Types of Coffee Explained
For bona fide coffee lovers, their day just wouldn’t be complete without partaking in their favourite cuppa joe. And it sure seems like a lot of people in the world love coffee as it is the second most popular beverage the world over – second only to water!
But did you know that there are more types of coffee than what your favourite coffee joint might be serving? While you probably have a smattering of knowledge when it comes to coffee, especially regarding your favourite cold or hot brew, there are more coffee types out there for you to discover.
So, to add to your coffee knowledge library and to hopefully encourage you to expand your coffee palate, here’s a comprehensive guide to the different coffee types.
Factors That Affect Coffee Flavour
Before moving on to the coffee guide proper, we’ll breeze through some crucial factors that impact the way coffee tastes.
The difference in the brewing methods is one of the main reasons why we have different types of coffee flavours.
When it comes to the brewing process, certain variables – that is, the brew ratio (water to coffee), grind size (and uniformity), extraction time and water temperature all affect the final taste of the coffee. Since coffee is brewed in a variety of methods, each technique produces a coffee with its own distinct flavour and aroma.
Aside from the brewing process, various other factors affect coffee flavour, namely:
- The type of coffee bean
- Terroir (natural growing setting or environment)
- Farming practices
- Processing method
- Type of roast
- Whether it is a single origin or a blend
We’ll go over these details minutely in another post. In the meantime, this background information should be enough to whet your appetite to know about your favourite brew.
Types of Coffee Beans: Arabica vs Robusta
The differences in coffee beans are a factor that have a significant impact on the taste of coffee.
There are many types of coffee beans, including Robusta, Excelsa, Liberica and Arabica. But out of the more-than-a-hundred varieties of coffee, most of the coffee served worldwide is derived from two coffee bean species: Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea canephora or robusta).
Arabica accounts for 60% of the world’s coffee production whilst Robusta makes up about 25% and Liberica comprises less than 2% (as the rarest of the three and produced only in the Philippines).
The rest of the world’s coffee supplies, including Excelsa (grown only in Southeast Asia) consists of other lesser-known coffee bean varieties.
Arabica vs Robusta Beans
There are distinct differences between Arabica and Robusta coffee plants.
Aside from their terroir, they also have distinct characteristics such as their method of reproduction, height and the physical attributes of their coffee beans.
Characteristics of Arabica Coffee Beans
Arabica beans were originally farmed in Ethiopia, but they are now widely grown throughout South America and Africa. The countries Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Honduras and Peru are the top global producers of Arabica coffee beans. These beans need to be grown at high elevations and flourish in places with plenty of rain and shade.
Arabica coffee plants are easy to grow as long as they are kept at a high altitude to avoid illness.
They have two sets of chromosomes, which means they can pollinate themselves. This is very useful since it ensures that the qualities of Arabica beans remain consistent because cross-pollination is infrequent or highly unlikely. The plants can reach a height of 5 metres (15 feet), but are normally kept at around 2 metres (6 feet) for more effective and efficient bean harvesting.
Arabica beans are oval in shape with a prominent centre crease. They are noticeably longer than Robusta beans.
Characteristics of Robusta Coffee Beans
Robusta beans are the second most prevalent type of coffee bean. This coffee bean type originated in Sub-Saharan Africa, although it is currently grown throughout Africa, Brazil, India and Vietnam.
Robusta plants are substantially more disease-resistant than Arabica plants and can be cultivated at lower altitudes. The plants can grow to be twice as large as Arabica plants. However, unlike self-pollinating Arabica, the Robusta plant can only reproduce with the help of wind and insect pollination.
Robusta beans are typically lighter in colour and have a less prominent centre crease. They are more round and, in most cases, smaller than Arabica beans.
Arabica vs Robusta Coffees
When it comes to coffee bean types comparisons, the usual question is: When comparing Robusta and Arabica, which is the better coffee?
While this is a question you could easily answer depending on your favourite coffee flavours, the Robusta vs Arabica taste comparison is not so simple. The reason of course is that individual preferences can and do matter in determining which coffee type is deemed pleasurable to the palate.
Some would say that for the best tasting coffee, you should buy 100% Arabica beans. The reason for this is that Arabica beans are known for having a much more interesting flavour. This is probably why Arabica coffee beans are more expensive than Robusta beans. Meanwhile, Robusta coffee beans have more caffeine although they are not as flavourful as Arabica.
To give you a summary of the flavour or taste attributes of these two popular coffee bean types, here’s a quick guide:
- Arabica: The beans of the Arabica coffee plant possess a delicate, smooth, fruity and sweet, slightly acidic flavour. The coffee these beans produce is light to medium bodied. Arabica is best enjoyed when freshly ground and brewed.
- Robusta: The taste of Robusta coffee beans is described as bitter, earthy, grainy, acidic with some nutty and chocolatey notes. The coffee derived from Robusta is full bodied and contains 25% more caffeine content than Arabica coffee. Robusta is the ideal base for making iced coffee as it is able to retain its characteristic flavour even when inundated with milk and sugar.
Like any kind of coffee, both Robusta and Arabica coffee have their own fan base, although most coffee aficionados appreciate the unique flavour offerings of Arabica.
Blend vs Single Origin Coffee: What’s the Difference?
Just as there are different types of coffee beans and roasts, there are a range of labels you can encounter in the coffee aisle.
Each label, from single origin coffee to coffee blends, communicates to the buyer a distinct coffee experience. But, exactly, what do the terms ‘mix’ or ‘blend’ and ‘single origin’ mean?
Some argue that calling coffee ‘single origin’ is merely a marketing ploy to justify the higher price this type of coffee commands. However, this manner of labelling describes the origin of coffee.
Coffee blends are made up of the same type of beans sourced from several locations, whereas single-origin coffee originates only from one place or area.
We’ll expand on these labels below.
Which Is Better: Single-Origin Coffee or Blends?
The answer to this question is not as straightforward as one might think. We also need to answer the questions ‘what is single origin coffee’ and ‘what is coffee blending’ first.
What Is Single-Origin Coffee?
The term ‘single origin’ refers to coffee beans that are grown and processed in the same location or crop (and often the same farm). Single origin coffee is usually labelled with the name of the country where it was grown, such as Kona Coffee or Indonesia Sumatra Coffee.
Single-origin coffee drinkers love the distinct flavour notes and purity of the coffee flavour. Because different regions have distinct weather patterns and growth conditions, the resulting coffee has a wide range of flavours.
Colombian coffee, for example, is known for being chocolatey, caramel-flavoured, and fruity, whilst Mexican coffee has both chocolatey and nutty notes.
But why do blends exist if single-origin coffee maintains the flavour of the originating region?
We’ll answer this question below.
What Is Coffee Blending?
While single-origin coffees have their unique characteristic flavours, their quality tends to be unpredictable over time since climatic variations cause flavour changes. To manage this challenge, roasters make blends, which are more flavour-consistent and less vulnerable to seasonal fluctuations.
Blends also go well with milk and sugar, so they are frequently the default espresso coffee served at cafés. Blends also offer a more uniform flavour profile, making them more appealing to a wider range of consumers.
Blends also help in distinguishing coffee establishments from one another because they are usually created specifically for certain shops and sold only there.
Types of Coffee Drinks
Now, finally, we’ll talk about the different types of coffee drinks.
Here's a list of some of the most popular coffee drinks on the market today that we think you should try (that is, if you haven’t done so), should you encounter them in a coffee menu in Australia.
Black Coffee (Espresso Menu Explained)
The simplest, most basic type of coffee drink is the humble espresso that certainly knows how to throw a serious punch (ask any espresso lover).
However, there are also different types of espresso you might find on the menu.
Short Black (Espresso)
So, what is short black coffee?
It is an espresso shot with no water added other than the water needed to brew it. It doesn’t contain milk as well.
A ristretto contains half the amount of water generally used in espresso and is usually made with a finer grind of coffee though this isn’t a requirement. What results is a distinctively stronger coffee, with a much deeper flavour and a consistency that’s a little thicker than the regular espresso.
Long black coffee is prepared by layering two espresso shots (or Ristretto) over hot water. It is a very common espresso drink in both Australia and New Zealand.
It is usually served hot but can also be enjoyed cold. Just like the short black, long black coffee is meant to be enjoyed without milk.
Americano (Basically the same as a Long Black)
Americano coffee is said to have originated during the Second World War when American soldiers in Europe allegedly found espresso to be way too strong for them, so they added hot water to the brew.
This was greatly to the chagrin of the local Italians at the time, so they gave it the moniker ‘Americano’ as a snide reference. Regardless, the name has stuck and the Americano is one of the more popular black coffees today.
The amount of water added in an Americano is entirely up to the drinker, or in most situations, the barista.
Unlike the other black coffees on this list, batch brew has more to do with the device used rather than the coffee-to-water ratio.
Batch brew coffee is a relatively new method of brewing filter coffee. It has become increasingly common in cafes as a replacement for the traditional diner-style filter coffee pot.
Batch brew is made in the same way as the usual filter coffee. However, instead of utilising regular brewing gear like those found at home, it is made by machines brewing with minimal human error, and often providing excellent filter coffee at a reasonable cost per cup.
Now, let’s answer the question ‘what is a macchiato coffee’.
Macchiatos are created in a similar manner to other coffee drinks like cappuccinos, lattes and mochas, and they all contain espresso and milk.
A single shot of espresso with milk is used to make both lattes and macchiatos. The amount of milk used and how it is added is what distinguishes the two types of coffee drinks.
Because more milk is used in lattes, the espresso is slightly diluted and is totally integrated with the espresso. Macchiatos, on the other hand, comprise a shot of espresso with a thin coating of frothy milk on top. They are frothier yet emphasise the espresso more than the milky flavour.
Macchiatos are ideally made using a technique called ‘velvet microfoam’ which entails adding tiny air bubbles to the milk.
There are two types of macchiatos; the short and long macchiato.
Short Macchiato (Traditional Macchiato)
A single shot of espresso with a spoonful of hot steamed milk and a dollop of micro foam make a short macchiato. It is usually served in a 90ml glass.
A long macchiato is made with a double espresso with a dollop of froth and a teaspoon of hot or cold milk, and served in a 220ml glass.
Long Macchiato (Topped Up)
Unique to Perth, a long macchiato topped up is made with a double shot of espresso, with the glass “topped up’ with milk. The finished drink is exactly the same as a Double Shot Latte, although some people prefer their Long Macchiato ‘Half topped up’ or ‘Three quarters topped up’, to get their desired strength.
Milk Coffee Types
For those who enjoy coffee more with a stronger milky taste, there are several types of milk coffees to choose from.
Cafe latte is a milk-based coffee that can be served in a variety of ways depending on the café serving it. The norm is that it is served with espresso, steaming milk, and a layer of milk froth roughly 1cm thick on top.
A talented barista who can stretch the milk to create micro foam will typically top your cup with some creative latte art which fans enjoy as much as the brew.
This latte is a piccolo or tiny milk drink offered in an 85 to 114ml (or 3 to 4oz) glass. It comprises a single espresso shot blended with heated, stretched (steamed) milk and topped with a modest quantity of froth.
A flat white often resembles a latte. It is an espresso-based drink with slightly less textured milk. Thus, it only has half a centimetre of foam.
A cappuccino is distinguished by the amount of froth served on top of it. When the milk is stretched, the barista introduces more air into the milk, which results in more froth. Traditionally, a cappuccino is served in these proportions: 1/3 of an espresso, 1/3 cup of steamed milk and 1/3 froth. However, these days a cappuccino usually has a single shot of espresso, topped up with milk, and about 1.5-2cm of foam on top. In Australia, a cappuccino quote often is topped with chocolate powder.
Mocha or Mochaccino
The mocha is a sweet, indulgent delight made with a combination of rich chocolate flavour and robust coffee. The greatest mochas include dark drinking chocolate with freshly brewed espresso, gently stirred and served with steamed milk prepared latte style. It may also be served with whipped cream on top.
In a classic Italian affogato coffee, a scoop of vanilla or cheese-flavoured gelato is topped with a shot of hot espresso. It’s usually served as a dessert, although some restaurants serve it as a beverage.
A cortado is a Spanish drink derived from the word ‘cortar’ (to cut). Cortado coffee gets its name from the fact that the milk is used to ‘cut’ the espresso to make the beverage milder.
It originated in the Basque Country, and is normally served with less milk than espresso – usually comprising a single shot of espresso with a 1:05 espresso-to-milk ratio, as well as a small quantity of milk froth on top.
Magic coffee is made by pouring a double ristretto shot into a 160ml cup or tumbler and then topping it up with steaming milk. It has a very thin layer of microfoam on top, giving it the appearance of a flat white but with a stronger punch.
Magic coffee is a Melbourne original and is a must-try for everyone visiting the city. Finding it outside of Melbourne will be difficult. If you attempt to order magic coffee outside of Victoria, you’ll most certainly be met with a perplexed look from the barista.
Rediscover the Wonderful World of Coffee
So far, we’ve covered a vast array of information about coffee, especially the different coffee types and styles of preparation.
However, your coffee journey does not end here because there’s so much more to know and discover about the world of coffee, including how to make the perfect brew at home.
But for now, you can start exploring more about coffee by getting your hands on these types of coffees at your favourite café and beyond.
Ready to sample other types of coffee and enjoy them at home?