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What types of coffee beans exist and how do they differ?

by Emanuele Bozzone on

 

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A number of types of coffee exist in the world. Some of them are widely used, while others are practically not used for the production of coffee. They each have their own specific characteristics allowing professional baristas to blend beverages with unique aromas. Many gourmet coffee lovers can actually define the variety purely based on its aroma.
 
We will start by getting to know the main varieties of beans and the beverages based on them.

 

Where did coffee originate and how did it spread?

Historians still can't make their minds up whether the tradition of drinking coffee originated first in Ethiopia or in Yemen. There is a legend that a shepherd named Kaldi, from the province of Kaffa in Ethiopia saw that his goats after eating the berries from coffee bushes wouldn’t sleep at night. So he decided to try the berries for himself and realised that they boosted his strength. He told the abbot from the monastery but the priest didn't believe him. Making fun of Kaldi, the priest threw the beans into the fire. This could have been the end of the story, but soon the aroma of the coffee wafting through the room enchanted the priest. So it occurred to him to make a drink out of the beans roasted in the fire. He was so struck by the taste and aroma and its tonic effect that he began making coffee for all the monks, and they in turn spread the word about the magical “energy” drink throughout the country.
 
Yet more rumours about coffee spread to Yemen where commercial production began. Within just a few decades, the drink had conquered almost all the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and Persia. Coffee spread throughout the East in the 16th century.
 
Different countries had different attitudes towards the drink. Some banned it because the governments viewed coffee houses as places where rebellion could foment. Others viewed it as such a mandatory beverage that a wife could even file for a divorce (in the 16th century this was the only possible reason for divorce on the part of a wife) if the husband forbade her to drink it or refused to buy her any in order to save money.
 
In the 17th century, since the East had a strict ban on the export of unprocessed berries, beans were smuggled to India where mass production also began. From the Dutch colonies and the Ottoman Empire the drink found its way into Europe. It rapidly grew in popularity and within less than a century, coffee had conquered the entire continent. However, just like in the Arab countries, it had many opponents. Some referred to coffee as “Satan's drink,” and who knows what would have become of the coffee drinking tradition had it not been for the intervention of Pope Clement VIII who took it upon himself to cool the passions. He tasted the fragrant drink and gave it his personal blessing. Within a hundred years coffee was already popular all over the world.

 

 

What sort of coffee beans exist?

There are only four types of coffee beans in the world: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica and Excelsa. Only the first two are well-known and popular. They are used to make several thousand varieties of coffee available on the global market. Each type of bean has its own individual characteristics.

 

Arabica

This is the most popular type of coffee bean used to create both luxury and cheaper drinks. The trees require a lot of special care. They grow only at height, need constant humidity, heat, fertilizers and the complete absence of frost. Beans of the Specialty class are only picked by hand, since mechanized harvesting is unacceptable.
 
Arabica has a rich taste and aroma and each variety has its own distinct properties. Certain varieties reveal a trace of citric acidity, while others suggest a nutty, chocolate, fruity or other nuance.

 

Robusta

This is the second most popular coffee in the world. It is distinguished by the high caffeine content of the beans. Robusta is most commonly used in high strength blends. It has a bitter and heavy aroma which detracts from the pleasure of the flavour. Many people say that it simply does not possess any taste.
 
Others erroneously believe that the presence of Robusta in a blend indicates  a poor and cheap coffee. It does not have the aroma of Arabica, but is less demanding in terms of care and preparation. As such it is much cheaper for both producers and buyers. None of the Robusta varieties are ranked in the Specialty category, this is the sole prerogative of Arabica. Nevertheless, it can be used in expensive blends to augment the amount of caffeine, improve the beverage and give it a good coffee cream.

 

Liberica

This is another variety which has not achieved broad popularity. Liberica is not used in its pure form due to its bitter and “empty” taste. It is used in blends due to the intense aroma which is even more pronounced than Arabica. It's practically not exported and makes up for only 1.5-2% of all coffee beans harvested.

 

Excelsa

This is a rare and expensive type of coffee bean used in luxury blends to give a unique taste. Excelsa is such a rare variety that it cannot be experienced in its pure form. Although the trees are resistant to both pests and diseases, the yield is impossible to predict. For this reason, the aromatic beans are not commercially viable. They are harvested in only a few places in the world and are used exclusively in luxury blends.
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