A woman preparing to process coffee beans in a black coffee grinder

4 TYPES OF COFFEE BEANS: HOW TO CHOOSE

If you’re a coffee lover, then you may find yourself on the hunt for the perfect bean variety to try. There are many coffee beans available for the coffee lover to explore, each type offering a unique flavor profile that complements a variety of drink, dessert and food recipes. Learn about the different types of coffee beans and how to choose them to add new flavor dimensions to your recipes. 

Whole coffee beans in front of a red KitchenAid® coffee grinder Whole coffee beans in front of a red KitchenAid® coffee grinder

WHAT ARE COFFEE BEANS?

Contrary to popular belief, coffee beans aren’t actually beans at all—they are the seeds of a cherry-like fruit or plant. After the seeds have been harvested, the pits are ready to be fermented and roasted, processes that remove moisture and help develop the flavor profile unique to each bean type. From there, the roasted beans are ready to be used for a variety of recipes. Grind coffee beans for your morning coffee cup or for a classic Tiramisu recipe – the options are endless!

THE 4 MOST POPULAR TYPES OF COFFEE BEANS

As you explore recipes that call for coffee, you may have experienced some of the many types of coffee beans available. While they may look similar, the different types of coffee beans have distinct characteristics that all contribute to elements like flavor and texture.

Learn about the four most popular types of coffee beans—Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa and Liberica—and when to use them.

BEAN TYPE

ORIGIN

FLAVOR

BEST USE

Arabica Native to Ethiopia Variable – distinctly not bitter Brewed coffee
Robusta Native to sub-Saharan Africa Bitter – woody or nutty Coffee blends and espresso
Excelsa Southeast Asia Complex – tart, fruity and dark Brewed coffee and blends
Liberica Southeast Asia Unusual – nutty and woody Brewed coffee and desserts
An Arabica bean icon

1. Arabica

Arabica coffee beans are the most popular variety worldwide. Arabica beans are native to Ethiopia but are grown in several countries throughout the world with tropical climates and high altitudes. Dark brown in color and smooth to the touch, the Arabica bean develops a diverse flavor profile ranging from slightly sweet and fruity to nutty when roasted.

 

Arabica beans are considered the most high-quality variety and can be found in most places where coffee beans are sold, from the local supermarket to your favorite coffee shop. The popularity and versatility of the Arabica bean make it a great choice for many recipes that call for coffee beans, from freshly brewed coffee to coffee cakes.

A Robusta bean icon

2. Robusta

With a distinctly larger and more rounded shape, Robusta coffee beans are the second most popular variety. While they are native to sub-Saharan Africa, Robusta beans are grown mostly today in Africa, Indonesia and India. When it comes to Arabica beans vs. Robusta beans, Robusta beans have a deeper and more bitter flavor profile with undertones of wood and nut.

 

Because of this bitter flavor, Robusta beans are commonly used in coffee blends as a complement to other coffee flavors. You’re less likely to find this coffee bean on its own, with the exception of instant coffee or espresso beans. The bold notes in this coffee can stand up to the additions of cream, steamed milk and other flavorings. To find quality Robusta beans for creating espresso recipes or coffee blends, try browsing a specialty coffee retailer.

An Excelsa bean icon

3. Excelsa

First discovered in Africa, most of the Excelsa beans processed today are grown almost exclusively in Southeast Asia. With a slightly elongated oval shape, the Excelsa bean grows well in medium altitudes. Excelsa coffee beans are known for their incredibly complex flavor profile and are commonly used in coffee blends for added dimension. Its delicious flavor also makes the Excelsa bean a popular stand-alone brew choice. 


Compared to other types of coffee beans, Excelsa beans combine light and dark roast traits to produce unique flavors ranging from fruity and tart to rich and bold. The unusual depth of the Excelsa flavor makes the bean difficult to find outside of Southeast Asia, so this type may need to be sourced from a specialty retailer. 

A Liberica bean icon

4. Liberica

Native to central and western Africa, the Liberica bean is highly tolerant of harsh climates and low altitudes, growing well in countries throughout Southeast Asia including Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. An almond-shaped seed with a floral and somewhat fruity aroma, the Liberica bean can most likely be found in Philippine food markets or specialty retailers. 

 

Often noted as having a controversial flavor, the Liberica bean boasts an unusual but full flavor profile that can be described as nutty or woody. While it can be used on its own for brewed coffee, the unique flavor of the Liberica bean makes it a popular blend choice and a creative option for adding a more potent taste to recipes.

A woman using a black KitchenAid® Burr Coffee Grinder to process coffee beans A woman using a black KitchenAid® Burr Coffee Grinder to process coffee beans

HOW DO I CHOOSE THE RIGHT KIND OF COFFEE BEANS FOR A RECIPE?

Because coffee bean flavor profiles can lend themselves to different food and beverage applications, the right kind of coffee bean to choose for a recipe will depend on the specific taste you’d like to achieve. 

The different flavor profiles of each coffee bean can be used for many recipes, including desserts, marinades, dry rubs, baked goods and more. A helpful way to think about different flavor profiles when choosing coffee beans is to consider how the three main types of roasts—light, medium and dark—affect the original flavor notes of the bean.

  • Light Roasts: Due to a shorter roasting time, light roasts retain more of the original flavor of the coffee bean. Light roasts tend to have fruity or citrus notes and a higher acidity, along with higher caffeine content. Choose light roast coffee beans of the Arabica or Excelsa varieties to emphasize the bean’s original flavor in your recipes or brewed as a bright way to start your morning.

  • Medium Roasts: As roast temperature increases, the coffee beans begin to lose their acidity. Medium roasts are a common choice for brewed coffee due to their balanced flavor profiles, pairing well with beans of the Arabica and Excelsa varieties.

  • Dark Roasts: Dark roasts are a great option for delivering intense, rich flavor to recipes, pairing well with beans of the Arabica variety. Dark roasts are also a popular choice for brewed coffee like espresso or as an ingredient in baked goods, rubs and other recipes, making bitter beans like Robusta or Liberica more palatable.

DOES GRIND TYPE MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

The grind type you choose can affect the flavor profile of your coffee beans. With the help of a coffee grinder, you’ll be able to choose the appropriate grind for your selected coffee bean and brewing method. 

  • Fine Grinds: For quick, pressurized brewing methods like espresso, a fine grind is the right choice. Because water passes quickly through the grounds, the increased surface area of fine grinds ensures proper extraction.

  • Medium Grinds: Medium grinds are a good choice for when you’d like to achieve a milder yet full-bodied brew. Use a medium grind when using the pour over brewing method or an auto-drip coffee maker.

  • Coarse Grinds: Coffee beans ground into coarse grinds have less surface area than finer grounds and require more exposure to water for extraction. Coarse grinds are best used with brew methods like using French press or cold brewing.

Achieving your desired grind and flavor profile each time is possible with an appliance that can adapt to your preferences. With a KitchenAid® Burr Coffee Grinder, you can create a brew that’s light and airy or full and rich by choosing from one of 70 precise grind settings.

Coffee beans in a black KitchenAid® Burr Coffee Grinder in a modern kitchen Coffee beans in a black KitchenAid® Burr Coffee Grinder in a modern kitchen

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO BREW COFFEE BEANS?

Coffee beans can be brewed in a variety of ways depending on the flavor and texture you’re hoping to achieve. By understanding how the various brewing methods work, you’ll be able to make a great cup of coffee or diversify dinner and dessert recipes.

  • Auto-drip/pour over: The most common way to brew coffee is with the drip-brewing method. When brewing coffee with an auto-drip machine or pour over setup, water temperature and flow rate help determine how strong or weak the flavor profile becomes.

  • Cold brew: The cold brew method of making coffee is a great option for making iced beverages or coffees with a low acid flavor profile. Because this method does not use heat, the resulting flavor is smooth and full-bodied.

  • French press: The French press brewing method is a popular immersion brewing option for extracting the most flavor out of your coffee beans, especially for single cups. Compared to a method like auto-drip brewing, the ground beans are exposed to hot water for a longer period of time resulting in a brew that boasts a strong and rich flavor profile.

EXPLORE THE COFFEE COLLECTION FROM KITCHENAID

From grinders to coffee makers, the KitchenAid® coffee collection allows you to explore the world of coffee. Explore the KitchenAid® coffee collection to begin creating your own coffee-based recipes.

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