The World Beyond Arabica and Robusta: Lesser-Known Grains

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Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world, with millions of people enjoying its rich and complex flavors every day.

However, most coffee drinkers are only familiar with two types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. These two varieties account for more than 95% of the global coffee production, and are widely used in blends, roasts, and brews.

But did you know that there are many other types of coffee beans that offer a diverse range of flavors, aromas, and characteristics? In this article, we will explore the world beyond Arabica and Robusta, and introduce you to some of the lesser-known coffee varieties that can surprise and delight your taste buds.

Introduction to Lesser-Known Coffee Varieties

Coffee is a plant that belongs to the genus Coffea, which contains more than 120 species. However, not all of them are suitable for human consumption, as some are too bitter, too acidic, or too low in caffeine. Only a few species have been cultivated and commercialized for coffee production, and among them, Arabica and Robusta are the most dominant.

Arabica (Coffea arabica) is the oldest and most widely consumed type of coffee bean. It originated in Ethiopia and Yemen, and was first cultivated in Arabia. Arabica beans have a delicate and balanced flavor, with notes of fruit, chocolate, and nuts. They are also high in acidity and low in caffeine. Arabica beans are grown at high altitudes (above 1000 meters) in tropical and subtropical regions.

Robusta (Coffea canephora) is the second most popular type of coffee bean. It originated in Africa, and was first cultivated in Congo. Robusta beans have a strong and bitter flavor, with notes of earth, wood, and rubber. They are also low in acidity and high in caffeine. Robusta beans are grown at low altitudes (below 1000 meters) in hot and humid regions.

However, there are many other types of coffee beans that are less known but equally interesting. Some of them are rare and exotic, while others are historical and traditional. Some of them have distinctive flavors and aromas, while others have unique shapes and sizes. Let’s take a look at some of these lesser-known coffee varieties and the regions where they are cultivated.

Exciting Varieties: Geisha and Pacamara

Geisha (or Gesha) is one of the most sought-after and expensive types of coffee beans in the world. It originated in Ethiopia, but was rediscovered in Panama in the 2000s. Geisha beans have a floral and fruity flavor, with notes of jasmine, bergamot, honey, and peach. They are also high in acidity and low in bitterness. Geisha beans are grown at very high altitudes (above 1500 meters) in cool and shady environments.

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Pacamara is another type of coffee bean that has gained popularity among coffee connoisseurs. It is a hybrid between Pacas and Maragogipe, two varieties of Arabica. Pacamara beans have a sweet and complex flavor, with notes of caramel, citrus, chocolate, and nuts. They are also high in acidity and body. Pacamara beans are grown at high altitudes (above 1200 meters) in volcanic soils.

Emerging Stars: Bourbon and Typica

Bourbon and Typica are two types of coffee beans that have a long history and a wide influence. They are both derived from Arabica, but have developed their own characteristics over time.

Bourbon (Coffea arabica var. bourbon) is a mutation of Arabica that occurred on the island of Bourbon (now Réunion) in the Indian Ocean. Bourbon beans have a sweet and fruity flavor, with notes of cherry, vanilla, and chocolate. They are also high in acidity and body. Bourbon beans are grown at high altitudes (above 1000 meters) in various regions around the world.

Typica (Coffea arabica var. typica) is a variety of Arabica that was first brought from Ethiopia to Yemen by traders. Typica beans have a smooth and balanced flavor, with notes of sugar cane, honey, and nuts. They are also low in acidity and bitterness. Typica beans are grown at high altitudes (above 1000 meters) in various regions around the world.

The Unique Terroir of Liberica Coffee

Liberica (Coffea liberica) is a type of coffee bean that is native to West Africa. Liberica beans have a distinct flavor profile that is different from Arabica or Robusta. They have a smoky and woody flavor, with notes of dark chocolate, tobacco, and leather. They are also low in acidity and high in body. Liberica beans are grown at low to medium altitudes (below 1500 meters) in tropical and subtropical regions.

Liberica coffee is especially popular in Southeast Asia, where it has a unique terroir that reflects the local culture and environment. For example, in the Philippines, Liberica coffee is known as Barako, which means “wild boar” in Tagalog. Barako coffee is brewed using a cloth filter and served with sugar and cream. In Malaysia, Liberica coffee is known as Kopi, which means “coffee” in Malay. Kopi is roasted with butter and sugar, and served with condensed milk.

Rediscovering Excelsa and Maragogipe

Excelsa and Maragogipe are two types of coffee beans that are often overlooked by mainstream coffee drinkers, but have unique qualities that deserve attention.

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Excelsa (Coffea liberica var. dewevrei) is a variety of Liberica that was discovered in Congo in the 1900s. Excelsa beans have a fruity and floral flavor, with notes of apricot, pineapple, and rose. They are also high in acidity and low in caffeine. Excelsa beans are grown at medium altitudes (1000 to 1500 meters) in tropical and subtropical regions.

Maragogipe (Coffea arabica var. maragogipe) is a mutation of Typica that occurred in Brazil in the 1800s. Maragogipe beans have a mild and nutty flavor, with notes of almond, hazelnut, and walnut. They are also low in acidity and body. Maragogipe beans are grown at medium altitudes (1000 to 1500 meters) in various regions around the world.

One of the most striking features of Excelsa and Maragogipe beans is their size. They are both much larger than typical coffee beans, and can reach up to three times the size of Arabica or Robusta beans. This makes them easier to sort and roast, but also more prone to defects and damage.

Processing and Brewing Lesser-Known Varieties

Processing and brewing methods can have a significant impact on the flavor and quality of coffee beans. Different types of coffee beans may require different methods to bring out their best potential.

Processing methods refer to how coffee beans are removed from the fruit and dried before roasting. There are three main methods: natural, washed, and honey.

Natural (or dry) method: The coffee cherries are spread out on raised beds or patios and dried under the sun for several weeks. This method preserves the natural sugars and flavors of the fruit, but also increases the risk of fermentation and mold.

Washed (or wet) method: The coffee cherries are depulped using a machine that separates the beans from the pulp. The beans are then soaked in water tanks to remove the mucilage (a sticky layer that surrounds the beans). This method produces a clean and consistent flavor, but also reduces the sweetness and complexity of the fruit.

Honey (or pulped natural) method: The coffee cherries are depulped using a machine that separates the beans from the pulp, but some mucilage is left on the beans. The beans are then dried on raised beds or patios under the sun for several days. This method creates a balance between the sweetness of the fruit and the clarity of the bean.

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Brewing methods refer to how coffee beans are ground and extracted using hot water. There are many types of brewing methods, such as drip, pour-over, French press, espresso, cold brew, etc.

Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on the type of coffee bean used.

Drip method: The coffee grounds are placed in a paper filter inside a brewer that drips hot water over them. This method is easy and convenient, but may result in over-extraction or under-extraction if not done properly.

Pour-over method: The coffee grounds are placed in a paper or metal filter on top of a carafe or mug. The hot water is poured over them manually using a kettle or a dripper. This method allows more control over the extraction process, but also requires more skill and attention.

French press method: The coffee grounds are placed in a glass or metal container with a plunger that has a metal mesh filter attached to it. The hot water is poured over them and steeped for several minutes. The plunger is then pressed down to separate the grounds from the liquid. This method produces a full-bodied and rich flavor, but also leaves some sediment in the cup.

Espresso method: The coffee grounds are packed tightly into a metal portafilter that is attached to an espresso machine that forces hot water under high pressure through them. This method produces a concentrated and aromatic flavor, but also requires a high-quality grinder and machine.

Cold brew method: The coffee grounds are steeped in cold or room-temperature water for several hours or days. This method produces a smooth and refreshing flavor, but also requires a long brewing time and more coffee grounds.

Different types of coffee beans may have different optimal processing and brewing methods, depending on their flavor profile and characteristics. For example, natural processed beans may benefit from pour-over or cold brew methods, as they can highlight their fruity and sweet notes.

Washed processed beans may benefit from drip or espresso methods, as they can enhance their clean and consistent flavor. Honey processed beans may benefit from French press or espresso methods, as they can balance their sweetness and acidity.

The Quest for Rare and Unique Coffee Experiences

Coffee is a beverage that can offer a variety of sensory experiences, depending on the type of bean, the processing method, the roasting level, the brewing method, and the serving style. By exploring the world beyond Arabica and Robusta, you can discover new flavors, aromas, and textures that can enrich your coffee journey.

However, finding and enjoying lesser-known coffee varieties may not be easy, as they are often scarce, expensive, or inaccessible. Some of them are only grown in small quantities or in remote areas. Some of them are only available in certain seasons or markets. Some of them are only roasted or brewed by specialty coffee shops or roasters.

Therefore, if you want to experience the world of lesser-known coffee varieties, you may need to do some research, planning, and budgeting. You may need to look for online sources, local suppliers, or specialty stores that offer these rare and unique beans. You may need to invest in quality equipment, tools, or accessories that can help you process and brew these beans properly. You may need to experiment with different roasting levels, brewing methods, and serving styles that can suit your personal preferences.

But the effort will be worth it, as you will be rewarded with a rare and unique coffee experience that can expand your horizons and satisfy your curiosity. You will be able to taste the diversity and complexity of coffee flavors that are hidden in the lesser-known varieties. You will be able to appreciate the history and culture of coffee regions that are often overlooked by mainstream consumers. You will be able to enjoy the adventure and excitement of discovering new coffee sensations that can surprise and delight you.

Conclusion

In this article, we have introduced you to some of the lesser-known coffee varieties that can offer you a different perspective on coffee. We have explored their origins, flavors, characteristics, and regions. We have also given you some tips on how to process and brew them for optimal results.

We hope that this article has inspired you to venture beyond Arabica and Robusta, and explore the world of lesser-known coffee varieties. We hope that you will find new favorites among these rare and unique beans, and enjoy their exquisite flavors and aromas.

We would love to hear your feedback and suggestions on this article. Have you tried any of these lesser-known coffee varieties? What did you think of them? Do you have any other recommendations for rare and unique coffee beans? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. Thank you for reading!

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