Coffee is a fine science.
It’s cultivated in some of the most beautiful places in the world, and comes from over one-thousand years of rich history.
It’s the second-most traded commodity in the world, only barely behind oil—fitting, since they’re both fuel in a sense.
You love coffee. That’s why you’re here. It’s time to get educated on some of the most interesting facts and processes of coffee, how it’s roasted, and what the very best coffee beans are.
Culturally, coffee is a different experience around the world.
The way that we drink coffee in America is far different from how they drink coffee in Turkey, Italy, Vietnam, and numerous other countries. Let’s get into it.
Different Types of Coffee Beans
They’re grown the same way, but soil acidity, climate, and location can drastically change the way that coffee develops as a bean.
There are two main types of coffee beans that you’ll find, and several lesser-known, high-quality beans that we’ll get into.
The most common type of coffee there is. Arabica coffee primarily grows in Brazil nowadays, though like all other coffee, it originated in Ethiopia.
Brazil exports 5.71 billion pounds of arabica every single year, attributing to those half-a-trillion cups of coffee the world consumes every 365 days.
Arabica is known for its diversity: you can go light roast, medium, dark, and plenty of in-between roasts.
It has an amazing flavor profile depending on how you roast or treat it, and it’s cheap to purchase.
Arabica bean plants also produce a fruit, which is simply known as coffee fruit or cherries, and the beans are located inside of it (usually two per cherry).
It grows in hilly and shaded areas in humid environments.
60% of all coffee sold in the world is arabica. Major QSR locations use arabica. You can’t get away from it, and why would you want to?
It’s a versatile coffee that most people can get behind, but let’s not forget about the second-best selling coffee in the world: robusta.
Robusta is, well, robust. It accounts for about 37% of all coffee in the world, and is primarily grown out of Vietnam, the world’s second-largest coffee producing nation.
They export some 3.63 billion pounds of coffee annually, which goes to numerous countries in Europe, with very little of it coming to the United States.
Robusta plants are in the same family as arabica plants, though they can take less time to reach fruition for harvesting.
You’ll also find a lot of exporting countries such as Liberia and Tanzania, and Ethiopia is still a major player in exporting robusta coffee.
There’s something weird about robusta.
It’s generally viewed as a lesser quality coffee than arabica, and when you live closer to where it’s sourced, it’s fairly cheap, but importing it can be pricey.
There’s a more acidic taste in robusta coffee, and less antioxidants than arabica. Altogether, it has its place in your coffee cup from time to time, but doesn’t compare to arabica.
Lesser-Known Coffee Beans
There’s still a lot of love for these lesser-known beans, as they make up roughly 3% of the remaining coffee trade in the world.
Some of these are high-quality, and some are culture-specific, meaning they might not hit your taste buds the right way since it’s unlikely that you’ve tried them in the past.
Kona beans come directly from Hawaii, though it wasn’t always this way. Coffee plants were originally brought over from Brazil to the island of Oahu back in the 19th century.
Since then, there have been Guatemalan plants that have replaced them, but Kona coffee is still exclusively found from Hawaii.
It makes up a very small margin of the coffee trade, but it’s implausibly delicious and roasts perfectly.
Kona coffee is considered gourmet, a cut above the rest if you will. Unlike many farms found in Brazil in Ethiopia, there’s almost no corporate interference with Kona coffee production.
Most Kona coffee is grown by small farms and family-operated businesses, some of which even roast, package, and distribute their own coffee.
Kona makes up roughly 17 million pounds of coffee throughout the world every year.
Compare that to the billions between arabica and robusta, and you have a very small margin, but a profitable and delicious one.
It’s going to cost you a bit more to get this in your cup, but it’s entirely worth it. There’s this odd balance between acidic and dark that just can’t be explained, it can only be experienced.
Be wary of coffee brands that don’t state “100% Kona coffee beans,” since some could be buying small amounts and blending them into normal beans to inflate their own prices.
Sounds crazy, but yes, there is fraud in the coffee world as well as everything else.
Peaberries are actually grown in arabica and robusta plants, because they’re little oddballs.
Where normally you have two beans grow inside of one cherry, peaberry beans are when only one will grow in a cherry, and appears rounder or bumpier than standard beans, which appear flat on one side.
Peaberries are sold at a premium price, though the taste difference is up in the air.
You can expect to see these sold at 3x to 4x higher than a same-sized bag of arabica beans, though they tend to have a similar flavor to light roast arabica beans.
There’s a little more of a citrus undertone and body in these beans, and coffee connoisseurs swear they can tell the difference, though they are subtle.
If you’re looking to treat yourself from time to time, buy a half-pound bag of peaberry coffee.
In the heart of Indonesia’s Malay archipelago, there’s one island that sticks out above all the rest (literally).
The high peaks of Sulawesi are absolutely perfect for growing coffee, and a special breed comes from this area.
Instead of the normal green coffee beans that arabica plants produce, Sulawesi methods involve an entirely different approach.
The beans are still green, but they’re chaff-free, and have their own natural dark color to it.
You could describe unroasted arabica beans at mint green, but unroasted Toraja beans are more along the lines of a dark celery color.
Small farms cultivate Toraja coffee, and as you might imagine, it’s pretty pricey since it’s so exclusive.
Something about the rich soil and the high altitudes make the perfect coffee, and if you’re looking to treat yourself to something truly extravagant, give it a shot.
We’re sticking in Indonesia for this one as well. Dark Sumatra coffee beans have some of the lowest acidity of any full-bodied coffee out there, even without putting them through a dark roast.
Just like Sulawesi Toraja beans being from the island of Sulawesi, dark Sumatra beans come from the island of Sumatra and its high altitude peaks.
It’s a fairly dry coffee. Take that as you will, but you can see similarities to whiskey in that regard.
Sumatra beans are some of the most aromatic you’ll ever brew, flooding your senses with a similar sensation of dark roast.
These can be pricey and difficult to obtain, but you owe it to yourself to at least give them a shot.
What are the Best Coffee Beans?
It’s subjective to your taste, but based on the worldwide love for arabica beans, they would be ranked as the best.
That being said, many of our personal preferences regard arabica, kona, and toraja coffee.
It’s good to have a little variety, and it’s a trip if you mix in two different types of beans in one grind, and make an all-new brew that nobody has ever tried before.
In terms of price, arabica beans are also the most produced and demanded, therefore the least expensive.
Kona and robusta beans can cost a pretty penny depending on import quantities and local distributors, though online purchases usually save you money.
How Long do Coffee Beans Take to Grow?
Coffee beans, or rather the cherry fruit that they are grown inside of, can take up to four years for the first harvest to grow.
That’s after planting, of course, but in some commercial coffee farms (those that are owned by individual families but under contract with coffee export brands), they can get coffee to grow in less time.
Wild coffee plants can grow pretty tall, in some cases as much as 18 feet. However, those take a lot longer to mature and actually begin producing fruit.
Most commercial plants end up being somewhere around 9 feet to 12 feet at most.
In the right conditions, coffee can be harvested once per year. This gives time for the plants to reach proper maturity, even if they are smaller, and produce high-quality coffee beans.
Since we obviously drink immense amount of coffee around the world on a daily basis, it’s important to understand that while Brazil and Vietnam are the largest exporters of coffee in the world, they aren’t the only places.
We also receive coffee harvests from nations like Peru, Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ecuador, Bolivia, and others.
Each area has its own perfect harvest season, when the coffee fruit reaches that perfect level of ripeness.
For countries in South America, coffee begins to arrive in December or January. Climate conditions have affected these expected harvest months.
In African countries, June, October, and December are preferred harvesting months, whereas in India, they can harvest from October through February most of the time.
It is possible to purchase coffee bushes (basically stunted plants) and grow coffee in your own home, but it’s very difficult to do in America.
There’s not much of a reason to do so, unless you have a few plants so you can roast your own coffee.
They need the perfect conditions to grow, so if you decide to grow your own indoor coffee plant, you’ll need a hot and humid environment.
Can You Refrigerate or Freeze Coffee Beans?
Yes you can.
Coffee beans and grinds can be refrigerated to retain freshness, so long as they are in an airtight container. Open foods in a fridge can swap flavors.
Remember how you’re supposed to have baking soda open in the fridge? That’s because the fridge still produces odors, even though the food isn’t going bad.
Freezing coffee beans is another story. You can absolutely do it to preserve them, but all you’re doing is stopping the oxidation process.
There is a slight flavor decrease when you freeze coffee beans, but they are preserved and protected from degradation. There’s just one thing that you should know.
Since moisture is what causes mold, bacterial growth, and mildew to form, you don’t want to thaw out your entire container of beans and keep refreezing them.
Condensation will form as they thaw on the counter, and that’s where the problem comes in.
Coffee is dry because it’s roasted, so there’s virtually no moisture inside of them, and no chance that they’re going to rot if left on your countertop.
Freezing your coffee beans is totally up to you. If you find a sale on your favorite beans, there’s no harm in buying in bulk and freezing them. It’s a preference thing.
The point is to reduce oxidation by having them in an airtight container, and it does work, but there’s just not enough of a threat to coffee while it’s in a canister on the counter to really warranty it.
If you keep the original packaging that your beans came in, it should have an air valve on the front that pulls air out of the container. It’s your call, but that’s a good countertop storage option as well.
Can Coffee Beans Go Bad?
Yes, they can go bad… sort of. They become invalid, let’s say.
We all have different tastes for coffee and can detect different flavor profiles, and the older the coffee beans are, the less flavor there’s going to be. Period.
Coffee beans are roasted, so virtually all moisture is extracted from them. They don’t go bad in the same fashion that bread on the counter or food in the fridge will, they’ll simply stop tasting good.
So you can refrigerate or freeze coffee beans to prolong their life span, like we mentioned before, but what you’re doing is preserving flavor solely by reducing oxidation.
Since coffee beans don’t mold or grow mildew, they aren’t harmful to consume past the expiration date.
That being said, it’s still not wise to do so, because at a certain point everything does go bad.
Look at the expiration date on the beans. If you roast them yourself, or you don’t have the original packaging to determine the expiration date, then you can use your nose to detect the differences.
Coffee gains its aroma during the roasting process, so if the smell isn’t wonderful and hitting you right in the nose (if you have to get super close to the beans to smell them), they’re starting to go stale.
If you were to use stale beans, they’re still going to make drinkable, safe coffee. It’s just not going to taste very good, or much like coffee at all for that matter. This is also dependent on two things.
Why You Drink Coffee
Is it just to supercharge your day and reap the benefits of caffeine?
If your only goal is to get some caffeine in your system, then you can use stale beans to make coffee. It’s going to have a little less potency, but it will still get the job done.
You won’t want to use stale beans if you’re someone who constantly searches out the very best brew that they can possibly drink.
Liking the taste of coffee is one thing, but if you live for the perfect cup, that’s another.
If You’re in Love With Coffee
Yeah, we mean in love with it like you know the names of all the baristas at the place you go to, and they all know your order by heart.
If you’re in love with coffee, your palate is refined enough to know the difference between peak-of-perfection beans, and old, sour-tasting beans.
If you turn your nose up at gas station coffee, you’re probably in love with coffee.
You’re on Your Way to Being a Coffee Aficionado
Coffee is more than just your morning buzz; it’s like enlightenment in a cup.
Be sure to browse our library of content on coffee to increase your knowledge, and stay thirsty.