coffee types and varieties

Types and Varieties of Coffee Beans

In this article I am going to discuss the different types of coffee that are produced throughout the world. There are of course different ways you can ask 'what are these types of coffee beans?' but, in general, there are different species of coffee plant and within these species a diverse range of varieties.

Why is it important to know the difference in the types of coffee beans?

Understanding the differences among coffee bean types is crucial for selecting your ideal morning coffee because each type possesses a unique flavour profile.

Coffee beans vary widely depending on their origin, variety, and processing methods, affecting their taste significantly. For example, beans from Africa typically offer floral and fruity notes, whereas Latin American beans might have a nuttier, chocolatey quality.

Recognizing these nuances allows you to tailor your coffee selection to match your personal taste preferences precisely. Whether you prefer a bright, acidic coffee or a smooth, rich brew determines which beans you should choose.

Furthermore, being aware of the different types of beans encourages a deeper appreciation and intentional tasting.

Maintaining a record of the different coffees you try is beneficial. By documenting your experiences with various beans, including their origins, altitude, and processing techniques, you create a reference that helps refine your future selections.

This practice enhances your ability to discern and enjoy the complex flavours in coffee, ensuring you always start your day with a cup that's perfectly suited to your palate.

How can a coffee enthusiast develop a sense of taste and distinguish between various coffee bean types?

For a coffee enthusiast looking to sharpen their tasting skills and discern the distinct varieties of coffee beans, a systematic and detailed approach is essential.

One effective method is to actively engage in tasting sessions using a curated subscription service like our very own coffee club, which provides multiple types of coffee each month.

As you sample these varieties, maintaining a tasting journal is crucial. In this journal, document the different flavours you detect in each coffee, noting any specific tasting notes such as fruity, nutty, or earthy undertones, and whether these notes are reminiscent of specific fruits or spices like apple, cinnamon, or caramel.

Additionally, keep track of other vital attributes of the coffee, such as the region it came from, the altitude at which it was grown, the bean varietal, the processing method used, and the roast level.

Over time, this practice will not only refine your palate but also build a rich lexicon of descriptors that aid in recalling and differentiating between past coffees you've enjoyed.

This detailed note-taking will ensure that you not only remember the specific characteristics of each coffee but also develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of the diverse profiles exhibited by different beans.

This habit of mindful tasting and recording will significantly enhance your ability to distinguish and appreciate the nuances among various coffee types.

How does the quality and flavour of different coffee beans vary when brewed and served?

The variation in flavor and quality of coffee beans is significantly influenced by their region of cultivation and how they are brewed and served.

Take, for instance, beans from Sumatra called Sumatra Jagong, often characterized by a complex flavour profile including dark chocolate, orange, and rose nuances.

In contrast, beans like the Kenya Rioki AA from Kenya exhibit flavours of fig, orange blossom, and butterscotch, demonstrating how geographical differences shape taste.

When discussing the impact of serving methods on bean quality, Arabica beans, known for their superior taste, actually lose some of their nuances when cooled down or when creamer is added. This highlights the sensitivity of coffee flavors to serving conditions.

Moreover, Robusta beans, though generally considered less refined than Arabica, can be of high quality with distinctions such as a smooth texture and low acidity. Premium Robusta varieties may also embody chocolatey notes, enriching their overall taste profile.

Another species, Excelsa, offers a unique blend of flavors, combining the attributes of both light and dark roasts. Described as having a tart and fruity body, Excelsa beans provide an intriguing taste experience that stands out from other varieties.

Thus, the quality and flavour profiles of different coffee beans not only depend on their origin and species but are also highly impacted by how they are brewed and served. Each bean variety brings a distinct set of flavours to the cup, profoundly influenced by these factors.

Arabica and Robusta

There are, in fact, 124 different species of coffee tree that have been identified (source: Kew Science: Coffea). However, there are only two main species of coffee beans that make up the bulk of coffee production in the world. They are Arabica and Robusta.

Of these, Arabica (or coffea arabica) makes up most of the coffee produced every year and is grown in many countries between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer. Of the other coffee beans types, Robusta, is the only other one grown in significant quantity and it makes up around 30 to 40 percent of global production each year.

Arabica coffee beans are the mainstay of the speciality coffee industry basically because they taste better. There is a huge diversity of flavours, body and texture compared to any other type of coffee. Some of the rarer Arabica coffee, such as Jamaica Blue Mountain, can fetch upwards of £80 per kilo of the raw, unroasted, beans. The downside is that the Arabica plant is much more susceptible to pests and diseases, the threat of which is increasing due to climate change.

Robusta (coffea canephora is its official title) is so-called because it is much more resistant to pests and diseases but has one major drawback - it doesn't taste very good. So why, if the flavour is not as nice, do we still grow Robusta in significant quantities? Well, it's very cheap to produce because it doesn't need to grow at altitude, contains much more caffeine than Arabica and has a much stronger flavour. One of the largest producers of Robusta in the world is Vietnam.

The vast majority of Robusta coffee beans are sent to large manufacturing plants who then use it to create instant coffee granules. So beware - instant coffee made with Robusta contains more caffeine than it's much more flavoursome relative Arabica! It's also present in smaller quantities in some espresso blends because it improves the crema (head) on the espresso drink and introduces a bitter background flavour that is more prominent when mixed with milk.

When we talk about a variety of coffee beans, we are solely going to consider Arabica. This is the foundation of the speciality coffee industry and brings you the most diverse range of flavours.

Other Coffee Species

As I said, there are many more coffee species but most are either rare or of limited commercial use. One other species of note is Liberica coffee. This one was introduced mainly into Indonesia to replace the Arabica plants that were killed off by coffee leaf rust disease (see below). It is very similar to Robusta but it's tougher skin means it is not as easy to process and therefore of limited commercial use.

Varieties of Coffee Beans

When considering types of coffee beans, particularly within the Arabica species, there are a multitude of varieties that are cultivated across the world. These varieties have either been bred specifically or have developed through natural genetic mutation. They have been developed for many reasons, not just for flavour but also in an attempt to combat the two main enemies of the coffee tree: Coffee Leaf Rust disease and the Coffee Borer beetle.

Coffee Leaf Rust

This disease is a fungus that causes orange spots on the leaves and can eventually kill the tree. It now occurs in every coffee-producing country and the incidence of it is increasing due mainly to climate change. Major research efforts are underway to improve the coffee tree's resistance to the disease. One of the major issues with coffea arabica is its lack of genetic diversity, meaning that any disease affecting one type of coffee plant could also affect the others. In an attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change, coffee farmers are increasingly moving their plantations to higher altitudes where it is cooler. This, though, makes looking after the crop and subsequent harvesting much more difficult and expensive.

Coffee Borer Beetle

This is a small beetle that lays its eggs in the coffee cherry, which then hatch and eat the fruit thus reducing the yield and affecting the quality of the crop. It is the most harmful pest to coffee crops across the world and much research is being carried out to develop ways to control it. The fact that there is increasing demand for coffee produced using organic farming methods doesn't help - since the non-use of pesticides increases the risk of a farmer's livelihood being destroyed should an outbreak occur.

The Main Varieties

Here is a list of the main varieties of arabica coffee beans that you'll come across in your speciality coffee journey. This is not yet an exhaustive list, but anything not listed here will be pretty rare.


Considered the original variety from which all other varieties were born. The fruit is red and can produce excellent cup quality. However, it produces a relatively small yield compared to other varieties.


This was a natural genetic mutation of Typica that occurred on the island of Bourbon (now called Reunion island). The tree has a higher yield than Typica and it is very desirable in the speciality industry because of its distinctive sweetness. The fruit can be red, yellow or orange.


Yellow Bourbon coffee is a variety of coffee bean that is grown primarily in Brazil, but is also found in other countries such as Colombia and Guatemala. It is a hybrid of the traditional Bourbon variety, which is known for its sweet, mild flavour, and a natural mutation that causes the coffee cherries to turn yellow when ripe, instead of the traditional red colour.

The yellow Bourbon variety is typically grown at high altitudes, which contributes to its distinct flavour profile. The coffee beans are often hand-picked when they are fully ripe and then processed using the wet method, which involves removing the outer layers of the cherry before drying the beans.

Yellow Bourbon coffee is known for its well-balanced flavour, with a medium body and low acidity. It has a sweet, nutty flavour with notes of chocolate and caramel, and a smooth finish. The yellow Bourbon variety is often favoured by specialty coffee roasters and is used to create high-quality, single-origin coffees.

In addition to its unique flavour profile, Yellow Bourbon coffee is also prized for its high yield and resistance to disease, making it a popular choice among coffee farmers. It is also often grown using sustainable and environmentally-friendly farming practices, which further contributes to its appeal among coffee lovers who are concerned about the environmental impact of coffee farming.


Red Bourbon coffee is a variety of coffee bean that is related to the Yellow Bourbon variety, but with a few distinct differences. Like Yellow Bourbon, Red Bourbon is a natural mutation of the traditional Bourbon variety, but it is characterized by its red colour when the coffee cherries are fully ripe.

Red Bourbon coffee is primarily grown in countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, and other African countries, as well as in parts of Central and South America. It is typically grown at high altitudes and is often hand-picked when fully ripe before being processed using the wet method, which involves removing the outer layers of the cherry before drying the beans.

Red Bourbon coffee is known for its complex flavour profile, which can vary depending on the specific growing region and the processing method used. Generally, Red Bourbon coffee has a medium body and a bright acidity, with a sweet, fruity flavour that is often described as having notes of berries and citrus. It also has a clean, smooth finish.

It is prized for its unique flavour profile and is often considered to be one of the best-tasting coffee varieties in the world.


When Typica and Bourbon coffee beans were bred together, the result was Mundo Novo. It's so-called because of the place in Brazil where it was discovered in the 1940s. It has a high yield and good disease resistance and was bred for its ability to grow at higher altitiudes. It has a very tall stature, which has deterred a lot of countries, particularly in Central America, from growing it.


Caturra is a mutation of the Bourbon variety discovered in Brazil in 1937. It has a high yield, red or yellow fruit and good cup quality. It is a dwarf variety, which means it is low-growing and therefore easier to pick by hand. However, it requires a greater level of care as it's susceptible to over-production of fruit, which places excessive strain on the plant. Quality increases when it is grown at altitude, but yield decreases.

Caturra coffee is primarily grown in Central and South America, as well as in some parts of Africa and Asia. It is known for its bright acidity and medium body. The flavor profile of Caturra coffee can vary depending on the specific growing region and the processing method used, but it is generally characterized by a sweet, fruity flavor with notes of caramel and chocolate.


A hybrid of Caturra and Mundo Novo created by the Campinas Agronomic Institute in Brazil. It combines the dwarf characteristics of Caturra with the high yield and disease resistance of Mundo Novo.

Catuai coffee is primarily grown in Central and South America, as well as in some parts of Africa and Asia. It is typically grown at high altitudes and is known for its medium body, bright acidity, and well-balanced flavor profile. The flavuor profile of Catuai coffee can vary depending on the specific growing region and the processing method used, but it is generally characterized by a sweet, nutty flavour with notes of fruit and chocolate.


Pronounced "mar-ah-go-jee-peh", the Maragogype variety is a mutation of Typica discovered in Brazil. It is highly desirable in certain coffee markets and is notable for the large size of its beans, born from red fruit. It suffers, however, from a relatively low yield. Because of the size of the bean, it is commonly referred to as 'Elephant'.


Created in Kenya by Scott Laboratories, the SL-28 variety is extremely desirable in the speciality coffee industry due to its distinctive blackcurrant fruit flavour and larger-than-average bean size. It does well at higher altitudes but is susceptible to coffee leaf rust disease.


Another creation of Scott Laboratories in Kenya. Has exceptional cup quality but is susceptible to coffee berry disease. This variety is grown mainly in Kenya and is related to Typica. It is adapted to high altitudes with good rainfall.


Extremely aromatic and floral, the Geisha variety is believed to be Ethiopian in origin. It has gained popularity since 2004 when a Panamanian farm entered it into a competition for the first time. It was so unusual and distinctive that demand for it increased considerably resulting at one point in the coffee attracting a price of $130 per pound at auction in 2006/7. Growing the Geisha is not for the faint-hearted, as it seems to require very specific micro-climates. However, the reward is a lovely fragrant cup of coffee. It is grown quite widely in Malawi of all places.


Discovered by the Pacas family of El Salvador in 1949, this variety has red fruits and a low-growing habit. It is actually a natural mutation of the Bourbon variety and has a similar quality - meaning it's very nice. The dwarfism exhibited by the plant means the farmers can grow them much closer together and they are easier to harvest.


A cross between the PACAS and MARAGOGYPE varieties, created in El Salvador in 1958. The coffee beans are large, like its parent Maragogype, and the flavour profile can be exceptional especially if grown at high altitudes. However, the plants are not stable from one generation to the next.


Developed to be resistant to leaf rust disease, Catimor is a cross between the Timor variety and Caturra. It can have problems at both very high and very low altitudes but if grown correctly can result in a quality to match that of other commercial coffee varieties. The Timor variety is much more closely related to Robusta, which gives the coffee a lower acidity and higher bitterness. Getting a great Catimor can therefore be a little hit and miss.