4 Types of Coffee Beans and Their Characteristics

I can’t live without my morning cup of coffee. I’m such a coffee addict, I have an InHeat mug warmer in every room of the house – even the bathroom right next to my hair clippers. Whenever I write product reviews, I always have a cup of coffee in hand.

I’ve been a coffee drinker my entire adult life, but it wasn’t until recently that I started taking a greater interest in learning about coffee. I was the type who just grabbed the first bag of whatever it was my parents used to brew at home growing up.

But when you really dive into the world of coffee, you find that it’s rich and robust. There are many types of coffee beans, different roasts and varieties from different regions. 

If you really want to find a coffee that speaks to your soul, then you need to understand everything there is to know about the coffee bean.

Types of Coffee Beans and Characteristics

There are four different types of coffee beans, and they each have their own unique characteristics. 

1. Arabica

Of all the coffee bean types, Arabica is the most well-known because of its sweeter flavor and lower acidity level. 

Arabica beans are grown at higher elevations and in areas that get plenty of rain. Not surprisingly, Brazil is the world’s greatest exporter of Arabica beans. 

One of the reasons why Arabica beans are so expensive is because the plants require a lot of special care. They’re prone to disease, and they require a lot of pruning. Growing these plants in large quantities can be challenging. 

The high cost of growing and production drives up the cost of Arabica beans, but coffee lovers (like myself) are happy to pay a higher price for the smooth, sweet taste.

The only drawback with Arabica beans is that the mild, gentle taste is sometimes lost when you add sugar or milk to your coffee.

2. Robusta

In Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Robusta coffee beans are the most popular. These beans have a stronger, richer and more bitter profile.

Compared to Arabica beans, Robusta has significantly more caffeine. The high caffeine content is a benefit to both drinkers and plant growers. Robusta plants are more resilient because the caffeine acts as an insect repellent. 

These plants are also more tolerant of different environments and can grow at different climates and altitudes.

Robusta coffee beans are the preferred choice where strong coffee is the cultural norm. They’re also used to create instant coffees or as a filler with dark roast coffees.

It’s not uncommon for roasters to mix Arabica and Robusta beans to create an interesting flavor profile and to save on costs. 

3. Liberica

A rare coffee bean with a delicious flavor profile. If you’ve never heard of Liberica, you’re not alone. These coffee plants can only be grown in specific climates, so production is very limited. But there was a time when Liberica coffee was extremely popular. 

In the late 1800s, a disease known as “coffee rust” had decimated most of the Arabica plants on the planet. Liberica became the substitute coffee bean of choice.

Liberica coffee has a woody flavor and a floral scent. The plant is native to central and western Africa, but it has also been naturalized in Seychelles, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nicobar Island.

4. Excelsa

Technically, Excelsa is a member of the Liberica family. It has a distinct flavor profile that’s sought by true coffee lovers. It’s grown primarily in Southeast Asia, and it represents only a small fraction of the world’s coffee production.

Excelsa coffee has a tart, fruity flavor that has similar attributes to both light and dark roasts.

Coffee Bean Roasts

When choosing a coffee, I think it’s important to consider more than just the bean type. The roast is just as important because it directly impacts the flavor.

All varieties of coffee beans start off as a green (or some variation of green) color. Roasting is what brings out the flavors and oils in the beans.

Light Roasts

A light roast is ideal for mild coffee beans. It’s less oily, and the flavor is lighter than other roasts. 

Light roasts may go by a few names:

  • Half City
  • Cinnamon
  • Light City

Medium Roasts

A medium roast has a richer brown color and a stronger flavor, but it’s still less oily than darker roasts. The flavor is well-rounded, smooth and balanced. Medium roasts go by a few names:

  • American
  • Breakfast
  • City

Medium Dark Roasts

A medium dark roast is darker than medium but lighter than dark. The flavor is bolder, but also more bitter with some oil on the surface.

Medium dark roasts typically go by the name Full City.

Dark Roasts

A dark roast produces the darkest and oiliest beans. The flavor has a distinct bitterness, but dark roasts have less acidity when brewed.

Dark roasts go by many names, including:

  • New Orleans
  • High
  • Italian
  • Continental
  • Espresso
  • European
  • French
  • Viennese

Most people head to the store and pick up a bag of medium roast coffee (or some flavored coffee) and call it a day. But if you really want to become a coffee connoisseur, try out all of these varieties of beans and roasts. Figure out which one you enjoy the most.

What is the Most Common Type of Coffee Bean?

The most common type of coffee bean really depends on where you are in the world.

  • In the U.S., the most common type of coffee bean is Arabica.
  • In Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the most common bean is Robusta.

Many coffee manufacturers use a blend of Arabica and Robusta for a balanced flavor and to lower the cost of production.

What Type of Coffee Bean has the Most Caffeine?

If you’re looking for the best type of coffee beans for espresso or just want a bigger jolt of energy with your morning coffee, you’ll want to choose coffee beans that have a higher caffeine content.

For espresso and other highly caffeinated coffee beverages, Robusta is the coffee bean of choice. Robusta has 2.7% caffeine content compared to Arabica, which has 1.5% caffeine.

Brewing coffee is both an art and a science. If you’re like me and crave that perfectly smooth cup of java, use this information about coffee beans to see which varieties and roasts are your favorite.