13Sep Know Your Beans

Know your beans

 Species – There are only three different types (species) of coffee beans commercially available.

1. Arabica: “Coffea Arabica”

This is the name assigned to a coffee tree species in 1753 by the Swedish botanist Linnaeus. It was first found growing naturally on the Arabian Peninsula in the country of Ethiopia (previously Abyssinia). It was the earliest cultivated species of coffee tree (Yemen) and is still the most common coffee species that is grown for commercial purposes. It contributes about 70% of today’s coffee bean market and is considered dramatically superior in cup quality to other species, including Coffea Canephora (Robusta). All fine, speciality, and fancy grade coffees come from the Coffea Arabica species.

2. Robusta: “Coffea canephora Pierre ex A. Froehner”

‘Robusta’ is a coffee species, discovered by a Dutch botanist and found to be native to the Belgian Congo (Zaire or Republic of Congo). It is high in caffeine but is generally regarded as an inferior cup quality to Coffea Arabica. It grows best at lower altitudes (sea level to 2,000 feet, 610m), is a higher-yielding tree and is more resistant to disease than Arabica. It is produced primarily in Indonesia, West Africa, Brazil, and Vietnam. It is the second most widely cultivated coffee plant currently producing about 30% of the world’s coffee. Robusta is cheaper than Arabica to process and is used by many commercial coffee companies as a basis for instant coffee. It can be used in the speciality coffee trade as a taste-enhancing component in some Italian-style espresso coffee blends. It is commonly known in the trade as Congo coffee or Congo coffee tree (USA). Robusta is high in caffeine and rather bitter although generally less acidic and less aromatic than Arabica coffee, often slightly woody. Conilon is the name of a Coffea canephora variety from Brazil.

3. Liberica Coffea: “Coffea liberica Bull. ex Hiern”

This coffee plant species is native to the forests of Liberia and the Ivory Coast and is characterized by quite flat and uneven bean. It is comparable to Robusta in quality, however only a few percent of all coffee comes from this low altitude growing plant. It is grown commercially in Malaysia and in West Africa, but only very small quantities are actually traded on international exchanges. Whilst its flavor characteristic is considered of low value its positives include: being more resistant to parasites attacks, twice the size of most other beans and a good graft-holder for obtaining new coffee tree varieties. It is also described as Coffea arnoldiana De Wild or more commonly as Liberian coffee.


There are cultivars that are also derived from these species. The most common cultivars of Arabica are “var. bourbon” and “var. typical”. Typica is the oldest Arabica cultivar and is the base from which many others developed. These two cultivars are known as “Old Arabicas” and can trace their genealogy back to the native forests of south-western Ethiopia. It is believed, through genetic analysis, that the plants based on the South-West side of the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia are the ‘original’ coffee plants and are often called “Wild Coffee Plants”. Many new hybrid varieties have been developed from these “old Arabicas” in an effort to increase disease resistance and production yield.

Bourbon: ‘Coffea arabica L. ‘Bourbon’.

A botanical variety or cultivar of Coffea Arabica which was first cultivated on the French controlled island of Bourbon, now called Réunion, located east of Madagascar in the Indian ocean. After Typica it is the second most commercialised variety of Arabica. Some of the best Latin-American coffees are descendants of the Bourbon stock. Bourbon varieties have greater genetic diversity than the Typica varieties, which are derived from just one plant – the original one from the Amsterdam botanic garden. The Bourbon varieties were derived from bushes introduced to the Isle of Réunion (called Bourbon Island at the time) in 1715 and 1718

Typica: The correct botanical name is ‘Coffea arabica L. ‘Typica’.

This is a coffee variety of Coffea Arabica that is native to Ethiopia. Var Typica is the oldest and most well known of all the coffee varieties and still constitutes the bulk of the world’s coffee production. Some of the best Latin-American coffees are from the Typica stock. The limits of its low yield production are made up for in its excellent cup.