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Did you know that the global coffee market accommodates up to 4 different coffee varieties? Contrary to the belief, Arabica and robusta coffee aren't the only varieties you can explore. In addition to these two, liberica and excelsa coffee are other interesting commercial coffee varieties. If you are a coffee lover, excelsa coffee should be the next variety on the list of rare coffees to explore. But, before you place your order for a pack, check out this excelsa coffee guide to learn more about the peculiar coffee.

Why is Excelsa Coffee Special?

While its full potential is yet to be explored, excelsa coffee is still special for its rich and unique flavor.  The coffee also holds characteristics of high and low-altitude coffee to produce a uniquely sweet, fruity, and tart profile, but with a strong and dark mouth feel. Even in coffee blends, excelsa does an incredible job at adding a depth of flavor or fullness. 

Excelsa coffee beans on a piece of paper
Picture from ExcelsaCoffee.com

The Excelsa Coffee Cherry

Excelsa coffee cherries tend to be round to asymmetrically shaped, measuring about 9mm long and 6mm wide. While the beans are smaller than the liberica ones, they tend to be larger than Arabica and robusta beans. 

Sugar and Caffeine Content

Similar to liberica coffee cherries, excelsa coffee cherries come with a high sugar content of nearly 30%. However, contrary to popular belief, robusta is not a consumable coffee variety with the lowest caffeine content. With a caffeine content of 1% or less (about 0.86 to 1.13g per 100g), excelsa coffee contains the lowest caffeine content. 

Flavor and Aroma

As mentioned earlier, excelsa coffee beans feature characteristics of low and high-altitude coffee. The beans feature a sweet, fruity, and tart flavor profile (like high alt. coffee), yet, it develops a rich and dark profile (low alt. coffee). While this combination provides a fantastic depth of flavor and fullness, its aroma may not be inviting to all drinkers. Nevertheless, when roasted and brewed, some drinkers have reported that excelsa coffee mimics the flavors of good scotch.

As suggested earlier, there is always a way to improve on excelsa coffee harvesting, processing, and roasting due to its nature. Unlike the Arabica beans, excelsa beans come with dense mucilage and fewer soluble solids. This is a potential for improving the flavors when the right factors are tuned.

Like any other coffee species, excelsa coffee grown in different regions, and conditions, processed and roasted differently achieve unique flavor profiles. Due to its unique adoption of high and low-altitude characteristics, excelsa coffee has the potential to achieve a pretty diverse collection of flavor profiles. These include;

  • A light, refreshing, and sweet flavor with tart hints of citrus and berry
  • A rich and nutty flavor with hints of chocolate and toasted nuts
  • A smoky and earthy taste with dark chocolate and caramel undertones
  • Creamy caramel taste with toffee and vanilla hints

Since excelsa can uniquely adapt low and high-altitude features, they also bear the potential to achieve various incredible flavor profiles, whether you want bright fruity, or rich and creamy caramel.

Are You Interested In Trying Out Excelsa Coffee? 

Excelsa coffee grown in Asia can be easily found for purchase. You can easily reach out to roasters (that ship globally) to order your coffee. The same cannot be said about excelsa coffee originating from Africa. The best way to source this coffee is through your local specialty coffee roaster or supplier – although, you will most likely end up with Asian excelsa coffee. It's not bad to try, though!

A Deeper Look at Our Picks

Colombia Unroasted Green Excelsa Coffee Beans

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4.5 out of 5 • Buy it for $39 at Amazon

Colombia Unroasted Green Excelsa Coffee BeansColombia Unroasted Green Excelsa Coffee Beans

Features

The 5-pound Colombia Unroasted Green Coffee Beans are perfect for home roasters who enjoy the craft of roasting their own coffee. These beans must be roasted before brewing, but once done, they create an intensely personal and rewarding beverage. Home roasting offers control over the flavor profile and results in a coffee that's a work of art in a cup. The beans are sourced carefully from high-altitude regions, ensuring premium taste and fair pay for farmers.

Pros

  • Beans are sourced from premium high-altitude regions
  • Enables control over the coffee's flavor profile
  • Supports fair compensation for farmers
  • Takes the home roasting experience to the next level
  • Leads to an intensely personal and rewarding brewing experience

Cons

Excelsa Coffee (Dark Barako)

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4.1 out of 5 • Buy it for $6 at The Roasted Ground

Excelsa Coffee (Dark Barako)Excelsa Coffee (Dark Barako)

Features

The Roasted Ground Excelsa coffee beans are roasted daily and packed once an order is placed to ensure you receive them at their freshest. This coffee can be used for any brewing method be it coffee drip, french press, coffee maker, moka pot, stove top coffee maker or espresso machine. You take part in their advocacy of giving back to the community with every purchase of coffee or gear.

Pros

Cons

Women in Coffee - Excelsa

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4.2 out of 5 • Buy it for $4 at Echo Store

Women in Coffee - ExcelsaWomen in Coffee - Excelsa

Features

Rare, mysterious like a good scotch, Excelsa grows at higher elevations like in Bukidnon. It’s believed to be the variety Caffea Dewevrei that started in South Africa. It is known as a cousin of Caffea Liberica or Barako because of its unique taste.

Pros

Cons

The Basics of Excelsa Coffee

Scientifically known as Coffea Excelsa or Coffea liberica var. dewevrei, excelsa coffee comes with a heap of interesting facts. Until a decade and a half ago, excelsa coffee stood as its own species. But, since then, it has been reclassified as one of the cultivars of the Liberica coffee variety. 

Excelsa coffee was reclassified as a type of Liberica coffee as it grows in similar conditions to Liberica coffee. Moreover, excelsa grows into a similarly tall tree and produces large leaves and cherries. But, the two coffee varieties also come with distinctions. 

First, excelsa coffee trees are slightly shorter than liberica ones, although taller than Arabica and robusta. Similarly, excelsa coffee cherries are relatively smaller and develop a fruitier taste profile than liberica coffee cherries. While liberica may boast smoky, chocolatey, or floral undertones, excelsa coffee is usually tart and boasts more acidity.

Accounting for about 2 to 10% of the global market share was discovered in the early 20th century in central Africa. Locally known as dewevrei or dewevreié, the coffee originally appeared in wild parts of central Africa and later expanded through western and eastern Africa. Today, excelsa coffee also grows in Asian countries of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India. But, there have been efforts to introduce this crop in South Sudan recently. 

Excelsa coffee is considered to be of lower quality, similar to robusta coffee. This is due to the more intense flavor it achieves, reducing it to a component added to add complexity to coffee blends. However, according to coffee experts, excelsa coffee has great potential if its growing conditions and processing are improved. 

Grown with the same level of care and attention as Arabica beans, excelsa coffee bears the potential to produce some of the best flavors as a specialty-grade coffee. Unlike Arabica or robusta coffee shrubs, excelsa coffee grows into an upright tree, measuring up to 50 feet tall. Therefore, it takes up less farm or plantation space as it takes up more vertical rather than horizontal space. 

Their tall nature allows farmers to pair them with other low-altitude varieties, such as robusta, as they act as effective windbreakers. But, excelsa coffee trees are also unique due to their drought-tolerant nature, explaining why they easily grow across different parts of sub-Saharan Africa. 

These trees also tolerate low to medium altitudes, between 3,300 and 4,300 feet.  Like most coffee species, excelsa trees take up to 5 years to start producing the crop and continue to produce It for about 30 to 50 years. 

Excelsa also grows large and wide leathery leaves and larger single-season multiple bloomers. Like liberica coffee, excelsa coffee is also resistant to a handful of pests and diseases. But, it doesn’t enjoy nearly as much hardiness as liberica coffee. Excelsa coffee is still susceptible to a few fungal diseases, leaf rust, and pests, such as nematodes and leaf miner moths.

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Why is Excelsa Coffee Less Popular Globally?

Excelsa coffee is less popular due to its very limited production and lack of market for this variety. For the most part, excelsa coffee is only limited to being paired with Arabica coffee to create blends, instead of being sold as single-origin coffee. However, you can find very few roasters that sell excelsa coffee as single-origin coffee.

Typically, the excelsa coffee plant has a high productivity level, meaning that it requires consistent pruning. With the taller tree heights, this process can be demanding and time-consuming. Along with its prolonged ripening period, ultimately, growing and harvesting excelsa coffee is a time-consuming and expensive process. 

Yet, the limited knowledge of growing and processing excelsa to harness the best flavors means that it's not as popular as Arabica coffee beans among consumers. Therefore, along with its high cost and time-consuming harvest, many farmers steer away from this coffee species.

These factors also de-motivate farmers and other coffee enthusiasts from investing more time in understanding the species and how to improve the cultivar or harvesting process.  As a result, excelsa coffee continues to struggle with its low popularity and scarce need on the market. On the other hand, while other farmers may be interested in growing excelsa coffee the near non-existent market interest makes it difficult to trade. 

According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), excelsa coffee holds no significant value or need on the market, eliminating the need to establish any commodity market or standard pricing. This, in turn, leads to the global sales and popularity of the species to continue dwindling.

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Excelsa Coffee Consumption and Growth Today

In addition to their use in coffee blends, excelsa coffee offers the potential for many other uses, thanks to its interesting flavor. In particular, excelsa coffee yields the best espresso, latte, and cappuccino blends, due to the depth of flavor and richness they add. As single-origin coffee, excelsa is best brewed using a pour-over or French press. 

But, you can also enjoy it as a cold brew. Excelsa coffee can also be used in culinary dishes, such as sauces, marinates, or glades. It can also be used to create coffee sauces to drizzle or sprinkle over desserts or cocktails.

Meet the expert

Donaldina is a coffee lover and freelance writer from Tanzania. Coffee runs deep in her family - tracing its roots to her grandmother’s running of their first coffee farm in the mid-70s. She enjoys spending her time writing and co-running her grandmother's small robusta coffee farm with her sister in northwest Tanzania during the summer seasons.

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