If you have ever stepped foot in a coffee shop only to stare up at the menu and realize you have no idea what to order, you might benefit from knowing more about the different types of coffee in the world. Coffee has a lot of confusing terminology, which can be overwhelming for both beginners and long-time coffee aficionados. This article will take a look at where different coffee beans originate, what blends are available, how to grow your own coffee bean, and much more!
The Basics: Coffee Beans
Before we go into the most in-depth topics, it’s important to understand that there are dozens of coffee bean species. However, there are only four that are available on the market on a regular basis, so we’ll put our focus on those. The two that are more prevalent are Robusta and Arabica beans, but the Excelsa and Liberica beans are also somewhat common. We’ll take a look at each of these and their unique features below.
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Arabica Coffee Beans
If you’ve only heard of a single species of coffee beans, it’s likely Arabica. Over 50% of the global coffee production involves the Arabica bean. These beans are grown at a high altitude in locations with large amounts of shade and even rainfall. Arabica coffee trees are considered quite easy to take care of, largely because they are easy to prune and fairly small. Most of these trees grow no more than six-foot tall, which also makes the harvesting of beans simple.
The Arabica bean is considered the most delicate of the four common species. These trees are susceptible to disease and are influenced by the environment they are grown in. This means that farming the trees takes a delicate hand and high precision. If an Arabica plant is grown in an inadequate climate, it can take extreme work to ensure they are healthy. Because Arabica beans are highly popular, they are grown in massive quantities. Unfortunately, this can be a problem since large groups of the plants can spread disease amongst each other and lead to contamination of the entire group. Even one plant becoming diseased could be the end to an entire farm.
When drinking coffee made from high-quality Arabica beans, you can expect an average amount of acidity, a bright body, and a nuanced group of aromas and flavors. The best area to sample this type of coffee is in the front palate, where salinity and sweetness are best noted. If you choose to brew Arabica beans at home, choosing a low acidity coffee with a full body is the best option. It’s also worth noting that the quality of this bean can drop when creamer is added or when it is served cold.
Some of the most popular types of Arabica coffee are Blue Mountain, Bourbon, Caturra, and Typica.
Robusta Coffee Beans
The second most common coffee type on a global level is the Robusta species. Chances are, if you’re drinking a coffee beverage and the beans aren’t Arabica, they are Robusta. When looking at the name Robusta, it actually gives some information about the coffee itself. Robusta coffee is nearly immune from disease and can be grown in diverse environments without trouble. However, it does do best when farmed in an area with a hot climate and irregular amounts of rainfall. Another interesting aspect of the Robusta bean is that it has nearly twice as much caffeine as Arabica. The reason for that is that caffeine acts as a defense mechanism for the plant, which leads to its extreme disease resistance.
If you are going to drink a Robusta coffee beverage, sampling is best done on the back palate to maximize the body of the drink. This is the palate area where bitter notes are amplified. When purchasing a high-quality Robusta coffee, you can expect to experience a low acidity, smooth texture, and a taste that incorporates hints of chocolate into the flavor. If you want to ensure you purchase only the best tasting coffee for brewing at home, you’ll want to get information on how the coffee was grown. This will most often be found on single-origin coffee bags. If you buy a coffee whose beans were farmed in an imperfect location, it will lead to a less quality product.
Those who appreciate loading up their coffee with sugar and cream will likely consider Robusta the perfect coffee. You can expect your coffee to retain its quality even when adding sugar and milk. This makes it the ultimate option for iced coffee and Vietnamese coffee, among others.
Liberica Coffee Beans
It’s going to be a bit more difficult to get your hands on Liberica coffee. However, it is important to be aware of if only because of its place in the history of coffee. Back in the late 1800s, a disease called coffee rust had a major impact on the global stock of Arabica, which lead to a decimation of 90% of this coffee. Government agents and farmers immediately started searching for a solution to this issue, which led to the use of the Liberica coffee plant. The Philippines was the first country to turn to this species, which had an amazing effect on the country’s economy through being the only supplier of coffee at that time.
Later on, there were some problems between the Philippines and the United States which resulted in the U.S. cutting off many supplies to the country. Coffee was included in this cut off. Liberica wouldn’t be seen in the world of coffee again until the mid-1990s. At that time, conservationists removed the remaining plants and placed them in regions where the coffee was more likely to thrive. By this time, it was nearly impossible for the species to gain popularity since Arabica was back on top. As time goes on, the presence of Liberica coffee beans becomes less and less.The Liberica bean is typically asymmetrical and is the only bean globally with this sort of shape. It is also a large bean than other coffee bean varieties. The aroma of a Liberica bean offers fruity and floral notes for a distinct aroma. It also has a full-bodied flavor with smoky notes. It is known to be unique and unlike other coffees. Some people find that it the flavor is too unique to be tasty and note that it has a woody flavor.
Excelsa Coffee Beans
The final species of coffee bean we will be talking about is the Excelsa. However, note that in recent years, these beans have been classified as being part of the Liberica family. Despite that fact, Liberica beans are quite different from Excelsa beans. This leads some individuals to consider the two different families, despite the recent change. The reason the Excelsa became classified as a Liberica bean is because it does have in common a shape that is reminiscent of almonds and both species grow on massive trees of 20 to 30 feet.
Most Excelsa coffee is grown in Southeast Asia and it only makes up about 7% of the word’s coffee. In most cases, this species is used in a blend to provide additional complexity and flavor to a coffee drink. This adds to the flavor when tasting on the back and middle palate. The flavor of Excelsa is fruity and tart with the taste of a light roast coffee. However, it also offers dark roast notes. This strange combination has led many coffee lovers to seek out and try this unique coffee variety.
Single-Origin vs. Blend
A bag of beans that are marketed as single origin are beans that all originated from the same region or country. Based on the location where the beans were grown, this will provide a distinctive flavor in a coffee beverage. There are many things that influence the taste including climate, shade level, soil, altitude, and more.
On the other hand, a blend is a combination of several coffee beans that are from different locations. Some blends will contain only two or three types of beans, while others may use nearly a dozen. In essence, single origin means one type of bean from one place and blend means a mix of beans from around the globe.
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Advantages of Single Origin
Some people are coffee purists who believe that the only way to truly experience a specific coffee is on its own. No one coffee bean is perfect, but some individuals feel that the beans deserve to be appreciated and enjoyed exactly as they are. In modern times, there is a trend among coffee lovers to want to experience coffee in its purest and most natural form.
For a personal connection with a beverage, single origin coffee is the best choice. As a consumer, you can determine exactly where the beans were grown and farmed. You might think that knowing the country or origin would be enough, but for some people, this isn’t true. Being able to trace the life of a coffee bean is a must for some. This means being aware of the cooperative making the coffee and which field and farm it is coming to them from.
With single origin coffee, the best quality options are largely wet-processed. This produces a coffee that is clean and crisp while ensuring the natural flavor of the bean is locked in. The growing demand for high-quality coffee has led to improvements in the production process and supply chain management of the coffee industry as a whole.
Choosing between blend and single origin should consider what beverage you expect to be brewing. The method you choose has an effect on the notes and tastes of a bean. For example, most single origin coffees are not suitable for espresso as it needs acidity, sweetness, and creaminess, which is difficult to procure from a single bean. However, brewing methods like the Aeropress and Chemex help extract the most nuanced flavors from single origin beans.
Here are a few tips to consider when brewing a coffee from single origin beans:
- Dark roast is not capable of preserving as much of the natural flavor of the beans as a light roast is.
- In order to best experience the aroma and taste of the coffee, drink your coffee black and nix the sugar and creamer.
- Take time to brew your coffee correctly to keep the most flavor notes possible.
- Appreciate and enjoy the connection with the bean’s origins and producers only possible with single origin coffee.
Advantages of Blended Coffee
The reality is that a blended coffee can produce a beverage that is full bodied, well-round, and smooth. However, the reason that most roasters choose a blend is because it maximizes profits, helps improve consistencies over seasons, and spreads quality and supply risks. It’s also a fantastic marketing tool. As such, some blends are created solely to pair less popular or older beans with beans that have a higher quality.
In most cases, the beans are blended after they have been roasted. However, in some cases, the blending is done while the beans are green. The practice of creating blends is something that has an art behind it. Anyone can take two different coffees and mix them up, but it takes more than that to blend two beans that bring out each other’s positive features. If you select two beans that don’t go well together, that will have a huge effect on the result. However, if the beans truly complement each other, the result will be high-quality and delicious. That’s why many things are taken into consideration when creating a new blend. Everything from the initial taste to the acidity, aftertaste, and solubility are important factors. This often requires a lot of trail and effort to get the perfect blend.
In addition, a large-scale roasting production is complicated and takes a lot of work. The roasters are tasked with offering products that are consistently similar and will need to tweak different types of beans due to flavor changes as a result of the seasons. The most important factor of blended coffee is consistency. While each producer of blended coffee has their own formula, it changes over time and is likely kept guarded. The formula will change each season, so the taste of the coffee remains the same.
Choosing Between Blend and Single Origin
There is no concrete answer when it comes to the question of whether blend or single origin coffee is the best for you. The two coffees are extremely different, and each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Deciding which to consume will depend on your taste and preferences. Take time to try new things and decide for yourself which form of coffee bean is the right one for your daily cup of joe.
How to Grow Your Own Coffee Plant
Now that you have a grasp on the common species of coffee plants and the differences between single origin and blended coffee, you may be wondering if you can grow your own coffee plant. You absolutely can do that! The most commonly grown coffee plant is Arabica and it can be grown both indoors and outdoors. The plant itself has glossy, dark green leaves and is fairly easy to care for. It does well indoors and can bring a sense of life into your home. The plant doesn’t shed its leaves, and you can expect a mature plant to reach a height of five to eight feet.
Length of Time to Grow and Fruit
If you have the intention of growing a plant to harvest and make your own coffee, it’s going to take a huge amount of work. In order to make a single cup of coffee, you need around 15 coffee cherries which breaks down to around 30 beans. Once the beans are dried, they must be roasted and then ground before brewing the coffee. You can expect that it will take a large amount of time before this is possible. A coffee plant can take four or five years to grow and flower to produce coffee cherries. However, the good news is that the plant will make a fantastic houseplant until that time.
Planting a Tree From a Coffee Bean
You can plant a tree from a coffee bean if you would like. When the plant flowers and the coffee cherries show up, it takes around nine months for them to ripen and turn red. At this point, the beans can be removed and the drying process can begin. The fruit of the plant will contain two coffee beans or seeds which you can use to plant your own tree.
Do not attempt to grow a tree from roast coffee beans, because you will have no luck or bad results. It is also not recommended to use a harvested and dried seed for germination purposes. The drying process will make the process more difficult and can cause it to take 10 times as long for germination to occur. The best option for sprouting a coffee bean is by using only fresh beans. In order to gain the quickest germination, you will want to choose cherries that are ripe and fresh.
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When and Where to Buy Plants
If you prefer to purchase Coffee trees that are already potted and growing, there are several places to gain access to them. You can sometimes find them at home improvement stores, big box stores, and grocery stores. In most cases the plants will be about three to five inches tall and will come in a small three- or four-inch pot. Each pot will likely contain a handful of plants, with seedlings in the center to make the pots appear fuller.
When choosing the right plant, look for a compact appearance and undamaged, glossy leaves. You may think that you should replace the coffee plants immediately into a large pot, but this should be avoided until the plants have had time to grow. Leave the plants alone until at least six inches tall. At that point, you can begin the transplant process and place each plant in its own pot.
The Best Soil to Use
There are arguments regarding the best type of soil to use for coffee trees, but the best option is to imitate the environment the plant would grow in naturally. Coffee plants grow best when there is plenty of compost and the soil trends toward the acidic. The coffee plant is best grown in a place with plenty of shade from trees and compost is continually added. Until the plants are about eight inches tall, an organic potting soil will work well. As they grow on from that height, a more specialized soil will be the best environment to get the results you want. This is a soil that has good drainage, plenty of organic material, and some volcanic rock.
Potting Tips and Tricks
If your plant is about eight inches tall, it is time to begin the repotting process. It needs more space to grow and let its roots spread out. It also requires a higher level of nitrogen for support of the leaves, trunk, and branches. This is the optimal time to move the plant into a 10-inch pot with the specialized soil. Around a year later, the plant should be 24 inches tall or more and should again be repotted. This time the use of a 14-inch pot is the best option.
Choosing a Coffee Fertilizer
The coffee tree needs tons of nutrients in order to grow and flourish. If you are growing a Robusta or Arabica tree, they will need a large amount of nitrogen to build the root system, support stem growth, and ensure leaves grow properly. If you aren’t adding fertilizer at least once every two months, you may find that the leaves start to drop or change to a yellowish color.
Iron is another thing that coffee plants need plenty of. This explains why Hawaiian coffee plantations do so well growing in soil with lava rock, which is iron rich. Adding lava dust to your soil can give you an edge on growing the tree. Chelated iron supplementation can also be an excellent option depending on the fertilizer you use. As a general rule, a fertilized with organic citrus or rose is the best option.
Watering Your Coffee Tree
When you have a potted coffee plant, you want to keep the soil moist at all times. When you water it, the soil should become fully saturated and excess water allowed to drain out the bottom of the pot. If you use a sub irrigation planter or install a water system that works automatically, this can limit the amount of manual watering you need to do and will ensure the soil is kept moist at all times.
We recommend that you water your plants about once a week, but there are tons of variables to take into account. Everything from the age of your plant to its size, and container can change its needs for water. The same holds true for what season it currently is and how much humidity is in the area where the plant is located.
Here are a couple of signs that it is time to water or replace your coffee plant:
- It takes hours for leaves to go from limp to rigid
- The leaves are more limp than usual
- Plants are drying out quickly after watering, requiring a new pot
Pruning a Coffee Bean Tree
You don’t have to worry too much when you prune a coffee tree, because the plant is resilient and can come back after major pruning. That said, in many cases, even pinching back a new growth can help keep a plant at an appropriate height for the space it is in. If a more thorough pruning is required, the following steps will guide you through the process:
- During spring, prune for a bushier look or your preferred shape
- Make use of a sharp pair of hand pruners
- Get rid of any dead branches and wood that is present
- Just above the leaf, cut the step at a 45-degree angle
- Look for suckers coming from the bottom and remove them
Additional Tips When Growing Indoors
When in the summer months, your plan needs a source of bright, filtered light. This is the same amount of lighting that would be associated with a plan that is growing near a window with morning light or a sheer curtain as a filter. The plant is going to grow the most successfully when they get access to sun in the early morning. At other times, you do not want the plant exposed to direct sunlight.
The leaves on a coffee tree tend to be thin and fragile so it is also important to place it in an area where it will not be brushed against by people walking by.
While these plants will grow just fine in room temperature, you will want to ensure the temperature goes no lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the evening. Problems can start to crop up when the temperature drops below this number.
What to Know When Growing Outdoors
You are welcome to grow your plant outdoors in the summer months in your garden or on your patio. However, you must make sure that that plant constantly has moist soil. You also need to remember to fertilize the plant on a regular basis. It should be located in an area where there is no direct sun and a level of light shading.
If the plant is in flowering season and the temperature goes below 64 degrees Fahrenheit, your plant will likely not bear fruit that season. It’s also crucial to remember that coffee grows best in shade and even three hours of direct sun can lead to the death of your plant. The same applies when the weather is cold so bring the plants in when it starts to cool down for the year.
Growing Coffee Trees From Cuttings
Another option for growing coffee plants is by using a cutting and the process is exactly the same as with other plants. The best time to take a cutting is in the spring and the cutting should be moved to a potting soil appropriate for cactus. The pot should have good drainage and you should mix in about 20% perlite.
It will take around four to six weeks for the plant to develop roots. Keeping the temperature of the soil between 72- and 72-degrees Fahrenheit is the best way to ensure the cutting develops appropriately.
Problems to Watch Out For
For the most part, a coffee plant is quite robust and will experience very few issues. However, we’re going to share a few of the most common problems you may experience and how to rectify each of them.
- Mildew – If you notice white or gray on the leaves, this is likely mildew. Using less water can control this infection in most cases but do not allow the plant to dry out. If the outbreak is major, you may need to make use of a fungicide to take care of the issue.
- Dropping Green Leaves – If your plant is in an area that is too dark, it can cause healthy leaves to drop. You should move the plant somewhere brighter but avoid areas with direct sunlight.
- Loss of Glossy Look – This is typically a sign of an abundance of direct sunlight. You will want to transfer the plant to an area with more share, such as near an east facing window.
- Dried Out Leaves – This may be the result of temperatures that are too high. You will want to move the plant to an area that is cooler and be sure to water on a regular basis. If it is summer or spring, ensure the plant is moist evenly.
- Insect Plant Scales – You may find this underneath the leaves of your plants. This is often handled easily using a cotton swab and alcohol.
- Dead Leaf Edges – This is most common with an Arabica plant that is experiencing too much sun. Find an area with more shade and move the plant. Any leaves that are entirely brown should be removed.
Harvesting the Coffee Fruit
When you begin to notice that the coffee cherries on your plant are a deep red, this means that they are ripe. You are only going to want to harvest the fruit that has this color. The other cherries should be left on the tree, so they can further ripen. You will want to harvest them later on. To make sure you only harvest ripe fruit, you can also squeeze the fruit. If it is ripe and ready, there will be a bit of give to the cherry. These cherries can be removed and placed in a basket or box.
If you want a quicker method than this, you can strip the cherries from the tree. This takes a sweep of the hand, but it will remove all cherries whether they are ripe or not. This is the most common method used by commercial coffee companies. This method does create waste but is less time-consuming and may be more cost-efficient for larger farms. If you choose to use this method at home, all you need to do is take hold of the back of a branch and slide your hand forward. The cherries will be knocked off of the tree, so having a trap underneath is an excellent idea.
Next, you will rake up the fruit that was removed from the coffee plant. If you used a tarp, this will be simpler than if you simply allowed the fruit to hit the ground. Rake them all together so they can be picked up and brought wherever you would like to sort them.
The final step at this point is to sort through the fruit to remove the unripe cherries, branches, and leaves. This can be disposed of or used as compost.
After you have completed these tasks, you can move on to pulping the ripe fruit. What you want to do here is squeeze on the cherries until the seeds inside separate from the fruit. The beans should be retained while the rest of the fruit can be disposed of.
The next step is to soak your beans. This will help remove the rest of the fruit clinging to the beans. Take a bucket or large bowl and fill it with water before adding the beans. Leave the bucket alone for about 24 to 48 hours and the debris on the beans should fall away. This can be tossed and the beans can be removed from the water.
The last step is to dry the beans out. This can take as little as a week or as long as a month based on the weather in your location. Spread out the beans on concrete outside or on wire mesh in the shade. Take time every day to rotate the beans so all parts of them dry evenly. When they are fully dry, the skin will flake off without much effort.
At this point you should have an idea of what sorts of coffee beans are available on the market today, what the difference is between a blend and a single origin coffee, and how to plant and care for your own coffee plants. The process can be challenging but it can also be an exciting adventure. There’s nothing quite like creating your own coffee and knowing the mug you brew each morning is the result of your own hard work.
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1. How many coffee plants do I need?
Assuming your plants are mature and in good health, one tree will produce approximately 10 pounds of cherry annually. The average American’s coffee habit will require the presence of 16 coffee trees. You may need more or less depending on how much coffee you consume on a daily basis.
2. How is the coffee harvest collected?
Depending on the amount of cherries to be harvested, they may be removed by hand or collected with the help of a harvesting machine. For a home coffee tree, hand harvesting will suffice for your needs.
3. What time of year is coffee harvested?
In most cases, the harvesting season for coffee is between October and March. The coffee from this harvest time arrive in the United States from April to July, depending on the original origin of the beans.
4. Which country has largest production of coffee?
The country that produces the highest amount of coffee is Brazil. Other countries that provide a large amount of coffee include Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia, India, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Peru.
5. How long does it take for a coffee tree to bear fruit?
It takes an average of three to four years for a coffee tee to provide fruit. This fruit is also known as coffee cherry and it turns a bright red hue when it is time for it to be harvested.
6. How much caffeine is in a cup of Arabica coffee?
Every bean is different, but on average, a one ounce shot of Arabica coffee contains about 40 milligrams of caffeine while a four-ounce cup has around 100 milligrams.
7. What is Kona coffee?
Kona coffee is a specific type of Arabica coffee that is farmed on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai on Hawaii. This coffee is considered one of the most high-quality available and is also one of the most expensive.
8. Where did coffee come from originally?
While it is impossible to know for sure, it is believed that the first source of coffee was Ethiopia. There is evidence of coffee consumption that goes back to the 15th century.
9. How much more caffeine is in Robusta coffee?
The average Robusta coffee bean has nearly 85% more caffeine than an Arabica bean, which means a cup of coffee using these beans also contains nearly 85% more caffeine.
10. How long will a coffee plant last after its first crop?
After a coffee tree bears its first crop of beans, the plant will continue to be productive for an average of 15 years.
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