What are the Differences Between Coffee Types?

Edited and published by Wellness Monster Stacie

People often remember their first visit to a local espresso coffee shop by being bewildered by the many different types of coffee being offered. Sure, drip coffee is easy to understand, but what makes an espresso? What is a cappuccino? And does it really matter where the coffee beans come from?

It All Starts with the Beans

Making coffee is more than just pouring powered instant coffee in a cup and adding boiling water. Coffee originates from roasting the seeds of the berries of shrubs from the genus coffea plant. Despite what you see on store shelves, when it comes to coffee beans, there are really only two types: arabica and robusta (Canephor). According to Coffee.org, (https://www.coffee.org/types-of-coffee-beans) 70 percent of all coffee drinks are created using arabica beans. However, it is often the location of where those beans are grown that will make them taste different. Factors like the soil the plants are grown from, the temperature of the region, the weather of the region and even the other foliage grown there can make a different on the taste of the coffee bean.

arabica-beans“Ethiopian Arabica beans are known for their smooth, easy flavor with a floral finish while Kenyan Arabica beans have a more bitter taste,” states Coffee.org. “Arabica beans grown in Latin America are also slightly bitter tasting with a cocoa flavor and nutty finish. The favorite Arabica beans are grown in Colombia are very bold in taste with a dark texture and walnut after-taste.”

Arabica beans are grown in Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Hawaii, Haiti, Latin America, India, China, Cameroon, Colombia, Ethiopia, Africa, Yeman and Brazil. While Robusta beans can be found all over the world, they are usually grown in Asia with 97 percent of Vietnam’s coffee output coming from robusta beans. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_coffee_varieties#cite_note-31)

Robusta (or canephor) beans contain about 50 percent more caffeine than arabica beans and less oil which tends to make coffee more acidic and bitter. It should not be surprising to learn that robusta beans are cheaper than arabica and is often used for blended coffees for the general coffee audience. However, just because these beans are cheaper, the quality of coffee made from them is still very good. In fact, some of the very best robusta beans are used to create expensive espresso blends.

While arabica and robusta are the most common coffee beans, there are other types of coffee beans found around the world that are not commercially viable. These include Kapeng barako (Barako coffee), which is grown in the Philippines.

Brewing the Best…for You

Another factor in the different tastes of coffee comes from how the coffee beans are brewed. Basically, there are four types of brewing processes: boiling, steeping, filtering by gravity and pressure percolation.

The most common type of boiled coffee is Turkish. Turkish coffee begins by grinding the coffee bean into a fine powder, mixed with boiling water and set to boil. Once it comes to a boil, it is removed from the heat until the liquid settles down and then is repeated on the heat source for two or three more times. Boiling the coffee allows the caffeine and oils to be released into the water creating a thick foam and because of the fineness of the ground, the coffee itself is very thick. It is served in tiny cups and oftentimes this coffee is sweet and served flavored with cardamom. However, in some Arab countries, the coffee is served bitter after events like a funeral symbolizing grief.

Steeping is simple method of preparing coffee by mixing boiling water and coffee ground and let it sit for a few minutes to allow the caffeine and oils to extract. The grind used is a bit coarser than what is used for Turkish coffee and unlike the former, the grounds are separated from the water. The most common way to do this is by using a French press. The cylinder-shaped glass pot comes with a plunger that plunges into the liquid and pushes the ground to the bottom. Another process to steep coffee is called a Malaysian sock which is actually a muslin bag that is tied and the hot water is poured over it, much like a tea bag.

coffee-filteringFiltering by gravity sounds like a complicated way to make coffee but it is actually the most common way people make coffee at home. Using a regular coffee maker, coffee grounds are scooped into a basket with a filter and hot water passes through it. It’s a pretty goof-proof way to make coffee and clean up is easy too. People who use metallic filters tend to get a richer, more flavorful coffee since some aromatic oils will get trapped inside paper filters.

Created in Italy, espresso has really caught on with coffee drinkers all over the world thanks in part to coffee giants like Starbucks. The process of espresso coffee is forcing small amounts of water through ground coffee under high pressure which helps to extract the oils and solids from the coffee beans more easily. By volume, a cup of espresso has more caffeine in it than drip coffee does but the stronger coffee is also often drunk in smaller amounts. Similar to Turkish coffee, the espresso process form an oil foam on top known and crema. Within the world of espresso comes yet more varieties of coffee:

  • Cappuccino: Usually made with equal amounts of espresso, steamed milk and milk foam.
  • Latte: Made with a larger amount of milk (three to five times more than the actual coffee) and just a little bit of foam on top.
  • Macchiato: Made with a small amount of foamed milk and the coffee shot poured on top.
  • Americano: Espresso shots diluted with a large amount of boiling water making it similar to drip coffee. (The name come from American soldiers during the war preferring drip coffee over straight espresso.
  • Caffe Corretto: This is a shot of espresso plus a shot of alcohol like brandy.





Image Credits:

Three coffee types. [ID 16872638 © Tatiana Belova | Dreamstime.com]

Close up of a bowl of Arabica coffee beans [ID 36767554 © stockcreations | Dreamstime.com]

Close up of coffeemaker and coffee pot [ID 66022097 © Syda Productions | Dreamstime.com]