Coffee: The Wonder Beverage
It’s one of the most addictive and popular beverages in the world. It suppresses the parts of your mind that aren’t quite alert. But coffee does more than just make our work mornings—and nights—liveable. Coffee has played a huge role in world history, going back to colonial times. As is the case with many beverages, coffee comes from a plant, and there are at least 100 types of coffee beans. These species have been selectively bred and refined for hundreds of years. It’s a huge source of income for developing economies like Vietnam and Brazil. Wherever you go, this ubiquitous drink has unique, yet similar, methods of consumption.
Just what is it that makes coffee such a universally beloved beverage? How many types of coffee are there, and what is the strongest type of coffee in the world? How is coffee made, and what are the types of coffee flavors? What are the types of coffee roasts? Where does coffee even come from?
A Brief History of Coffee: Ancient Times
Coffee beans, which are technically seeds, come from Ethiopia, centuries before the modern nation was even a gleam in its mother’s eye. There aren’t written records of people drinking coffee so long ago. What we do know is that at some point in prehistory—that is, before the invention of writing—Ethiopian locals replanted coffee beans that grew naturally in the mountains, choosing to grow them in the valleys where they lived.
Like yellow corn, giant seedless watermelon, plump strawberries, and so many modern fruits and vegetables, farmers replanted and grew the coffee beans they liked best. Slowly, over time, favorable varieties emerged. Today, a huge range of rare coffee beans grows in Ethiopia, with some of the oldest types of coffee that exist on the planet.
More on the types of coffee beans below.
A Brief History of Coffee: Europe and Beyond
When the Dutch “discovered” Ethiopian coffee, they fell in love with it. They sent the plant to a colony in Java, in Indonesia. From there, coffee went to France and Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America, and to the rest of the world.
Italy has been drinking coffee since at least the 1600s. But it wasn’t until Luigi Bezzera came up with the espresso machine in 1901 that Italy distinguished itself from the rest of the world with its own unique brand of coffee preparation. To this day, Italians are known to scoff at their American counterparts for never being able to do it just right.
For America’s part, we consume 400 million cups of coffee every day. However, the coffee bean is only grown in two states: Hawaii and California. The rest, which amounts to $4 billion worth of coffee per year, is imported from Colombia, Kenya, Indonesia, and all over the world.
Coffee thrives in subtropical regions, especially in high altitudes. This is why growth in the US is so limited, and why countries like Vietnam grow their plants in mountainous, rural regions, such as the gorgeous Đà Lạt and Bảo Lộc areas.
Types of Coffee—How Coffee is Made
Here is your all-purpose coffee list: how the coffee is made, how it is served, types of roasts, types of coffee flavors, and some fun facts. Let’s get into the nitty gritty. In alphabetical order:
Like an espresso, but with hot water added.
Your basic, no-frills, salt of the earth pick-me-up. Typically prepared by brewing one tablespoon per cup, unless you’re into rocket fuel. Some of us love black coffee exclusively, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Café Au Lait
Coffee and hot milk. A 50/50 mix.
Like cà phê đá (see below), this Spanish coffee is made with condensed milk. Bombón is especially popular as a dessert.
It's a long brewed espresso where all the water has passed through the coffee using the espresso brewing process.
Like an espresso, but with sugar added before before the brewing process begins. It is also similar to Turkish coffee in this way.
Literally, rubbery coffee. Originating from America's Pacific Northwest, it is coffee poured over a marshmallow. A tasty winter treat!
Japan is well-known for its vending machines. Boss Coffee, perhaps the biggest name in Japanese canned coffees, is basically everywhere in Japan, whether that’s a convenience store, or one of the ubiquitous vending machines that pepper the Japanese archipelago. Tommy Lee Jones is well-known for his hilarious appearances in Japanese Boss Coffee commercials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LE21qQHlOLQ
Cà phê đá
Literally cold coffee, an intense brew that’s served with condensed milk and sugar. First, they mix the milk and sugar at the bottom of your cup. Next, they’ll spoon grounds into a metal drip filter that kind of resembles a thimble that is designed to sit atop your cup. The coffee drips down slowly into your cup. I lived in Vietnam for a year, so I can tell you from experience: everyone drinks this stuff. It’s cheap, delicious, and keeps you cool in the tropical humidity. A word to the wise—don’t order your coffee black in Vietnam. It is absolutely brutal.
Made with steamed milk. Those long hoses you see in coffee shops? Yeah, they’re for cappuccinos. And that’s what makes the cappuccino unique: it’s made with foamy, steamed milk. Once it’s steamed, the milk is whipped. Some fancy baristas are famous for pouring signature designs upon the top of the foam. Want to make cappuccino at home? Here the list of best milk frother. It is a pleasing, exclusive experience that makes you feel like a part of a club. The best type of coffee roast to use in a cappuccino is a dark roast.
Cold Brew Coffee
Distinct from your Dunkin Donuts variety iced coffee, the cold brew is never, ever heated. Rather, it is brewed at room temperature for a period of about twelve hours. The grounds are filtered out afterword, giving the drinker a clean cup to enjoy. Use any kind of roast for the cold brew, but try to get a coarse ground, as your water will have plenty of time to absorb the flavor and nutrients.
Of all kinds of coffee brewing, this is your most typical and widely used in the western world. The coffee is measured and deposited into a paper filter. Everyone likes their coffee prepared differently, but a good starting point is a tablespoon per cup. The water in the tank is heated, and drips down into the filter before depositing the brown liquid into the pot below. All types of roasts are fine for drip coffee, depending on your preference.
Have you ever eaten vanilla ice cream with a cup of coffee on the side? Have you ever stared at that lone white scoop, wondering whether anyone would notice if you deposited it into your cup? If you’ve ever gone through with it—as I have—you’re not alone. In fact, the Eiskaffee is a popular German beverage. The process is simple: brew coffee. Dunk a dollop of vanilla ice cream into your cup. Enjoy!
Definitely not a cappuccino. An espresso is a highly concentrated cup of coffee. Invented in the early 20th century by Luigi Bezzera, the espresso machine forces a small amount of water through a thick cluster of finely ground coffee. Read here our selection of manual coffee grinders or our selection of best burr coffee grinders. If you’ve ever seen it served with lemon rinds, you’ve come to an interesting place! See Cafe Romano for espresso with lemon.
Some coffee enthusiasts will claim that lemon cuts an espresso’s bitterness, while others will argue that if the espresso were made properly, you wouldn’t need any lemon at all! I won’t take a stance on this one. Instead, give it a try and see for yourself! The best type of coffee roast to use in an espresso is the dark roast.
French Press Coffee
AKA press pot, coffee press. My old boss used to swear by these things. He, and other people whom I have come across, love how the natural oils in the beans stay in your cup, giving your coffee a richer flavor profile. Interestingly, it’s officially an Italian invention (from 1928). However, the French have a story of their own. In the mid 1800s, a Frenchman was boiling water when he saw that he’d forgotten to throw the beans in the pot. He tossed them in and put a metal screen on a stick. He pushed the beans down, and, voila! He had pressed coffee for the first time. The purpose of the screen was to keep the beans trapped inside the pot, so that they wouldn’t get into his cup. And that’s really the gist of how these contraptions work: you’ve got a stick, a screen, and a vessel. The French Press is a highly recommended method, ideal for the beginner who wants to get her hands dirty.
A Portuguese espresso. Like a latte, it is served with foamed milk. A Galão is distinct in that it is served in a tall glass.
Your basic garden variety coffee, often sweetened and served with milk. A great way to keep cool in the summer, though some people even prefer iced coffee in cooler temperatures. My sister will drink it year round, even when it’s snowing outside, which I will never understand. This kind of coffee is found at fast food establishments and delis everywhere in the States.
Iced Boba Coffee
A fusion of iced coffee and Taiwanese bubble tea, iced boba coffee is a popular drink that is served all over Asia. It is a heavily sweetened drink that comes with a thick straw to suck up scrumptious, chewy tapioca bubbles.
A dangerously delicious concoction of coffee and whiskey. It’ll sneak up on you!
What do you get when you cross an espresso with steamed milk? Why, you get a latte!
Literally Macchiato in Italian means stained, hence it is an espresso with a drip of milk.
Coffee with chocolate syrup.
Once upon a time, these bad boys were the household staple. They haven’t seen as much use since being replaced by drip coffee machines in the 1970s. Percolators cycle hot water through coffee, over-extracting some of the beans. Over-extraction removes quite a bit of the flavor, so you never really get a nice, full-bodied cup. It’s an old invention—circa 1810—and a bit out of style.
Like an espresso, but made with half the usual amount of water.
The Turks use an exquisite little brewing pot for their coffee called a Cezve. The Cezve is usually copper or brass, but the fancy ones can be silver, or even gold. It is a small pot the size of a cup, and has a long, ladle-like handle with which to pour your drink. It is used to brew coffee in the neighboring Balkan countries as well. Turkish coffee is made with extra fine grounds, and sugar. It is served black. The taste is rather strong! To make Turkish coffee, heat your coffee and sugar together in your Cezve until a fine foam bubbles up. You won’t need to boil your water; just heat it to about 160 degrees (f). Some people say you can add milk, but honestly, don’t. If you want something sweet to offset the bite, I suggest serving your Turkish coffee with some delicious Turkish delight candy. For the kind of roast here, most people suggest a medium roast. You can get creative, but the main thing to remember is to make sure your coffee beans have been finely ground.
Now this thing is cool. First of all, the brewing device looks like something out of a steampunk chemistry lab. Seriously, this thing literally uses steam to brew coffee. Invented in the 1800s, this contraption still sees use in certain circles today. It is often hailed as superior by aficionados and coffee enthusiasts as the key to a superior experience. The machine has two glass chambers, and contains a filter attached to a rod. One chamber sits on top of the other. As the bottom chamber heats up, vapor pressure forces the liquid into the top chamber. Once the brewing is complete, the heat is shut off, which allows the coffee to drip down again.
Two shots black espresso with whipped cream, sometimes milk. Viennese coffee is a centuries-old tradition with ties to literature and intellectualism.
Types of Coffee Beans
Most of the coffee you’ll find today is of the species, Arabica. The varieties that are outlined below are of that species.
As the indigenous, genetic homeland of coffee, Ethiopia contains many different types of coffee beans. Famous among these are Harar and Sidamo, the former of which is known for a fruity flavor. These two names are owned and trademarked by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Blue Mountain Coffee is grown in Jamaica. It is an excellent crop as it is naturally resistant to common plant diseases.
Geisha, originally from Ethiopia, is grown in Panama today. It owns the title of the most expensive coffee in the world.
If the name Typica reads like something that happens every day, you’re being an etymologist! The Typica variety, originally from Yemen, is a common plant. The plot is thicket than that, however. Replanted by Europeans from Yemen to India, and subsequently all over the world, Typica is the grand-daddy of a horde of genetic varieties today, each with their own unique characteristics.
In 1931, Scott Laboratories, an American beverage company, selected a variety of coffee, dubbed SL28. SL28 has a unique profile that is reminiscent of blackcurrant. Notably, this crop is resistant to droughts.
Sumatra coffee, as you might imagine, is grown in Sumatra, which is on the Indonesian archipelago, near Java. Sumatran coffee is known for its citrus-like profile that is reminiscent of lime, or some say even grapefruit.
As you can see, there are many types of coffee beans, and types of coffee flavors. Types of coffee flavors, however, go beyond just types of coffee beans. Next, we’ll look at another factor: types of coffee roasts.
Types of Coffee Roasts
Although there are many different types of coffee, there are only four basic roast categories, and they are relatively straightforward.
These four categories refer to how long coffee beans are roasted. The longer the beans are roasted, the stronger the flavor profile.
You may be surprised to learn that dark roast coffee does not have the highest caffeine content. In fact, dark roast coffee contains the least amount of caffeine. This is because its chemistry changes so much during the roasting process that it actually loses some of its innate nutrition.
Here are the four categories:
- Light Roast: AKA Half City, New England. Light brown color with no oils visible on the beans as the coffee has not been roasted enough for the oils to break through the surface. High acidity.
- Medium Roast: Darker hue, rich appearance. Oils may be visible.
- Medium-Dark Roast: The color is dark, with some oils visible on the surface. Rich in flavor with some bittersweet aftertaste.
- Dark Roast: Dark brown. Oils are visible. The taste of dark roast beans is so strong that it’s difficult to discern one kind of bean from another. All dark roasted beans carry the same sort of strong flavor.
And the Strongest Coffee in the World is…
In 2017, several news outlets started going a bit stir-crazy over a brand of coffee called Black Insomnia. That name is totally metal, and it appears to live up to the hype. Wanting to be my own witness, I tried to place an order, but they were all sold out as of this writing.
According to Today, Black Insomnia (17.5 grams caffeine/kg) beats out its competitor, Death Wish Coffee (13.8 grams). For reference, that’s about three times the amount of a cup of Starbucks dark roast.
Thank you for joining us on this journey of coffee education. After coming through on the other side, we can safely say that there is a lot to this famous beverage. A lot of history, nearly endless amounts of brewing methods and cultural spins, and enough facts to make your head spin. And the truth is, we’ve barely scratched the surface of this iceberg.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below!