The Varieties of Coffee Plants | All You Need to Know About Coffee Types

Coffee owes its rich diversity in flavours and aromas to the various coffee plants from which it originates. Understanding the different types of coffee plants can enhance your appreciation of this versatile drink and guide you in selecting your preferred coffee variety.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • The Origins of Coffee Plants: The Coffee Belt

  • Coffee Plants and its characteristics

    • Arabica Coffee

    • Robusta Coffee

    • Liberica (Coffea liberica)

    • Excelsa (Coffea excelsa)

  • Specialty Coffee Varieties

    • Geisha (Gesha)

    • Bourbon

    • Typica

  • How Coffee Varieties Impact Flavor

The Origins of Coffee Plants: The Coffee Belt

Coffee plants thrive in a specific geographical zone known as the Coffee Belt, which includes regions between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. This area provides the ideal climate for coffee cultivation: warm temperatures, adequate rainfall, and rich soil. The major coffee-producing regions within the Coffee Belt include Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

The two primary species of coffee plants cultivated for commercial coffee production are Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea canephora).

Coffee Plants and its characteristics

Arabica Coffee

Arabica coffee is renowned for its smooth, complex flavour profile, often characterized by balanced acidity and a wide range of taste notes, including fruity, floral, and nutty undertones. It is grown primarily in Latin America, East Africa, Asia, and Arabia. Arabica beans tend to be more expensive due to the plant’s susceptibility to pests and diseases, which requires careful cultivation and favourable growing conditions.

Key Characteristics:

  • Flavour: Sweet, fruity, and aromatic

  • Caffeine Content: Lower (around 1.5%)

  • Growing Conditions: Higher altitudes, cooler climates

  • Popular Regions: Ethiopia, Colombia, Brazil

Robusta Coffee

Robusta coffee, on the other hand, is known for its strong, bold flavour with characteristic bitterness. It is more resilient to pests and diseases, making it easier to grow in diverse conditions, particularly in lower altitudes and warmer climates. Robusta beans are often used in espresso blends for their rich crema and higher caffeine content.

Key Characteristics:

  • Flavour: Strong, bitter, and earthy

  • Caffeine Content: Higher (around 2.7%)

  • Growing Conditions: Lower altitudes, warmer climates

  • Popular Regions: Vietnam, Brazil, Indonesia

Liberica (Coffea liberica)

Liberica coffee is unique, with larger beans and a distinctive, smoky flavour profile. It is grown mainly in the Philippines, Malaysia, and West Africa. Though not as widespread as Arabica or Robusta, Liberica coffee has a loyal following due to its bold, exotic taste.

Key Characteristics:

  • Flavour: Smoky, fruity, and floral

  • Caffeine Content: Lower (around 1.23%)

  • Growing Conditions: Lower altitudes, warmer climates

  • Popular Regions: Philippines, Malaysia, West Africa

Excelsa (Coffea excelsa)

Often considered a variety of Liberica, Excelsa coffee has a tart, fruity flavour and is used to add complexity to coffee blends. It is grown in Southeast Asia, particularly in Vietnam and the Philippines.

Key Characteristics:

  • Flavour: Tart, fruity, and complex

  • Caffeine Content: Lower (around 0.86% to 1.13%)

  • Growing Conditions: moderate altitudes, warm temperatures

  • Popular Regions: Southeast Asia

Coffee Plants and its characteristics

Within the main categories of Arabica and Robusta, there are numerous sub-varieties and cultivars that offer unique flavours and characteristics. These specialty coffee varieties are often named after the region or country where they are grown.

Geisha (Gesha)

Geisha coffee, originally from Ethiopia, has gained international acclaim for its exceptional quality and distinctive flavour profile, featuring jasmine-like aromas and fruity notes. It is primarily grown in Panama and has won numerous awards in coffee competitions.

Key Characteristics:

  • Flavor: Floral, jasmine, and fruity

  • Growing Regions: Panama, Ethiopia


Bourbon is a variety of Arabica coffee known for its sweet, complex flavour with chocolate and fruit undertones. It is widely grown in Latin America and Africa and is prized for its balanced acidity and full body.

Key Characteristics:

  • Flavor: Sweet, chocolate, and fruity

  • Growing Regions: Latin America, Africa


Typica is one of the oldest and most traditional Arabica coffee varieties. It has a well-balanced flavour with a sweet, mild taste. Typica is the genetic base for many other Arabica varieties and is grown in various regions worldwide.

Key Characteristics:

  • Flavor: Sweet, mild, and balanced

  • Growing Regions: Latin America, Asia, Africa

How Coffee Varieties Impact Flavor

The variety of coffee plants greatly influences the flavour, aroma, and overall experience of the coffee. Several factors contribute to these differences:


The concept of terroir, often associated with wine, also applies to coffee. Terroir encompasses the environmental factors where the coffee is grown, including soil composition, altitude, climate, and weather patterns. Each growing region imparts unique characteristics to the coffee beans.

Want to learn more?

We prepared a full article about what is terroir and how does it affect your coffee.

Processing Methods

The way coffee cherries are processed after harvesting also affects the final flavour. Common processing methods include:

  • Washed (Wet) Process: Beans are fermented and washed, resulting in a clean, bright flavour.

  • Natural (Dry) Process: Beans are dried with the cherry intact, producing fruity, wine-like flavours.

  • Honey Process: A hybrid method where some fruit mucilage is left on the beans, creating a balance between the washed and natural process flavours.

Roasting Profiles

The roasting process transforms green coffee beans into the aromatic, flavorful beans we brew. Roasting profiles can enhance or mute certain flavour characteristics, allowing roasters to highlight the unique qualities of different coffee varieties.
Roasting Levels:

  • Light Roast: Preserves the original flavour of the beans, often fruity and acidic.

  • Medium Roast: Balances acidity and body, with more developed flavours.

  • Dark Roast: Emphasizes bold, robust flavours, often with a smoky or chocolatey taste.


Understanding the varieties of coffee plants is key to appreciating the diverse world of coffee. From the smooth, complex flavours of Arabica to the bold, robust taste of Robusta, each coffee plant offers a unique experience. Exploring lesser-known varieties like Liberica and Excelsa, as well as specialty coffee cultivars like Geisha and Bourbon, can deepen your coffee knowledge and enhance your enjoyment. Whether you prefer a light, fruity brew or a dark, intense espresso, there's a coffee variety to suit every palate. So, next time you sip your favourite cup, take a moment to savour the intricate journey from the coffee plant to your mug.

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