Ask a coffee lover what his or her favorite type of coffee bean is and chances are the answer will be Arabica. In rarer cases you may hear Robusta as a response. But there exists a third option that’s frequently overlooked and drastically underestimated for its ability to deliver an exceptionally unique coffee experience. That type of bean is called the Excelsa bean.
Prior to 2006, there were actually four main types of commercially-grown coffee beans: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. The most popular of these beans by far is the Arabica bean.
After 2006, the Excelsa bean was classified as a variety of the Liberica bean. This has caused noticeable confusion from a global marketing perspective and lead to this bean being misunderstood and arguably misjudged. More on that later.
Related Article: Difference Between Robusta and Arabica Coffee Beans
What Is The Excelsa Bean?
The Excelsa bean has a limited presence in the global market due to a number of factors.
Although the bean is relatively resilient and high-yielding, only small quantities are ever traded outside African and Asian markets. The trees themselves can grow up to 15m tall and require a fair amount of pruning and maintenance. Given the difficulty of accessing such plants of such height, the labor costs involved with growing Excelsa beans are particularly high. Additionally, the Excelsa variety has a prolonged ripening period making it difficult for farmers to efficiently time cultivation.
Due to the factors listed above, the supply of this bean is unsurprisingly low. In fact, most producers of Excelsa keep the beans for their own consumption since there simply isn’t a strong enough demand for them.
When these beans do in fact make it to market they’re often used to supplement other coffee blends.
Why are Excelsa Beans Hard to Find?
Given that 75% – 80% of all global coffee production is Arabica, it’s no surprise that Excelsa beans are often overlooked. In some circles, they’re perceived as being low grade coffee. And yet, this is a misnomer.
If cultivated, processed and roasted correctly, the bean is astonishingly unique and yields a flavor profile that’s likely to be enjoyed by coffee lovers who have a penchant for the exotic. The problem is that not only do most global coffee outlets not understand how to handle or process the bean, but they often also aren’t willing to tackle the precise nature of the cultivation.
Adding to this is the fact that coffee shops and retail outlets have yet to view selling these beans as a cost-effective endeavor.
Despite these realities, the Excelsa bean is starting to see an upswing in global interest. As coffee lovers are more and more willing to explore previously-neglected coffee niches, the world at large is starting to appreciate what the flavor profile this humble has to offer.
Where is Excelsa Coffee Grown?
Excelsa beans were first discovered in central Africa in 1903 and, like many other exotic beans originating in this coffee mecca, have spread to other areas. They were known as Coffea dewevrei or dewevreié locally, but became more widely known as Excelsa beyond the borders of Africa.
Today, Excelsa beans are grown in South East Asian countries almost exclusively. Countries such as Vietnam, Philippines, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia have warm tropical climates combined with medium-altitudes making ideal climate conditions for these unique beans.
Coffee Confusion And Misinformation
The labeling confusion of Excelsa beans first began in 2006 when the bean was reclassified. Up until that point, Excelsa beans had been accepted as a variety of Coffea genus, but were suddenly and unexpectedly reclassified as dweverei of the Liberica species.
The reclassification perhaps had unintended consequences in terms of the branding and marketing of the Excelsa bean. It caused such confusion that everyone from farmers to retailers and coffee drinkers simply didn’t have any idea of what the bean actually was. This exacerbated already low demand, resulting in a market that had little to no incentive to push the bean globally.
Tasting Notes of Excelsa Beans
Today, although still only making up less 10% of the market, the Excelsa bean is beginning to garner more of the respect it deserves. Connoisseurs who only drink premium freshly roasted coffee are fast finding that this bean is worth trying.
It’s worth noting that Excelsa beans are lower caffeine than other types of coffee. This is in stark contrast to Robusta beans which can have 2x the caffeine content as Arabica.
The bean offers a flavor profile that has been described as a complex mixture of light and dark roast characteristics. On the one hand, the fruity notes of a light roast are present while the rich bold profile of a dark roast accent the Excelsa coffee experience. It’s been described as being sweet and tart as well bold and rich.
- Complex profile with fruity and bold notes
- Sweet and tart
- Less caffeine than average coffee
An Excel(sa)lent Coffee: Final Thoughts
After languishing in confusion and misinformation for over a decade, the Excelsa bean is finally being recognized for the unique flavor it offers. These beans admittedly aren’t easy to find and as mentioned earlier, are often present in various blends. If you’re looking to try Excelsa beans, there’s a company called Len’s Coffee that sells them.