April 28

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Explore the Different Varietals of Coffee Beans

By Hanson Cheng

April 28, 2023


Dive into the world of coffee beans with this comprehensive article, where you’ll explore the different types of beans, including Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa, and discover the factors that impact their flavor profiles. Learn about the various processing methods, and delve deeper into the origins, history, taste characteristics, and cultivation practices of each coffee bean type.

This article also covers hybrid and specialty varietals, the effects of roasting on flavor, and the rationale behind coffee blends. By the end, you’ll be equipped with a wealth of knowledge to help you appreciate the complex journey of coffee beans from farm to cup.

Overview of Coffee Beans

Coffee beans are the seeds found inside the coffee cherry fruit, which are grown on the Coffea plant, a member of the Rubiaceae family. These tropical plants are cultivated in over 70 countries worldwide and are primarily grown in the equatorial regions of the Americas, Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and Africa. There are several factors that contribute to the flavor profile of coffee beans, including bean variety, growing conditions and altitude, and processing methods.

Types of Beans:

There are several species of the Coffea plant, but the most common types of coffee beans consumed today are Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea canephora). Additionally, Liberica (Coffea liberica) and Excelsa (Coffea liberica var. Dewevrei) are lesser-known coffee beans that provide unique flavor profiles.

Arabica beans are the most popular and widely consumed in the world, accounting for about 60% of global coffee production. They are known for their smooth, nuanced flavors, which can be fruity, chocolatey, or floral, with a mild acidity. Arabica beans are generally grown at higher elevations (over 3,000 feet above sea level) in regions with cool, subtropical climates.

Robusta beans make up about 40% of global coffee production and are often perceived as having a stronger, more bitter taste than Arabica beans. They are higher in caffeine content and are usually used in espresso blends, where their low acidity and rich crema contribute to a full-bodied, sharp taste. Robusta beans are grown at lower elevations and are more resistant to pests and diseases, making them an economical choice for coffee farmers.

Liberica beans are grown mainly in Southeast Asia, particularly in the Philippines. They are known for their large, irregularly shaped beans, and they have a unique flavor profile, with bold, woody notes and a strong, smoky aroma. Liberica coffee is enjoyed by those who prefer a distinct, robust taste.

Excelsa beans are a variety of Liberica and are also primarily grown in Southeast Asia. They account for less than 1% of global coffee production, making them a rare and sought-after bean for coffee enthusiasts. Excelsa beans have a distinctive, fruity flavor profile with hints of nuttiness and a bright, tart acidity.

Factors Affecting Flavor Profiles

The flavor of coffee beans is influenced by several factors, including the type of bean, growing conditions, and processing methods. Some of these factors include:

  • Altitude: Beans grown at higher elevations are subjected to cooler temperatures and greater diurnal temperature variations, promoting slower maturation and resulting in complex flavors and bright acidity.
  • Soil: The mineral content of the soil can have a direct impact on the flavors present in coffee beans, as can the presence of volcanic ash or limestone deposits.
  • Climate: Coffee beans cultivated in regions with distinct rainy and dry seasons may exhibit more pronounced flavors, while beans grown in more temperate conditions may develop subtle, nuanced characteristics.
  • Shade: Beans grown under a canopy of trees may receive less direct sunlight, which can affect their maturation, acidity, and overall flavor profile.
  • Picking and sorting: Selectively picking ripe cherries by hand ensures that only beans at their peak ripeness are harvested, resulting in better flavor quality.

Processing Methods: 

The processing method used to remove the fruit and mucilage surrounding the coffee bean can have a significant impact on the bean’s final flavor profile. There are three primary processing methods: dry (or natural), wet (or washed), and semi-washed (also known as honey or pulped natural).

In the dry method, coffee cherries are spread out in the sun to dry, allowing the pulp to ferment and break down over several weeks. This method imparts fruity, sweet flavors to the beans and is common in countries like Ethiopia and Brazil.

The wet method involves removing the pulp before fermenting the beans, which are then washed to remove any remaining mucilage. This is common in regions like Central America and Colombia, and results in a cleaner, brighter, and more uniform flavor profile, often with greater acidity.

The semi-washed method lies in between the dry and wet methods, with some of the pulp remaining during fermentation. This method often results in a flavor profile with characteristics of both dry and wet processed beans, with mild fruitiness and notable acidity.

By understanding the types of coffee beans, the factors that affect their flavor profiles, and the processing methods used, one can better appreciate the diverse world of coffee and its wide array of taste experiences.

Arabica Coffee Beans

Origins and History

Arabica coffee beans are considered the oldest and most widely consumed coffee variety in the world today, accounting for roughly 60% of the global coffee production. They were first discovered in Ethiopia around the 7th century, where they grew wild in the highlands.  The legend has it that a goatherd named Kaldi noticed how his goats became elated and energized after consuming the cherries from the arabica coffee plant.

His observation caught the attention of local monks, who began to use coffee to stay awake during long hours of devotion and prayer. From there, the concept of consuming coffee spread to the Arabian Peninsula, where the name “arabica” was derived.

The spread of Islam also helped in introducing the beverage to a wider audience. By the 15th century, the cultivation and trade of coffee beans had reached other parts of eastern Africa, Yemen, and the Middle East. Coffee then continued its journey to Europe in the late 16th century and later reached the Americas in the 18th century.

Taste Profile and Characteristics

Arabica coffee beans are favored by many coffee enthusiasts for their exceptional taste and the complexity of their flavor profile. Generally, arabica beans provide a delicate balance of sweetness, acidity, and bitterness, resulting in a smooth, less bitter taste compared to robusta beans.

The specific taste of arabica beans varies depending on growing conditions, processing methods, and roasting techniques. However, they are often known to have fruity, floral, or citrus notes, with hints of chocolate, caramel, or berries. The acidity levels can range from bright and crisp to mellow and soft. Arabica coffee also boasts a light to medium body and smooth, well-rounded texture.

Arabica beans contain less caffeine than robusta beans, usually at 1-1.7% of their weight. This is partly responsible for their superior taste, as caffeine tends to impart bitterness to coffee. Additionally, arabica beans are larger, denser, and have a more elongated shape compared to robusta beans.

Popular Arabica Varietals and Their Growing Regions

There are many arabica coffee varietals available, each with its distinct flavor profile, depending on the region and terroir where they are grown. Some popular arabica varietals include:

  1. Typica: This is considered the original arabica cultivar, originating in Ethiopia. It has spread across the world, with significant production in Latin America and the Caribbean. Typica coffee is known for its sweet, clean flavor and mild acidity.

  2. Bourbon: Named after the island of Bourbon (modern-day Réunion), this varietal is highly regarded for its sweet, fruity, and complex flavors. It is widely grown in Latin America, Africa, and the Indian Ocean region.

  3. Geisha: Originally from Gesha, Ethiopia, this varietal found its way to Central America, where it gained fame for its unique and complex floral, fruity, and tea-like notes. Geisha is mainly cultivated in Panama, Colombia, and Costa Rica.

  4. SL28 and SL34: Developed by Scott Laboratories in Kenya, these varietals produce coffee with bright acidity, citrus, and berry flavors. They are widely grown in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania.

Growing Conditions and Cultivation Practices

Arabica coffee beans require specific growing conditions to thrive and influence their final taste. They are most commonly grown in high-altitude regions with rich volcanic soil, abundant rainfall, and a tropical climate. Ideal elevations for growing arabica coffee range between 1,300 and 2,200 meters above sea level. Lower elevations may result in beans with less acidity and body.

Temperature also plays a critical role in arabica coffee cultivation, with an optimum range of 15-24 degrees Celsius (59-75 degrees Fahrenheit). Higher temperatures can lead to a faster maturation process, negatively impacting flavor development. Frost and extreme cold temperatures can damage plants and harm yields.

Arabica coffee trees are delicate and more susceptible to diseases, fungi, and pests compared to robusta coffee varieties. Common cultivation practices for arabica beans include shade-grown techniques, which help sustain biodiversity and protect the plants from extreme weather conditions. Sustainable farming practices, such as organic and fair-trade certifications, have also gained popularity in the arabica coffee sector.

Harvesting is done either by selectively picking ripe cherries by hand or using machines to strip entire branches of cherries, depending on the region and terrain. After harvesting, the beans are processed through various methods, such as washed, natural, or honey processing, which all impact the final flavor profile.

The beans are then dried and stored before being roasted and prepared for consumption. Excellent care in each step of cultivation, harvesting, processing, and roasting is necessary to preserve the high quality and unique taste of arabica coffee beans.

Robusta Coffee Beans

Origins and History

Robusta coffee beans come from the Coffea canephora plant, which is native to Central and Western Africa. The history of Robusta coffee dates back to the 19th century when it was first discovered in the Congo basin. The bean was later cultivated in a variety of countries, and by the early 20th century, it had spread across Africa, Asia, and South America.

Robusta coffee is less sought-after than its Arabica counterpart due to its higher caffeine content and less refined taste. However, Robusta is significantly easier to grow because it is less susceptible to disease and pests, and can be cultivated in a wider range of environmental conditions. As a result, it is the second most popular type of coffee in the world, accounting for about 30-40% of the global coffee production.

The rise in popularity of instant coffee and espresso blends during the 20th century helped boost the Robusta market. Its cheaper price and high yield made it an attractive option for mass production. Moreover, it is often used as a filler in lower-grade coffee blends and as a means of increasing the caffeine content in certain coffee drinks.

Taste Profile and Characteristics

Robusta coffee has a distinct and strong taste profile that sets it apart from Arabica beans. The flavor is often described as earthy, woody, and bitter with a harsh, rubbery aroma. The higher caffeine content (approximately double that of Arabica) contributes to this bitterness and astringency. However, it is this very same characteristic that makes Robusta a preferred choice in some coffee drinks, such as espresso, as it adds a layer of richness known as “crema.”

Robusta coffee has a lower acidity than Arabica beans, making it easier on the stomach for some people. The beans are smaller, rounder, and have a straight crease in the middle, unlike the curved crease of Arabica beans. Additionally, Robusta coffee is higher in antioxidants and chlorogenic acids, which carry potential health benefits.

Popular Robusta Varietals and Their Growing Regions

There are several popular Robusta varietals, each originating from a different growing region. Some of the most widely recognized and appreciated Robusta coffee varieties include:

  1. Uganda Robusta: Grown in the country’s highlands, this varietal is generally considered the best-tasting Robusta due to its balanced flavor and pleasant aroma.
  2. Vietnam Robusta: Widely cultivated throughout the country, Vietnamese Robusta accounts for nearly 40% of the country’s coffee production. The taste profile is typically strong and slightly nutty.
  3. West and Central African Robusta: Grown in countries such as Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria, these beans are generally used in lower-quality blends due to their strong and bitter flavors.
  4. Indian Robusta: Mainly cultivated in the southern hills of India, this Robusta variety is known for its smooth and full-bodied taste, often used in espresso blends.

Growing Conditions and Cultivation Practices

Robusta coffee can be grown in a variety of environmental conditions, but it typically thrives in low-altitude areas, unlike Arabica which prefers higher elevations. The ideal altitude for Robusta cultivation ranges from sea level to 800 meters above sea level.

The plant is hardy and can withstand higher temperatures, thriving in a tropical climate with an average temperature range of 24 to 30 degrees Celsius. It also requires significant rainfall (approximately 1500-2500 mm annually). Robusta coffee plants are self-pollinating and are less susceptible to pests and diseases, such as leaf rust—a problem often faced by Arabica coffee plants.

Growing Robusta coffee is less labor-intensive than Arabica, and it typically requires fewer resources, such as fertilizers and pesticides. Moreover, the plants have a higher yield and shorter maturation period, making them an attractive option for coffee farmers looking to maximize their harvest.

In terms of harvesting, Robusta coffee cherries can be either handpicked or machine-harvested, depending on the size of the farm and its economic resources. Once harvested, the beans must be processed in a timely manner to preserve their quality.

There are two primary processing methods for Robusta: the wet method (which involves fermentation) and the dry method (which relies on sun-drying the cherries). While both methods can produce high-quality Robusta beans, the choice of processing method often depends on regional traditions and available resources.

Liberica Coffee Beans

Origins and History

Liberica coffee beans, scientifically known as Coffea liberica, have a rich and storied history that dates back to the 18th century. Originally from West Africa, specifically Liberia, this rare coffee bean gets its name from its country of origin. Today, it is grown in a handful of countries around the globe, including the Philippines, Indonesia, and several African nations.

Liberica coffee beans rose to prominence in the late 1800s when coffee rust wiped out a significant portion of the world’s Arabica coffee production. The American coffee market was heavily impacted by the loss of Arabica beans, and many farmers turned to alternative coffee bean varieties. The Liberica bean was well-suited to meet this demand due to its larger size and resistance to coffee rust.

However, the rising popularity of Liberica was short-lived. As Arabica production recovered, people’s preferences returned to the more familiar Arabica flavor. Additionally, the development of Robusta coffee in the early 1900s provided a more affordable and higher yield option, further overshadowing Liberica beans. As a result, the cultivation and consumption of Liberica coffee dwindled, making it a rare find in today’s coffee world.

Taste Profile and Characteristics

Liberica coffee beans are known for their distinct flavor profile that sets them apart from more common Arabica and Robusta beans. They are typically described as having a bold, full-bodied taste with fruity and floral notes. Some individuals also detect a smoky, woody flavor and hints of dark chocolate in certain Liberica coffees.

The physical characteristics of Liberica beans also stand out from other coffee varieties. They are considerably larger than Arabica beans, having an irregular, oval shape, and a thick skin. This difference in appearance can help distinguish Liberica beans from other coffee types.

Liberica coffee’s unique taste and appearance can be attributed to its distinct genetic makeup. Unlike the majority of coffee plants, which have 44 chromosomes, Liberica has 52 chromosomes, which plays a crucial role in creating its singular flavor and physical characteristics.

Popular Liberica Varietals and Their Growing Regions

Although not as popular as Arabica or Robusta, several countries cultivate Liberica coffee beans. Each region introduces a unique touch to the taste and quality of the bean.

  • In the Philippines, the most well-known Liberica coffee is known as ‘Barako’ or Kapeng Barako. The Batangas and Cavite provinces are the main producers of this coffee varietal, which is characterized by its pungent aroma and bold flavors.

  • In Indonesia, the term ‘Kopi Jantan’ is used to refer to Liberica coffee due to its strong, masculine taste profile. These beans are mainly grown on the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Borneo, and are sometimes used in coffee blends alongside Arabica and Robusta beans to create a more complex flavor experience.

  • In Africa, countries such as Sierra Leone, Cameroon, and Cote d’Ivoire cultivate Liberica beans, producing coffee that boasts an earthy and robust flavor with a subtle sweetness.

Growing Conditions and Cultivation Practices

Liberica coffee plants require specific growing conditions in order to thrive. They typically grow in low-altitude tropical regions with plenty of rainfall, such as the rainforests of West Africa or the vast archipelagos of Southeast Asia.

Keep in mind that Liberica coffee plants can grow up to 20 meters in height, several meters taller than Arabica or Robusta plants, creating a unique and striking visual effect in the coffee fields. This height difference also necessitates different cultivation practices. For instance, pruning the plants can be more challenging due to their taller stature.

Liberica coffee plants have a lower yield than Arabica and Robusta plants, meaning that they produce fewer beans for harvest. As a result, cultivating Liberica can be a more labor-intensive process. These factors, coupled with their rarity, contribute to the higher price of Liberica beans in comparison to more common coffee varieties.

Despite its relative obscurity, Liberica coffee beans continue to intrigue coffee enthusiasts, who value the opportunity to experience its unique flavors and learn about its history. By supporting the cultivation and consumption of Liberica beans, coffee lovers can contribute to the preservation of this rare and unique coffee variety.

Excelsa Coffee Beans

Origins and History

Excelsa coffee beans belong to the Coffea liberica species, which is one of the lesser-known coffee species as compared to its counterparts like Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora (Robusta). The Coffea liberica species is native to western and central Africa, specifically Liberia, which is where it acquired its scientific name. Excelsa coffee constitutes around 7% of the world’s coffee production and is primarily known for its unique and distinctive taste profile.

The history of Excelsa coffee started in the 19th century when it was first discovered in Liberia. Due to its resistance to coffee rust, a devastating disease for coffee crops, Excelsa began to gain popularity as an alternative to Arabica coffee in nearby countries where coffee rust was a major issue, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. As coffee plantations and businesses continued to search for varieties resistant to diseases and pests, Excelsa became an essential part of the coffee industry’s development.

Despite its resistance to coffee rust, Excelsa coffee’s cultivation did not surpass Arabica and Robusta varieties in popularity, mainly due to its lower yields and less appealing taste profile for general coffee drinkers. Nonetheless, Excelsa managed to find a niche market with enthusiasts searching for unique and specialized coffee experiences.

Taste Profile and Characteristics

Excelsa coffee is cherished for its distinct and complex taste profile. While the flavor can vary depending on the specific growing region, processing method, and roast level, Excelsa beans typically exhibit a mix of fruity, tart, and citrusy notes accompanied by a medium to full body and medium acidity.

Some common flavor descriptors for Excelsa coffee include cherries, red currants, lemons, and apricots. The beans’ fruity and citrusy characters are balanced by subtle earthy and nutty flavors, giving it a balanced and unique taste.

Excelsa’s caffeine content is lower than that of Robusta coffee, but slightly higher than Arabica beans. Its unique qualities and taste profile make it an exciting and enjoyable addition to coffee blends, where it can introduce intricate and intriguing flavor layers.

Popular Excelsa Varietals and Their Growing Regions

While Excelsa coffee beans are not as widespread as Arabica or Robusta beans, they are grown and cultivated in several regions across the world, primarily in Southeast Asia and Africa.

In the Philippines, the Excelsa variety called Barako is popular and highly valued for its robust flavor and bold aroma. Barako is primarily grown in the provinces of Batangas and Cavite, and has become an integral part of the local culture and coffee industry.

Other regions known for growing Excelsa coffee include Vietnam, where it is sometimes used in traditional espresso blends due to its unique taste, and Indonesia, where it is cultivated alongside Arabica and Robusta coffee varieties.

African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Cameroon also grow Excelsa coffee and contribute to the diversity of the variety by imparting distinct regional flavors to the beans.

Growing Conditions and Cultivation Practices

Excelsa coffee is unique not only in terms of its taste profile but also its growing conditions and cultivation practices. Compared to Arabica beans, which mainly thrive at higher altitudes, Excelsa coffee can grow at lower elevations ranging from 500 to 1000 meters above sea level. This makes it more adaptable to various climate conditions, and as mentioned earlier, more resistant to certain diseases like coffee rust.

The Excelsa coffee plant itself is quite large, reaching heights of 9 to 13 meters. It features large leaves and oval-shaped fruits (cherries), which take around 8 to 9 months to mature. The cherries can be harvested once they turn a bright red color, indicating their ripeness.

Cultivation practices for Excelsa coffee vary depending on the region, but they generally involve a mix of traditional, sustainable agriculture techniques and modern methods to ensure optimal quality and yield. The beans are typically processed through the wet or dry processing methods, followed by hulling, sorting, and grading before preparing them for shipping.

Given its unique characteristics and taste profile, Excelsa coffee continues to intrigue and delight coffee enthusiasts attracted to its complex flavors and the rich history behind it. As the coffee industry and consumer preferences evolve, there might be a growing interest in exploring underrepresented coffee varieties, like Excelsa, in the search for diverse and memorable coffee experiences.

Hybrid and Specialty Varietals

Developing or discovering new coffee bean varietals has long been a fascinating aspect of coffee production. At times, these varietals have come from intentional crossbreeding of different species, such as Arabica and Robusta. Specialty coffee varietals often have unique characteristics, including improved resistance to diseases, pests, or adapting to specific growing conditions.

Reasons for Developing Hybrids

Hybrid coffee bean varietals are developed for several reasons. First, they can potentially produce beans with superior flavor and aroma compared to traditional coffee plants. Second, hybrids may offer increased resistance to diseases and pests that affect coffee crops. This can result in a more consistent and plentiful yield for farmers, reducing the chance of crop failure.

Climate change also plays a significant role in developing new hybrids, as a warmer climate puts coffee plants at risk of new pests and diseases not previously encountered in the region. Hybridization can create varieties better adapted to changes in environmental conditions, like temperature extremes or changing rainfall patterns.

In addition, hybrid coffee plants can be developed for specific growing environments, like high altitudes or low sunlight exposure, making it possible for farmers in those regions to cultivate coffee competitively.

Examples of Hybrid Varietals

Some well-known hybrid coffee varietals include Timor Hybrid, Catimor, and Ruiru 11. These examples showcase the advantages of hybridization based on different attributes:

  • Timor Hybrid is a natural race that is disease-resistant due to its blend of Arabica and Robusta genetics. This varietal is often used as a parent for further breeding with Arabica cultivars to help improve their disease resistance.

  • Catimor is a hybrid of the Timor Hybrid and the highly valued Caturra varietal. As a result, it inherits disease resistance and higher yield characteristics from Timor Hybrid, while retaining the high-quality flavor profile of Caturra.

  • Ruiru 11, on the other hand, is a Kenyan hybrid varietal bred for resistance to coffee leaf rust and CBD (Coffee Berry Disease) which are common threats in East Africa.

Geisha Coffee Beans

Geisha, or Gesha, is a highly sought-after specialty coffee varietal originally discovered in Ethiopia. It boasts a unique and complex flavor profile, with notes of jasmine, bergamot, and tropical fruits. While not a true hybrid, the Geisha variety’s rarity, combined with its exceptional characteristics, makes it a highly valuable commodity in the world of specialty coffee.

Geisha coffee plants are often grown at high elevations and require specific care and attention during cultivation, making them more challenging to grow than other varietals. Consequently, they command a premium price, resulting in a high demand for Geisha beans from discerning coffee enthusiasts.

SL28 and SL34 Coffee Beans

SL28 and SL34 are two specialty coffee bean varietals known for their outstanding cup quality and unique flavor profiles. Both varieties, developed by the Scott Laboratories in Kenya, are derived from Bourbon varieties, but show distinct differences among their parent plants.

SL28 is known for its high acidity, complex flavors, and fruity profile. SL34, though similar, has a more balanced profile and is favored for its rich mouthfeel, sweet, and rounded acidity. These two varietals contribute a significant amount to the distinct flavor of Kenyan coffee.

Other Notable Specialty Varietals

In addition to the mentioned exceptional coffee varietals, there are many other noteworthy specialty coffee beans, such as Pacamara, Bourbon Pointu, and Maragogype.

  • Pacamara is a hybrid of Maragogype and Pacas varietals, known for its large beans and a unique taste, balancing acidity, body, and flavor. It offers notes of chocolate, fruit, and floral undertones, and is popular in Central America.

  • Bourbon Pointu, a rare Bourbon mutation from the Reunion Island, is a small, round, and pointed bean variety, delivering a delicate, fruity, and floral flavor profile with low acidity.

  • Maragogype, or the “Elephant Bean,” is known for its large bean size and is a natural mutation of Typica coffee plants. When produced in optimal growing conditions, it offers a smooth, elegant, and complex flavor profile, making it a favorite among specialty coffee aficionados.

Hybrid and specialty coffee varietals have a significant impact on the coffee industry by providing unique and sought-after flavor profiles, disease resistance, and adaptability to specific growing conditions. These coffee beans help preserve the genetic diversity of the plant species, ensuring its resilience and adaptability to environmental changes.

Coffee Bean Roasting

The process of coffee bean roasting plays a critical role in determining the flavor profile, aroma, and overall quality of the final cup of coffee. Roasting helps to remove the beans’ natural taste and bring out the essential flavors that make each cup unique. 

Light Roasts

Light roast coffee beans have a light brown color, and they are usually roasted to achieve a milder and more acidic flavor profile. These beans are roasted at an internal temperature of about 356°F – 401°F (180°C – 205°C). Because the beans do not go through the second crack process, the beans retain a higher level of moisture giving them a milder taste.

Light roasts typically retain more of the coffee’s original flavors, such as the fruity, floral, or herbal notes that can often be found in beans sourced from Africa or Central America. In addition, these roasts have higher levels of acidity which contribute to the bright and crisp flavors often associated with lighter roasts.

Medium Roasts

Medium roast coffee beans are darker in color compared to light roasts, with a slightly more oily surface. The internal temperature for medium roasts is between 410°F – 428°F (210°C – 220°C). In this roast stage, the beans undergo the first crack, which is when the bean’s structure starts expanding, and the bean splits open, producing an audible cracking sound.

Medium roasts offer a balance between the flavor characteristics of the coffee bean and the roasting process. These beans will usually have a slightly sweeter and fuller body than light roasts, although, they still retain a moderate amount of acidity. This balance is often ideal for those who enjoy a more rounded and nuanced cup, without the intensity of a dark roast or the brightness of a light roast.

Dark Roasts

Dark roast coffee beans are characterized by their dark brown, almost black color, and a shiny, oily surface. The internal temperature for dark roasts is between 465°F – 480°F (240°C – 250°C), and they undergo both the first and second cracks during roasting. This level of roasting adds a significant depth and intensity to the flavor of the coffee.

Flavor-wise, dark roasts are bolder, richer, and offer more bitterness compared to light and medium roasts. At this stage of roasting, the coffee’s original flavors are overshadowed by the roasting process, typically resulting in chocolatey, smoky, or even burnt flavors. The body of dark roast coffee also tends to be heavier and more robust, which is why it is often a popular choice for those who enjoy a bold cup.

Espresso Roasts

Espresso roasts, sometimes referred to as “espresso blends,” are specifically crafted for the espresso brewing method. These roasts usually fall within the spectrum of medium-dark to dark roasts, with an internal temperature range of 430°F – 465°F (221°C – 240°C) in most cases. Beans destined for espresso often have a slightly oily surface and a rich, deep brown color.

The roasting process for espresso beans aims to deliver a balance between body, acidity, sweetness, and bitterness. This balance is essential for a well-rounded espresso shot that can also stand up to the addition of milk in drinks like cappuccinos and lattes.

How Roasting Affects Flavor Profiles

The roasting process plays an instrumental role in determining the flavor profiles of coffee. As the beans roast, chemical reactions occur that develop flavors, aroma, and other essential qualities in the coffee. The roast level directly impacts how much the beans’ original flavors and acidity are highlighted or muted.

During roasting, beans lose moisture and acidity, while they gain flavor and body. As a result, lighter roasts can be characterized by their bright, crisp flavors and higher acidity, while darker roasts have heavier bodies and more pronounced bitterness. Medium and espresso roasts seek to achieve a balance between these attributes, providing complex and nuanced flavors that can cater to a wide variety of preferences.

Overall, the roasting process is essential in shaping the final taste and quality of a cup of coffee. Understanding the different roast levels and their impact on flavor profiles can help coffee enthusiasts find the perfect roast to suit their preference, whether they prefer a delicate, bright cup or a bold, intense experience.

Coffee Blends

Coffee blends are a combination of two or more individual coffee beans, specifically crafted to create a unique and well-balanced flavor profile. Blending coffee is both an art and a science, involving the careful selection and mixing of various beans to achieve a specific taste, aroma, and body. 

Reasons for Blending

There are several reasons why coffee roasters create blends, including:

  • Taste: Blending different coffee beans can produce a more complex and well-rounded flavor profile than a single origin coffee. By combining beans with complementary characteristics, roasters can create a balance between acidity, sweetness, and bitterness.
  • Consistency: Blending helps to maintain consistency in the taste of a brand’s coffee products over time. Since coffee is an agricultural product, its flavor can change from season to season, and even from farm to farm. By adjusting the blend’s components, roasters can deliver a consistent taste to their customers.
  • Cost: Blending can also help balance the cost of raw materials. By mixing high-quality beans with more affordable options, roasters can produce a great-tasting coffee that is still accessible to a wider range of customers.

Popular Pre-Roast and Post-Roast Blends

There are two main methods of blending coffee: pre-roast and post-roast. Pre-roast blending involves mixing the green coffee beans before they are roasted, while post-roast blending involves mixing beans that have been roasted separately. Here are some popular types of pre-roast and post-roast blends:

  • Mocha-Java: One of the oldest and most famous coffee blends, Mocha-Java combines beans from Yemen (Mocha) and Indonesia (Java). The result is a blend with a rich, full-bodied flavor, and a smooth, acidity, often with chocolatey undertones.
  • Espresso Blends: Espresso blends are created specifically for use in espresso machines, and typically feature a combination of beans from Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. These blends aim to balance acidity, sweetness, and bitterness in the concentrated espresso shot.
  • House Blends: Many roasters create their own unique house blends, which showcase their style and appeal to specific flavor preferences. These blends often combine beans from multiple regions and are meant to be enjoyed as a daily drinking coffee.

Blending for Consistency and Flavor Balance

Consistency and flavor balance are key factors in successful coffee blending. To achieve this, roasters must carefully select and combine beans with complementary characteristics. This may include blending beans with different acidity levels, body, and aroma, and testing various combinations to find the perfect mix.

Roasters also need to account for the seasonal availability of coffee beans and adjust their blends accordingly, ensuring a consistent product throughout the year. This can involve working with multiple suppliers and being flexible in their bean choices, always prioritizing the desired flavor profile and overall balance of the blend.

Single Origin vs. Blended Coffee

Single origin coffee refers to beans that are sourced from a single country, region, or even a specific farm. These coffees are known for their distinct flavors and characteristics, which reflect the unique climate, soil, and processing methods of their origin. Single origin coffees often have a higher price point due to their limited availability and focus on quality.

On the other hand, blended coffee combines beans from multiple origins, creating a more balanced and versatile flavor profile. Blends are often more affordable and accessible, and can be more forgiving when it comes to brewing techniques and equipment.

Ultimately, the choice between single origin and blended coffee is a matter of personal preference. Some coffee drinkers may prefer the unique and nuanced flavors of single origin coffee, while others may seek the well-rounded taste and consistency of a blended coffee.

Varietals of Coffee Beans – FAQs

1. What are the different types of coffee bean varietals?

There are two primary coffee bean species, Arabica and Robusta. Within these species, several notable varietals exist, such as Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, and Catuai in Arabica, and Nganda and Congonensis in Robusta (Boot Coffee Campus, 2017).

2. How does Arabica differ from Robusta in taste and quality?

Arabica beans typically have a smoother, more delicate taste, with fruity and floral nuances. In contrast, Robusta beans possess a stronger, more bitter flavor, with higher caffeine content and lower acidity (Specialty Coffee Association, 2020).

3. What are the most popular varietals of Arabica beans?

Among the Arabica varietals, Bourbon, Typica, and Geisha are the most highly appreciated. Bourbon, named after Réunion Island, displays sweet, fruity tones. Typica, often used as the benchmark for coffee flavor, showcases a balanced, clean taste. Geisha originates from Gesha, Ethiopia, and is renowned for its outstanding floral and fruity notes (Boot Coffee Campus, 2017).

4. How do climate and growing conditions affect coffee varietal character?

Climate, soil, and altitude significantly contribute to the unique character of different coffee varietals. In high altitudes with cold temperatures, Arabica beans develop more complex, nuanced flavors. Robusta, on the other hand, can withstand harsher conditions and higher temperatures, resulting in a more stable flavor profile (WCR, 2020).

5. Is there a conservation effort for preserving rare coffee varietals?

Yes, the World Coffee Research (WCR) and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are working together to preserve rare coffee varietals through gene banks and create more resilient plants. Their mission is to protect the genetic diversity of coffee and ensure long-term sustainability for the industry (WCR, 2020).

6. What factors contribute to the pricing of various coffee varietals?

Factors that influence the price of different coffee varietals include production costs, yield, scarcity, labor-intensive methods, and specific attributes like flavor, aroma, and balance. Demand from consumers and specialty markets also play a significant role in pricing (International Coffee Organization, 2018).

Hanson Cheng

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