Then There Were Two…Types of Coffee Beans
First of all, do you know that coffee is actually not a bean? Coffee beans are actually seeds found in a fruit – the cherry of a coffee plant!
Although there are 50 different species of coffee beans, only 2 species of beans are widely used for making coffee that ends up in a drink. The 2 types of coffee beans are Coffee Arabica and Coffee Robusta. The fancy names in coffee labeling are mostly sub-varieties of these 2 species.
Arabica beans account for about three quarters of the world’s coffee production. The species originates from Ethiopia but it is now farmed in many other regions. Coffee Arabica is relatively more expensive then Robusta beans as they are generally difficult to cultivate (sensitive to temperature, pH value in the soil and vulnerable to pests and disease) and have a short harvesting window that requires identifying and picking the cherries by hand to obtain the beans at the peak of ripeness.
Coffee Arabica is mild and complex in flavor. However there is a wide variation in flavors depending on where the crop comes from. The caffeine content is lower at 1.5% compared the Coffee Robusta which has 2.7% caffeine.
Robusta varieties are commonly used in the production of instant coffee. The main reason being, you guessed it, they are cheap! Robusta beans are lower cost because the plants are less picky (pun intended!) compared to Arabica varieties. It has greater crop yield, a wider window in which beans can be picked and are more resistant to pests and diseases thus also needing less pesticides.
Coffee Robusta is considered a lower grade. It also contains almost double the amount of caffeine than Coffee Arabica.
Other Species of Coffee Bean
There are many other species of coffee beans though these are not relevant in the context of instant coffee or indeed the coffee industry in general. They are very rarely exported and found only in their native domestic areas. For a list of coffee species you can refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffea