Types of Coffee Beans

This is your quick guide to the main types of coffee beans. Whether it’s arabica coffee beans or robusta coffee beans we’ll explain it all simply. There are many coffee bean varieties, but arabica and robusta are the main two.  

Ultimately the types of coffee beans you can get depends on the variety of plant/tree and where they are grown. All have an important impact on flavour. Understanding this will help you buy better coffee. Coffee roasting also has a large impact on flavour, read our guide to coffee roasting to find out more. Finally, we’ve put together our top tips for buying good beans.

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Arabica and Robusta - Coffee Bean Varieties

Coffee beans are the fruit of the coffee tree, a bright red coffee berry is produced. It is this that is harvested and ultimately turned into the coffee we love. There are over 125 species of coffee tree known and more are continually being discovered. However only two are grown commercially and account for over 99% of worldwide output. These are Arabica coffee beans and robusta coffee beans. Arabica beans are the most popular and account for almost 75% of all coffee produced.

Arabica coffee is much better than robusta and produces more distinct and enjoyable flavours. Robusta though is more disease resistant (it’s more ‘robust’), has a higher caffeine content, and yields more.  This explains why it remains popular with many coffee growers.

Talking about Arabica coffee and robusta coffee in terms of describing coffee is like describing wine as either red or white. As there are many different types of red wine there are many varieties of both the arabica and robusta coffee tree. Typica and bourbon are two common varieties of the arabica coffee tree. 

In summary, always buy arabica coffee.

Coffee by Country - it matters where it's grown

The first coffee tress to be cultivated were in Ethiopia.  It is from Ethiopa that the most popular coffee bean variety, Typica Arabica, was exported to other parts of the world.

Coffee trees thrive in humid, wet, shady, and warm environments and grow particularly well in the tropics. As such the sun, rainfall, humidity altitude, and soil have a massive impact on the final taste of arabica coffee.  That’s why in the supermarket coffee is often promoted based on where it comes from.  Nearly all the coffee beans you can buy are arabica coffee beans. 

So, although the coffee bean varieties do matter the type of coffee beans you end up with is hugely influenced by where and how the coffee is grown. 

There are many important coffee growing regions including Jamaica, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sumatra, Java, Yemen, Costa Rica, and Columbia. Many of these areas produce distinctive coffee.

For example, Ethiopia is known for coffee with floral and fruity overtones. Jamaica produces the famous Blue Mountain coffee. Blue Mountain coffee is regarded by many people as one of the best coffees in the world. It has a sweet, clean, and light flavour. Some countries such as Columbia produce so much coffee that there is no overarching theme to the types of coffee beans exported. Our advice is keep trying lots of coffee bean varieties until you find the one you like.

Types of Coffee Beans - top buying tips

Confused? Well, it can be a little confusing when you start. To help you we’ve come up with a number of tips to help you buy better coffee.

If you want better coffee you will need to pay a little more. For example this Spiller & Tait blend is very popular with good reviews but marginally more expensive than what you would pay in the supermarket. 

Buy Arabica Coffee

Arabica coffee has a much superior flavour than robusta coffee. Most packets of beans will usually say if it’s 100% arabica or not. 

Buy Beans Not Ground Coffee

Once your arabica beans have been ground you have only a few hours to use it before it goes stale. If you want to improve your coffee, then buy beans and grind fresh each time.

Buy Little and Often

Don’t bulk buy. We forget that coffee is actually a fresh product and should be consumed quickly. Premium coffees should have the date the coffee was roasted printed on the pack. Although some types of coffee beans can go stale in less than a week a good rule of thumb is to use your arabica coffee beans within two weeks of roasting.

Don't Store Coffee Beans in the Fridge

It’s a common myth that this helps preserve the coffee, if anything it has a negligible effect and just makes everything in your fridge smell of coffee. Store all types of coffee beans in an airtight container, away from direct sunlight, in a dry place, and avoid excessive heat. You can freeze coffee beans to preserve them, though we recommend using them within a few weeks and do not refreeze.

Understand the Roast Profile

The way the coffee is roasted has a huge impact on the taste too. Read our guide to coffee roasting to understand more.