Whenever you buy coffee in-store or online, you’ll have to choose between types of coffee, usually Arabica and Robusta. But did you know that there are other coffee species aside from these two?
There are over a hundred species of coffee, but only four of them are commercially viable. These are Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. Not all coffee-growing countries can cultivate all species but lucky for us, all four species are grown in the Philippines.
If you’re new to the world of coffee, the options can be overwhelming. Here’s a simple guide to help you distinguish each type and identify which one best fits your palate.
Arabica (coffea arabica)
60% of the world’s coffee is Arabica.
First discovered in Ethiopia, Arabica trees are small and thrive in the shade, at higher elevations where average temperatures are between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Arabica is the most delicate of all four species. It’s prone to pests and diseases. Great care is needed, one of the reasons why it’s often pricier than other types of coffee.
Arabica has sweeter flavors and intricate aromas reminiscent of sugar, fruits, berries, and even flowers. Depending on the origin and varietal, hints of chocolate, nuts, citrus, and honey can also show up. It also tends to have higher acidity and lesser caffeine.
In the Philippines, Arabica is usually grown in Benguet, Sagada, Kalinga, Cotabato, and Davao.
Robusta (coffea canephora)
Originating from sub-Saharan Africa, Robusta makes up 30% of the total supply of coffee in the world.
True to its name, it’s robust. It’s easier to cultivate and is more disease-resistant. It doesn’t require steep slopes or high altitudes and is better at tolerating warmer climates. Robusta also bears fruit much quicker and produces a significantly higher yield per plant.
Robusta contains more caffeine than Arabica, and lesser sugar and lipid content. This results in a sharp, often bitter, and harsher taste. Because of this strong flavor, Robusta is mainly used in blends and instant coffees and is often seen as inferior to Arabica. But don’t dismiss it yet. Robusta has more antioxidants and lower acidity. With improvements in harvesting and processing, high-quality Robusta coffee is slowly becoming available.
Robusta thrives on lowlands like Cavite, Bulacan, and Mindoro.
Liberica (coffea liberica)
Liberica is the world’s rarest type of coffee and is now cultivated mainly in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Liberica trees produce larger cherries and almond-shaped beans, often asymmetrical, and larger than Arabica and Robusta. It is the only beans species with an irregular shape.
Liberica has an exceptional floral and fruity aroma comparable to that of a jackfruit, with a full body that possesses a woody and slightly smoky, sometimes nutty, taste. Its flavor is more intense and earthy, especially when roasted dark. Thanks to its complex notes, Liberica is often added to blends to give the coffee a bolder flavor.
In the Philippines, Liberica is known as Kapeng Barako and grows primarily in Batangas and Cavite.
Excelsa (coffea excelsa)
Excelsa was discovered in Africa and accounts for 7% of the world’s coffee consumption.
In 2006, Excelsa was reclassified under Liberica because it grows on large 20-30 feet trees like Liberica at similar medium altitudes and produces similar almond-shaped beans.
Despite the similarities, the actual coffees produced are so different that most people still think of the two as separate species. Excelsa is still sold separately in the Philippines.
Excelsa has a full-bodied and strong flavor profile, often tart, fruity, but dark. Because of this intense flavor, and the limited supply, Excelsa is more popular as a blending variety to add complexity and depth to house blends, and is often used as an extender.
Excelsa commonly grows in the mountains of Batangas, Quezon, and Sorsogon, Bicol region.
Whether you have special preferences in taste, aroma, and acidity, or you don’t discriminate between these types of coffee, knowing the distinction gives you a better sense of what you’re drinking.
Photos from Unsplash