If you want to expand your horizons beyond the regular Arabica and Robusta beans, consider seeking out Excelsa coffee. It’s a scarce crop people often misunderstand, but it offers a complex and fruity cup when done right.
Here’s everything you need to know about this bean type.
What is Excelsa Coffee?
Excelsa coffee is one of the four main types of coffee grown commercially. Until 2006 it was classified as a unique species but is now considered a variety of Liberica coffee. This confusion and its many different characteristics from other Liberica coffees mean it’s still often listed separately.
Production of Excelsa coffee beans is very limited, partly due to labor involved in the production and partly due to the lack of a market for the coffee.
…even if there was interest in producing Excelsa at a larger scale, there’s no established commodity market or standardized price.
In many countries, farmers tend to keep the coffee for their consumption. Excelsa is usually added to Arabica blends rather than sold as a single-origin coffee when grown for export.
What is Liberica coffee?
Liberica coffee is the main species that Excelsa bean belongs to. It grows on tall trees (rather than shrubs), and the beans have a distinctive long oval shape and are bigger than other varieties.
Liberica coffee is similarly limited, accounting for less than 2% of coffee crops worldwide. It’s mainly grown in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia and makes up most of Malaysia’s coffee production. In the Philippines, Liberica coffee is known as Barako coffee, but people usually sell Excelsa as a distinct type of coffee (1).
Where is Excelsa coffee grown?
Like Liberica coffee, Excelsa originated in Africa but is now found almost exclusively in South East Asia. Excelsa and Liberica might be considered the same coffee or different crops, depending on the country. The key producing countries of Excelsa are Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. There is also a project to reintroduce Excelsa as a commercial crop in South Sudan (2).
Excelsa trees grow at a medium-altitude, usually between 3,200 to 4,000 feet. It’s resistant to several diseases that affect other coffee species, including coffee leaf rust or nematodes. This might make it seem like an attractive crop for farmers, but the trees are tall and bushy, requiring regular pruning that can be very labor-intensive. Excelsa trees are sometimes grown among Robusta crops to act as a windbreak.
If you want to know more about which coffee grows where, check out our world coffee map.
Excelsa coffee characteristics and taste
Excelsa coffee differs significantly from Liberica coffee, despite being considered the same species. Both grow on tall trees, but the Excelsa beans are generally smaller and rounder. Occasionally the beans will feature the teardrop shape found on Liberica beans.
The taste of Excelsa coffee shares characteristics with both high and low-altitude coffees.
It has a sweet, fruity, tart quality but is strong and dark. Producers are often used to add depth of flavor and a fuller body to coffee blends. So why aren’t these beans more popular? The aroma can be very strong and different from the pleasant fruity tastes (3). The smell has been described as being anything from “jackfruit” to “unpleasant” (4).
Arabica vs Robusta vs Liberica vs Excelsa
Arabica and Robusta beans make up more than 90% of coffee crops worldwide. Arabica is prized for its sweet and complex flavor profile and is often sold as single-origin or specialty coffee. Arabica does require particular growing conditions and can be prone to disease. Robusta’s high caffeine content and strong flavor make it ideal for adding to blends. The plants are harder than Arabica and grow well at low altitudes, making them easier to grow.
Liberica and Excelsa both suffer from a lack of awareness and market infrastructure. Thus, they make up less than 10% of coffee crops combined. Liberica is particularly prized in the Philippines, where its unique woody taste plays a strong part in the coffee culture. Excelsa is often grown for use as a blend, but when produced correctly can have a pleasant berry flavor.
Read the Home Grounds guide to the difference between Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa, and Liberica coffee beans for more information.
What are the best coffee beans?
The best coffee beans are always those that suit your taste and your brewing method. Some coffees, in particular, have gained a reputation for being the best due to their consistent quality, unique flavors, and often their rarity. These include Hawaiian Kona, Ethiopian yirgacheffe, and Jamaica Blue Mountain. For help deciding what to buy, read the guide to the best coffee beans we can recommend.
Why is coffee called java?
Is Robusta coffee bad for you?
No, Robusta coffee is not bad for you, and in fact, it can be more beneficial for your health than Arabica coffee. Robusta coffee contains more chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant that can reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and even help weight loss (5) (6). Robusta coffee is also higher in caffeine, which has health benefits, including a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease and some types of cancer (7).
- The Beginner’s Guide to the Main Types of Coffee. (2021, August 1). Philippine Coffee Board. https://philcoffeeboard.com/the-beginners-guide-to-the-main-types-of-coffee/
- Oirere, S. (2021, May 3). South Sudan: Glimmer of Hope with “Excelling in Excelsa” Coffee Project. STiR Coffee and Tea Magazine. https://stir-tea-coffee.com/features/glimmer-of-hope-with%E2%80%9Cexcelling-in-excelsa%E2%80%9D-coffee-project/
- Coffee Species: Beyond Arabica. (n.d.). Lens Coffee. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://lenscoffee.com/coffee-species-beyond-arabica/
- Carvalho, A. (nd). Use of Excelsa coffee in blends with Arabica. Scielo Analytics. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from http://old.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0006-87051990000200013&script=sci_abstract
- Rivera, J. (2017, April 18). Differences between Arabica and Robusta Coffee. Coffeechemistry.Com. https://www.coffeechemistry.com/differences-arabica-and-robusta-coffee
- Tello, C. (2021, September 9). 6 Health Benefits of Chlorogenic Acid + Side Effects. SelfDecode Supplements. https://supplements.selfdecode.com/blog/chlorogenic-acid/
- Nichols, H. (2017, October 16). What does caffeine do to your body? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285194