When preparing coffee, you have surely come across the terms arabica and robusta many times. These two coffee varieties are alpha and omega for every coffee drinker who knows something about the coffee world. But did you know that it doesn’t end with them, not even from far?
We have already written a fairly detailed article about the basic differences between the two most common varieties. It can answer many questions. However, the varieties of coffee do not end with arabica and robusta. Currently, we recognize more than 120 of them (they are further divided into hundreds of subspecies). It’s a complete alchemy that fascinates us. Does it have the same, almost magical effect on you?
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Look for science behind everything
To whom do we owe the name of the coffee? To the Swedish naturalist Carl von Linne. As the founder of binomial nomenclature, i.e. the naming of plants and animals by genus and species name, he stands also behind the name coffee – Coffea. Later, he and many botanists researching coffee varieties gradually added other species names to it.
We can say that of all Coffea species, Coffea arabica (arabica) and Coffea canephora (robusta) are the most famous ones. Both of these species have been bred for many years, to increase fertility and to achieve the best possible taste or aroma. It is actually Coffea arabica that has long been favored for its high quality, excellent delicate taste and aroma.
But did you know that Arabica is further divided into about 600 subspecies? There are two of its most famous variants on the market, Coffea arabica varieta typica and Coffea arabica varieta bourbon. These two types of coffee and their other bred mutations account for about 65% of the production of all coffee beans in the world.
Let’s see what are the basic differences between them.
It is one of the oldest and most traditional varieties of coffee. It comes from the region of Africa and was also one of the first coffee plants to be cultivated in South and Central America. The Coffea typica type plant reaches a higher height and has larger glossy leaves, but it is also very susceptible to diseases of the coffee world. It has round grains with a lower sugar content. It tastes slightly floral, with hints of fruit and acid.
Its origins go back to the island of Bourbon in the Indian Ocean (today known as Réunion). The plant looks more compact, it is resistant to some diseases that threaten other varieties of coffee, and it can withstand more adverse weather conditions. The smaller oval grains of the bourbon variety are sweeter, which increases the sweetness and fullness of flavor in the cup.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the elephant grain
When we wrote above that Coffea typica and Coffea bourbon (in shortened versions) are the two most famous varieties of Arabica, we were not lying. However, we also mentioned that there are more than 600 types, which is definitely a staggering number, and there are other gems among them that a coffee lover should know about.
One of them is, for example, a rare arabica hybrid with the official name Coffea maragogipe. However, in the world of coffee makers, it is better known as elephant or giant bean. It boasts almost a third larger grain size compared to other Arabica varieties. Although it comes from the state of Bahia in Brazil, at the end of the 19th century it was imported to Europe due to its exceptionality. There it found its permanent place as the most popular coffee at the imperial court of Germany.
The drink prepared from the elephant grain coffee variety is typical for its balanced taste with a touch of fruit, while it does not have excessive bitterness nor acidity. It is also thanks to this that this coffee gained so many fans in pre-war Europe. To this day, there are still some loyal admirers of its taste.
The varieties of coffee do not end here
The coffee world is far from just arabica and robusta, even though their production together represents almost 100% of the world’s coffee production in general. Other species are less economically important and do not have such qualities. So they are not, obviously, as interesting for the coffee market.
It is worth mentioning, for example, Coffea liberica, the only variety of coffee with irregular grains. They are not only asymmetrical, but often much larger than most arabica and robusta varieties. Liberica has not gone through many years of breeding. It does not belong to a group of very resistant species, and its strong woody taste is not for everyone either. Along with a floral-fruity aroma, a full body and a soft smoky undertone, it is rather a coffee intended for lovers of heavy flavors.
Coffea excelsa is a similarly powerful tree like Coffea liberica. Both coffee trees grow up to 18 meters high. Excelsa, now cultivated in areas of Southeast Asia, originally comes from Central Africa. It is characterized by significant elements of acidity and also carries tones typical of darker roasting, therefore it is a challenge for many roasters and its popularity on the market is relatively low. Thanks to its unique taste, it is suitable for creating distinctive coffee blends.
Additionally, excelsa coffee could be a sustainable choice for the coffee industry, as the plant can withstand harsh weather conditions and requires minimal use of chemical fertilizers.