All over the world, people drink coffee from basically one of two types of coffee beans: Arabica beans (“Coffea Arabica”) and Robusta beans (“Coffea Robusta”)
Arabica beans are aromatic, flavorful coffee beans used for gourmet, specialty coffees. The term refers to Coffea Arabica, the taxonomic species named for the genus responsible for about 75% of the world’s commercial coffee crop. Coffea Arabica is a woody perennial evergreen that belongs to same family as Gardenias.
Robusta beans contain twice the caffeine as Arabicas. Robusta beans are somewhat bitter and lack the flavor and aroma of Arabica beans. Robusta beans are used to produce blends, instant and freeze dried coffees.
There are other types of coffee species but they are very rare or non-existent in the export market. As a result, the fact is that we all drink either Arabica or Robusta coffee. Sounds simple, right? Not quite.
There are many “varietals” within Arabica coffee trees which yield coffee beans with distinct flavors and characteristics. This is where the fun begins. To name a few,
ETHIOPIAN COFFEE: Ethiopian Harrar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe. Each is named after their region of origin and they have very distinct flavor characteristics. For example, Ethiopian Harrar is known for its medium body, earthy flavor, almost no acidity and a very smooth mouth feel. This is a complex coffee with light spicy tones and a fruity flavor that some people compare to the taste of dry red wine. As the ‘birthplace of coffee,” Ethiopia has a unique place in the coffee world.
KENYAN COFFEE: Kenyan AA. This coffee comes from the area surrounding Mount Kenya, a region with fertile red volcanic soil. The coffee is known for its very acidic taste you taste right away in the mouth, and then followed by a medium body with an aftertaste of earthy flavor.
TANZANIAN COFFEE: Tanzanian Peaberry focuses on pea berry instead of traditional coffee beans. Coffee is the dried seed from the fruit of a flowering tree. Each fruit has two seeds facing each other. On the coffee tree, there is a percentage of the fruit that has a single seed or peaberry and the rest will have two flat beans for the usual two (2) seeds per fruit. The single bean peaberry occurs in less than 5% of any crop and is generally considered to produce a more concentrated flavor.
COLOMBIAN COFFEE: major cultivars of Arabica beans include Bourbon, Caturra, Maragogype and Typica. Colombian coffees also include the name of the growing regions such as Cauca, Nariño, Amazonas, Bucaramanga, etc. Colombia accounts for more than a tenth of the world’s entire coffee supply. Colombian Arabica coffee is perhaps the most well-known, partly due to its “living” and successful coffee advertising iconic symbols recognized worldwide, Juan Valdez and Conchita, the mule. The more generic Colombian coffees are rated as Excelso and Supremo. These terms simply refer to the size of the coffee beans, not necessarily to better coffee grades.
COSTA RICAN COFFEE: Costa Rican Tarrazu is a prized Arabica coffee. It is named after the San Marcos de Tarrazu valley, one of the four premium coffee growing districts surrounding the capital city of San Jose. The other varietals include Tres Rios, Heredia and Alajuela. Costa Rican coffees are balanced, clean, with bright acidity featuring citrus or berry-like flavors and hints of chocolate and spice in the finish.
BRAZILIAN COFFEE: Brazil Santos Bourbon comes from the hills of Sào Paulo state in the south-central portion of the country near the port of Santos. Historically, these Arabica coffee plants were brought to the island of Bourbon now known as the Island of Reunion. Brazil Santos Bourbon is a light bodied coffee, with low acidity, a pleasing aroma and a mild, smooth flavor.
INDONESIAN COFFEE: Java is the most famous Arabica varietal from the island of Java. The top grade of Java coffee is cultivated on former Dutch plantations and is called Java Estate. This is a clean, thick, full body coffee with less of the earthy characteristics that other Indonesia coffees feature, such as Sumatra or Sulawesi. The Java coffees provide a smooth complement to the Yemen Mocha which is very intense. The traditional Mocha Java blend is the combination of Java and Yemen Mocha.
SUMATRAN COFFEE: Sumatra Mandheling and Sumatra Lintong. Sumatra Lintong originates in the Lintong district of Sumatra near Lake Toba. This coffee has a medium, bodied coffee, low acid, sweet with a complex and earthy aroma. Sumatra Mandheling has a rich, heavy body, subdued acidity and unique complex flavor. This coffee actually does not originate in the Mandheling region but is named after the Mandailing people in the north of Sumatra.
HAWAIIAN COFFEE: closer to home, in Hawaii, the best known Arabica varietal is Hawaiian Kona coffee. This Arabica bean grows on the slopes of Mount Hualalai and Mauna Loa which makes it not only exclusive to Hawaii but also to the Kona District specifically.
JAMAICAN COFFEE: the Arabica varietal that grows predominantly in the Blue Mountain region of this island is called Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. The Blue Mountains stretch between Kingston and Port Maria in Jamaica. This region enjoys a cool and misty climate. Due to its limited production quantity, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is expensive.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA COFFEE: located just north of Australia, Papua New Guinea coffee cultivation was started in 1937 using imported seeds from Jamaica’s famous Blue Mountain region. As a result, Papua New Guinea has noticeable similarities to Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. The rich volcanic soil and excellent climate produce a mild and mellow, full-bodied coffee with moderate acidity, broad flavor and very interesting aromatics.
Is this all? No, there are many more varietals, brands, and special flavors of Arabica coffee to try and discover.
For now, what about a cup of Ethiopian Harrar or Papua New Guinea coffee?