Beginners Guide to the Types of Coffee Beans and Roasts

Ask any coffee lover about their preferred type of coffee beans and roast, chances are they will know it like the back of their hand.

But for some, they would probably be asking;

What are the common types of coffee beans? How do they differ from each other?

What is the difference between light, medium and dark roast? Does it matter?

In this article, we will aim to shed some light into these questions and you will be on your way to finding your favourite coffee bean and roast type.

Arabica vs Robusta - A Quick Comparison

Let’s take a look at the 2 most popular coffee beans, the Arabica and Robusta. Combined, they make up almost 95% of the total world coffee production. 

The other 2 minorities are Liberica and Excelsa which are becoming rarer as days go by.

ArabicaRobusta
TasteSmooth and slightly sweetHarsh and bland
Caffeine Content1.2 to 1.7%2.2 to 2.7%
Growing Altitude600 to 2000m0 to 800m
Growing Temperature16°C to 24°C18°C to 38°C
Expected ResultsStrong brew with flavorThinner brew
Growing RegionsEast/Central Africa, Latin America, India, IndonesiaAfrica, South East Asia, India
World Production~60%~40%
PriceHighLow

Arabica Beans (Coffea Arabica)

Arabica Coffee Beans Info

Arabica, or coffea arabica is a veteran within the coffee scene and is thought to be the first type of coffee ever cultivated. Today, Arabica is the most popular coffee beans in the world. 

Fun Fact : ~60% of the coffee beans produced worldwide are Arabica.

Arabica beans are diverse as there are many varietals within this category ranging from gentle and sweet to explosive and tangy. 

The Arabica beans contain sugar naturally, eliminating the bitterness often found in other types. This results in a brew that is smooth on the tongue, making it a popular choice if you enjoy sugary coffee. Fruity notes are also present in the brewed product, making Arabica a particularly acidic choice.

Arabica beans are delicate and thrive in subtropical climates like that of Ethiopia at an elevation of 600 to 2000 meters. This high altitude contributes to the fullness of flavor and complexity housed within the beans. 

The fact that this particular bean is self-pollinating also allows for consistency in the taste of the beans produced as opposed to those that are cross-pollinated, a process which makes flavor less predictable.

Excellent soil, sufficient shade with just enough sun, and water are all vital in order for these beans to flourish.

Robusta (Coffea Canephora)

Robusta Coffee Beans Info

Robusta, or coffea canephora beans have a rather bland taste that is likened to that of oatmeal and grains with a nutty after-taste. Yet, the scent of the roasted beans resembles that of perfume.

In spite of its lack of sweetness and rather gruff qualities, Robusta coffee has climbed the ranks to become the second most popular coffee beans (approx 40% of total production) in the world.

Due to its bland taste, it is little wonder that Robusta contains minimal sugar. It is also high in antioxidants and caffeine. The full-bodied experience gained from drinking a cup of Robusta appeals to those who appreciate earthy undertones in their coffee.

Africa and countries in South East Asia such as Indonesia (the majority of Sulawesi coffee are Robusta) and Vietnam are where Robusta is primarily produced. Robusta can be grown well from sea-level to 800m and anywhere in between. Rich, well-drained soil on slightly sloped land to completely flat is optimal for their survival.

Robusta plants are durable, making them easy to grow, resulting in larger crops. Farmers are capable of yielding a crop of robusta in half the time it takes to cultivate arabica, making it ideal for mass production.  

Liberica (Coffea Liberica)

Besides Arabica and Robusta, thers is also Liberica aka coffea Liberica.

It is most readily available primarily in Malaysia, the Philippines, Java Island and West Kalimantan in Indonesia. It is most easily grown in Asia and is harder to come by in the west. This results in higher prices when it does make it to the West and it is therefore far more affordable to purchase at the source.

Instead of manifesting itself in the form of small plants like other coffees, Liberica coffee grows on tall tree-like plants that are suited to jungle regions and are a form of wild vegetation, requiring far less thoughtful cultivation from the grower. 

The robust nature of Liberica has been essential in the survival of this plant in its rather harsh environment. 900 to 1800m is a suitable range when it comes to optimal elevation for growing Liberica.

The overall personality of Liberica is an acquired taste. It is distinctly bitter and delivers a solid kick. This particular flavor profile is extremely popular in its countries of origin. But due to these rather abrasive characteristics, it is best suited for use as instant coffee.

Excelsa

Excelsa was previously mistaken for the twin of Liberica as the two share many traits. 

Though it also grows on tall trees, thrives in Asia as well, primarily the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia and has a similar shape, some believe that it is a species all its own. 

Medium altitudes are suitable for the cultivation of Excelsa. These plants are tough and are minimally affected by dry weather and do not easily succumb to disease.

The Excelsa flavor profile is made up of fruity and tart notes and offers a distinct experience. Like Liberica, it is an acquired taste and those who are not fond of the unique taste of Excelsa may prefer it blended with another type of bean.

Types of Coffee Roasts

Light vs Medium vs Dark Coffee Roasts

Besides knowing the type of coffee beans, there is another crucial aspect about the beans – the type of roast.

In general, there are 3 types of coffee roasts,

  1. Light Roast
  2. Medium Roast
  3. Dark Roast

There are of course many other types of roast that fall in between these such as medium-dark and very dark.

Also, keep in mind that these are the generic names and sometimes you will see more exotic names like city roast, American roast or New England roast. We will get to these in the following section.

The table below summarizes the difference between the 3 types of coffee roasts.

Type of RoastColorTasteRoasting Temp
LightLight brownAcidic356°F to 401°F
MediumBrownBalanced410°F to 428°F
DarkDark brownStrong464°F

1. Light Roast

As you might expect, a coffee that is labeled as a light roast will be light in color.

Generally, light roasts are mellow in flavor and feature fruity, acidic qualities.

Because light beans are roasted for a shorter amount of time, they retain a higher caffeine content and most of the original flavors housed within the beans is preserved. 

180°C/356°F to 205°C/401°F is the ideal roasting temperature for a batch of light roast. Roast time varies depending on a number of factors such as how large the batch is and what kind of coffee is in the roaster. 

A light roast would likely fall closer to the 10-minute end of the spectrum. Apart from this timespan, beans are considered light roasted at the first sign of any cracks.

Sometimes, the light roast is also referred to as light cinnamon, light city, half city, and New England roast.

2. Medium Roast

Medium roasts succeed in producing a pleasing balance of acidity and flavor, eliminating some of the graininess that is often found in lighter roasts.

Due to the fact that medium is roasted for a longer time, a portion of the caffeine is cooked out. The optimal roasting temperature for a medium roast is 210°C/410°F and 220°C/428°F degrees.

The beans are done once the second round of cracks have emerged. 

The following are a few names by which medium roasts also are known such as Regular Roast, American Roast, City Roast and Breakfast Roast.

3. Dark Roast

Dark roast coffees are roasted for maximum time and feature a bitter, hazy taste acquired from more time in the roaster. Most of the natural flavors of the beans are overpowered at this level and a great deal of caffeine content is cooked out.

240°C/464°F is the best roast temperature for a dark roast. The beans continue to cook until after the second set of cracks appear. The charcoal flavor of dark roast becomes more pronounced the longer the beans are allowed to cook.

A few alternate names for dark roast include French Roast, Italian Roast, Continental Roast, Spanish Roast and New Orleans Roast.