, Nicaragua and India. The trees produce quickly and have high yields.
4. Catuai Beans
Developed in the 1950s and ’60s in Brazil, the Catuai coffee bean has numerous variations and features some of the better qualities of a good Brazilian coffee. The coffee is slightly acidic and has undertones of sweetness to it.
5. Caturra Beans
A mutant variety of the Bourbon coffee bean, the Caturra bean was developed in Brazil in the 1930s, even though it did better later on once it was planted in Colombia and Central America’s higher altitudes. These beans produce coffee with a bright citrusy taste and a light body. It is also a predecessor to many other varieties of coffee beans, including the Maracatu and Catimor.
6. Excelsa Beans
Grown mostly in Southeast Asia, the Excelsa coffee bean is completely different than other types of beans, even though it has recently been classified as part of the Liberica family. It has a nice almond shape and is often used in blends to bump up the taste.
Enjoying this type of coffee bean on the middle and back sections of the palate results in the best flavor. Mainly considered a light-roast coffee, the bean has both a fruity and tart taste.
7. Geisha Beans
Geisha is actually a misspelling of the area where the beans first originated — in the Gori Gesha forest, southwestern Ethiopia. The beans produce exceptionally high quality coffee that features both floral and sweet notes.
8. Icatu Beans
The amazing part about choosing Icatu beans for your next cup of coffee is the number of flavors you can taste in them, including plum, chocolate, and berry, which come out fully if the coffee is dry-processed. A Catimor hybrid that originated in Brazil in 1993.
9. Jackson Beans
Jackson coffee beans grow in Burundi and Rwanda, and the flavor is similar to the Bourbon type of beans with a delicate acidic taste.
10. Jamaican Blue Mountain Beans
Of all the coffee grown in Jamaica, this one is perhaps the tastiest. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, introduced to the island in 1728, was one of the first cultivars brought to the New World. The coffee is mildly acidic, light and balanced in flavor.
11. Jember Beans
Hybrid coffee bean originated in Indonesia. Often called S795, Jember coffee beans are full-bodied and rich, and their taste is like a combination of caramel, maple and brown sugar. Developed for its hardiness in the 1940s Jember is a combination of the Kent and S228 coffee beans.
12. Kent Beans
Developed in India in the 1920s, these beans have a very light taste and both floral and spicy undertones.
13. Kona Beans
Kona coffee beans trace their lineage back to Guatemalan seeds introduced to the Big Island of Hawaii in 1892. With a clean, balanced, and rather mild taste, the beans come in many different varieties.
14. Liberica Beans
Liberica beans are larger than other types of coffee beans and have a somewhat irregular shape. Their aroma is a combination of fruity and floral undertones.
15. Maracatu Beans
A cross between Caturra and Maragogype coffee beans, the Maracatu beans are very large and are grown in Central America in the higher altitudes. It is a very acidic and fruity type of coffee bean.
16. Maragogype Beans
Brazilian coffee bean grows very large in size, which is one of the reasons they are sometimes called Elephant Bean coffee beans. Maragogype features a heavy and buttery flavor with hints of citrus and floral undertones.
17. Mocha Beans
Coffee bean originally from Yemen and named after the Rea Sea port (Mokha) from where it was shipped around the world. Arabian Yemen coffee is justly famous for its notes of chocolate, cinnamon and cardamom.
18. Mundo Novo Beans
A hybrid Bourbon-Typica coffee bean that produces heavily and is resistant to most diseases. Seeds from source plants were first combined in Mundo Novo, Brazil in 1943.
19. Pacamara Beans
Hybrid coffee beans originated in El Salvador in 1958. The coffee itself offers a perfect balance of floral and citrus flavors, along with a little acidity and a touch of sweetness.
20. Pacas Beans
A mutation variety from El Salvador, these beans produce a lot of stock and do better at higher elevations. It is sweet and acidic with spicy and floral undertones.
21. Pache Beans
Guatemalan beans featuring two unique varieties: Pache Colis and Pache Comum. They produce heavily and offer a very smooth taste, enhancing their reputation as a blender coffee.
22. Robusta Beans
If you’re looking for a coffee that goes great with cream and sugar and tastes good even when it’s iced, the Robusta coffee beans are worth trying. They are the second most popular type of bean when producing coffee, and the trees are practically immune from any type of disease. Robusta beans are sturdy and can withstand high altitudes, especially where there is occasional rainfall and plenty of sun.
Interestingly, the beans’ ability to be resistant to many diseases is directly due to the fact that it has a lot of caffeine in it – twice the amount of caffeine as Arabica beans. For best results, you should drink this type of coffee on the back palate where the bitter taste buds are located. Robusta beans have a low level of acidity and a nice, smooth taste, with a hint of chocolate.
23. Ruiru Beans
Wild Arabica bean developed in Kenya with a very unique flavor that tastes a little like Robusta coffee beans.
SL stands for Scott Laboratories, the name of the Kenyan research center that developed the cultivars in the 1930s. High-yield SL varieties make up nearly 90-percent of that country’s exports in coffee.
25. Villa Sarchi Beans
Hybrid bean, first developed in Costa Rica, does best when grown organically. It has a tad of acidity and a medium-bodied taste, as well as undertones of fruit and sweetness.
26. Villalobos Beans
Grown in Costa Rica, Typica natural mutation grows best at higher elevations. It is highly acidic and provides a lot of sweetness as well.
Best Type of Coffee Beans for Various Coffee Beverages
Most people wonder if they can just use regular coffee beans to make espresso. The answer to that is that you should probably avoid doing so. The typical café uses a special blend of espresso beans that don’t filter the same way as regular coffee.
There are three main reasons to choose espresso beans instead of regular coffee beans when making expresso:
- The tradition of espresso beans as they are roasted is much darker than regular coffee.
- Many espresso beans taste better with milk and may go well if you use a milk-based drink, such as a latte or cappuccino to fill in the remainder of the beverage container.
- Espresso beans are actually cheaper than many regular coffee beans.
Light or medium-roast Arabica beans will work well with your French press.
The Italian breakfast classic, where milk makes up much of the beverage, goes best with dark roast coffee beans.
The best way to make an iced coffee in your own home is to use beans that create a full-bodied coffee in order to avoid some of the tart and bitter taste that comes with other types of coffee beans.
Medium roast coffee beans from countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, or Honduras will provide the sweet, creamy or chocolatey flavors.
You can’t go wrong with some Peruvian coffee beans when you are trying to make the best tasting latte possible. Peruvian beans have a low acidity and bring a sweet taste to the beverage.