Types of Coffee: Everything From Beans to Drinks

Our types of coffee guide has everything you need to become an expert, including a breakdown of Arabica vs. Robusta, lattes vs. cappuccinos & cold brew vs. iced.

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Ever wondered what it would be like to be a true coffee connoisseur? Same here! We came up with this coffee bible so that you can tell your espresso from your Americano and your latte from your cafe au lait—and occasionally impress your guests with a homemade affogato. There’s a whole lot to say about types of coffee, from beans and brewing methods to coffee drinks and caffeine levels, so let’s get right to it!

Types of Coffee Beans

Types of coffee beans infographic

We’ll begin with some trivia. There are four main types of coffee beans, which in turn have many cultivars. However, most coffee drinkers are aware of only two—Arabica and Robusta. And that’s fair enough. Arabica makes up 60–70% of the world’s coffee supply, and Robusta’s share amounts to approximately 30%. The third most common coffee bean type is Liberica, followed by Excelsa (which is technically a kind of Liberica, but there’s much debate). Let’s look at the major bean differences.

Arabica is the world’s most common coffee bean. High-quality Arabica comes from Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico and India. Arabica tends to have a subtle, sweet flavor with hints of chocolate, caramel, nuts or berries. It’s also more expensive than Robusta, but the two are often mixed together in coffee blends. Is Arabica better than Robusta? Real-deal coffee snobs tend to say “yes,” but it ultimately depends on your preference. 

Robusta, on the other hand, is grown in Indonesia, Vietnam, India and Brazil. It is known to have a slightly bitter earthy taste. It also has considerably more caffeine than Arabica, and because of that, it’s more resilient (apparently pests don’t like caffeine!). Robusta is easier to grow: it can grow at lower altitudes and is less vulnerable to weather changes than Arabica. The Robusta coffee plant also produces more coffee per hectare than Arabica (more crop per tree), which makes it cheaper. 

Liberica is native to Central and Western Africa—specifically, Liberia (hence the name!)—and only makes up approximately 2% of the world’s coffee supply. It is almost extinct due to the coffee rust disease, which makes it expensive. Liberica is currently grown in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Liberica beans have a pleasant floral aroma and a subtle woody or smoky flavor.

Excelsa is sometimes considered the fourth coffee type, though some experts classify it as a variant of Liberica. Even its Latin name points to the relation: Coffea liberica var. Dewevrei. It’s grown in Southeast Asia—primarily Vietnam—and is commonly used as a blending coffee. Excelsa beans amount for roughly 6% of the world’s coffee. Excelsa tends to be lighter on the caffeine content and has a mild fruity flavor; some even compare its taste to that of red wine.

Whole Beans Vs. Ground Coffee Vs. Instant Coffee

A manual coffee grinder

If you have a coffee grinder and enjoy grinding beans as part of your morning (or evening) routine—that’s great. If not, don’t let coffee connoisseurs bully you into buying coffee beans instead of pre-ground coffee. Both options have their advantages. 

Coffee beans keep their peak flavor for 1–2 weeks after roasting. After that, the coffee oils start evaporating and the flavor becomes less vibrant. With whole beans, you can grind them for any brewing method—be it pour-over, French press or AeroPress. So if you like switching up your brewing methods, go for the beans! Bear in mind, though, that learning how to grind coffee for various brewing methods will take some time.

Ground coffee is believed to stay fresh for a shorter period of time. When whole beans are ground, they lose 60% of their original aroma within 20–30 minutes of grinding due to exposure to air. However, pre-ground coffee is super convenient and ideal for drip coffee machines. 

When choosing between whole coffee beans and pre-ground coffee, consider the cost, the brewing method you’ll use, whether or not you’re willing to spend extra time grinding and how fast you normally go through your coffee. 

Another option is instant coffee. Instant coffee is made from dried coffee extract. The extract is made by brewing ground coffee beans. Instant coffee tends to be cheaper because it’s normally made with Robusta beans and has a considerably longer shelf life. 

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Caffeinated Vs. Decaf 

That caffeine kick might be the most important thing you look for in a morning cup of coffee. The amount of caffeine depends on the beans used and the brewing method. 

For various reasons, some people prefer decaf coffee. By U.S. standards, to be considered decaf, 97% of the blend’s caffeine needs to be removed. In the EU, it’s 99%. There are several methods of decaffeination, all of them performed before roasting when the beans are still green. 

The first method, called the indirect solvent method, has three ingredients: beans, boiling water and solvent (usually dichloromethane or ethyl acetate). Two processes are done alternately. Firstly, the beans are soaked in the water, transferring caffeine, and then separated. Secondly, the water (without the beans) is mixed with the solvent, again transferring caffeine, and then the solvent is evaporated with the caffeine. The clever bit here is that, though flavor can move between the beans and the water, it’s left behind when then the solvent evaporates. Since the same water is used for each new batch of beans, it becomes saturated with flavor, so the later batches don’t lose any flavor.   

Another method, known as the Swiss Water method, involves soaking green beans in hot water and then filtering the coffee-infused water through activated charcoal, which removes the caffeine. As in the solvent method, the water is then reused to remove the caffeine from a new batch of coffee beans.

Types of Coffee Roasts

Green coffee beans

In its original green state, coffee has a mild, grassy taste and a soft bean-like texture. Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it? That’s when the roasting process comes in. Roasting brings out the nascent aroma and flavor from the green beans. There are many coffee roasting methods out there and even more names for them. Let’s go through the most common ones that you’ve probably seen on coffee bags in your favorite store (or on the virtual shelves of Gopuff!)

Light roasts provide the most acidic and the most delicate flavor. They also have the highest amount of caffeine. Some say light roast tastes a bit like toasted grain. The beans are light brown in color and appear dry because they’re not heated to the point where oil is extracted. Some of the names of light roasts include Cinnamon, Half City, Light City and New England roast. 

Medium roasts have less acidity, a bolder flavor and a little less caffeine. The beans are brown in color and have a dry surface. Because of their well-balanced and slightly sweet taste, medium roasts are the most popular roasts worldwide. Medium roasts are also known as American, City, Regular, Breakfast or Vienna (though some argue that Vienna roast is a dark roast). 

Dark roasts are dark brown in color and oily. The darker the roast, the oilier the beans will be. Dark roasts have a relatively low amount of caffeine, low acidity and a slightly spicy flavor. Dark roasts include French, Italian, Espresso and New Orleans roasts. 

Types of Coffee Drinks: Hot

Have you ever walked into a coffee shop only to find their menu a bit overwhelming? Have you ever walked into a cafe in a foreign country only to discover that they have exciting coffee drinks you’d never heard about? We’ve got your back! Below you will find all the descriptions you need to level up your coffee drink lingo. 

Black Coffee

Black coffee, also known as drip coffee, filter coffee or regular coffee, is a hot coffee drink made in an automatic coffee machine or coffee maker.

Americano 

An Americano is an espresso shot with hot water. A traditional Americano is as strong as brewed coffee, but has a different flavor because it’s made with espresso roast. Some people add extra shots of espresso to make their Americanos stronger.

Espresso 

An espresso is a highly concentrated coffee shot that’s used as a base for many popular coffee drinks (sometimes known as espresso drinks) like lattes, macchiatos, cappuccinos, mochas and many more. Espresso is extremely popular in Europe—especially Italy, Spain and Greece—and New Zealand. It’s made in an espresso machine by passing boiling water through a filter containing dark roasted ground coffee. Some people prefer drinking it with cold water or sparkling water. Others might add vanilla ice cream to make an affogato dupe. Espresso doppio implies a double shot of espresso, and espresso macchiato is an espresso coffee drink with a tiny amount of foamed milk. Lungo is an Italian-style coffee that consists of one espresso shot with much more water, resulting in a less strong, slightly bitter coffee. 

Ristretto 

Ristretto is a highly concentrated espresso coffee. It’s made with the same amount of ground coffee but half the amount of water.

Latte 

A latte is made with a shot of espresso, a generous amount of steamed milk and a thin layer of foam. It can be enjoyed plain or with a touch of flavor (vanilla, pumpkin spice, hazelnut—whatever your heart desires!) or sweetener. If you prefer your lattes weaker and milkier, you should travel to Portugal, where they have a galão—a delicious espresso drink with a ton of warm milk and a tiny bit of milk foam.

Drinking a caffè latte might almost feel like drinking warm milk, but you don’t have to use the traditional kind. Oat milk lattes and almond lattes are equally delicious, and are growing in popularity. 

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Cappuccino

A cappuccino consists of an espresso shot, some steamed milk and a generous amount of foam. If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between a latte and a cappuccino—it’s the milk/foam ratio! Just like with a latte, you can add flavoring or even liqueur to your cappuccino.

Mocha

A mocha is an espresso-based drink made with steamed milk and chocolate (cocoa powder, chocolate syrup or melted chocolate). Whipped cream is also a common ingredient. So it’s like coffee and hot chocolate had a baby. It’s also a perfect drink for those who don’t really like coffee. 

Types of Coffee Drinks: Cold  

Iced coffee drinks become extremely popular in the summer, but lucky people in warm locations (and some very dedicated fans in the North) enjoy them all year round.

Cold Brew

Cold brew coffee is made through the process of steeping. Coarsely ground coffee is soaked in room temperature water and left to steep for approximately 12 hours, which results in a highly caffeinated beverage. Cold brew relies on time instead of heat to extract the coffee’s oils, sugars and caffeine, which makes the drink noticeably less acidic and bitter than iced coffee.

Iced Coffee

Iced coffee is just coffee with ice. It’s often served with a dash of milk or cream. Sugar or flavor shots can be added as well. 

Canned Coffee and Bottled Coffee

For those of us who don’t have the time or the equipment to make delicious coffee drinks at home, the universe invented canned coffee. It’s a great idea to keep a couple of cans or bottles in your fridge for when you need that caffeine boost. Canned coffee is also a great option for road trips (once those are allowed again).  

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If you are indeed into spiked coffees, check out our coffee cocktail post

Coffee Brewing Methods

A moka pot on a stove

Coffee brewing methods are many and opinions on what the best option is are legion. Let’s talk about the most popular ones.  

Brewing Using Pressure 

Espresso Machine 

Though it’s definitely an investment, an espresso machine is perfect for those who really love the smooth texture of espresso and/or those who make espresso-based drinks often. Instant bonus: You’ll be able to invite your friends to your own coffeehouse!

How long till that sweet brew? Depends on the time your machine takes to warm up. Once it’s warm, the drink will be ready in 30 seconds.  

Skill level: For automatic machines? Beginner. For fancy manual types? We’ll call it “barista padawan.”  

Moka Pot

A Moka pot is basically a stovetop espresso maker (and it’s considerably cheaper!). It’s a great option for those who like strong coffee but lack the time. 

How long till that sweet brew? Approximately 5 minutes.

Skill level: Beginner, but grinding finesse is required. 

Brewing Via Steeping 

French Press

A super reliable, budget-friendly option that also looks and sounds rather fancy. 

How long till that sweet brew? Approximately 10 minutes. 

Skill level: Beginner, but steeping could require some trial and error to find what you like. 

Brewing Using Filtration & Dripping 

Drip Coffee Maker

Most drippers are inexpensive and compact. Some of them are even pretty cute-looking, too! Major advantage: they require zero attention. Once a coffee maker is plugged in, you can continue getting ready for the day ahead.  

How long till that sweet brew? 3–5 minutes on average, depending on how many cups you’re making.

Skill level: Beginner.

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Cold Brew Dripper

A great option for those who believe patience is a virtue. ‘Cause, man, does cold brew take a while. A good cold brew maker will also cost you big, but if you’re hooked on this delicious icy beverage it might all be worth it. 

How long till that sweet brew? At least 12 hours. 

Skill level: Beginner, but you should read the instructions super carefully.

Brewing Via Boiling

A Turkish cezve on a stove

Turkish Coffee

If you like strong, sharp and thick coffee, give Turkish coffee a try. Life hack: Turkish coffee pots make great gifts. 

How long till that sweet brew? 3–5 minutes. 

Skill level: Enthusiast (some knowledge and attention to detail are required). 

Whether you’re Team Dunkin’ or Team Starbucks, Gopuff will deliver your coffee fix right to your doorstep in under an hour. Browse our coffee section to see what tickles your fancy! 

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