25th January 2024
In the coffee world everyone has heard of the words “Arabica” and “Robusta”. If you aren’t familiar with either, these two terms describe the two different beans grown commercially. They are the same in that when harvested, roasted, and eventually brewed they become coffee. However, that’s where the similarities end. Arabica and Robusta differ when it comes to taste, growing environments, price, and quality.
About 75% of the world’s coffee production is Arabica, with about 25% being Robusta. Brazil is the most significant Arabica producer and Vietnam produces the most Robusta. Arabica coffee got its name Arabica or Coffee Arabica as it is thought to have travelled from Ethiopia to Arabia in the 7th Century. Robusta gets its name from its hardy nature. It can grow in lower altitudes and diverse climates around the world making it a more resilient and a more ‘robust’ species of coffee. Robusta coffee plants are also relatively resistant to pests, insects, and harsh weather conditions.
Arabica plants grow between 2.5 and 4.5 metres high and are oval in shape. Robusta plants can grow up to 6 metres high and the beans have a more circular appearance. Arabica coffee plants are less hardy than robusta, so you will find them growing at altitudes between 550 – 2000 MASL in slightly cooler climates, whereas Robusta grows at a lower altitude of 1000 MASL and at higher temperatures.
Speciality coffee farmers will carefully select the type of coffee plants growing on their farm to balance the quality with the ability to achieve a high yield, within the constraints of their farm’s climate.
The most common question people have is how does Arabica taste? This is a tricky question to answer since the Arabica family includes many different specific types of coffee that can be grown in many different environments. The same Arabica bean grown in two separate places will taste wildly different. Robusta is deemed lower quality than arabica and has a harsher taste, lower sweetness, and lower acidity. It is duller, earthy, woody, and bitter in taste, and is cheaper than arabica. Robusta makes up the majority of instant coffee and it has 4 times higher caffeine content. It is often used in blends so there is no real distinction that can be made within the flavour of robusta in general.
Arabica is often seen as a superior coffee due to being of a softer taste. It is considered smoother and sweeter than Robusta coffee and often has chocolatey and fruity undertones. The beans vary in taste depending on the region. It can be sweet to taste with fruity notes but can also have cereal or nutty flavours. They tend to have a higher acidity than Robusta beans which gives them almost a wine-like tone.
One of the most appealing aspects of Arabica coffee is it doesn’t naturally have a harsh, bitter taste, something that can’t be said about Robusta coffee. There are many varieties within the Arabica family that all have different characteristics, which will be used by coffee farmers to affect taste, disease resistance and yield.
Overall Robusta has more caffeine and is more acidic. Whereas, Arabica has almost twice the amount of sugar and more lipids.
Ultimately it’s a question of personal taste. Some all-arabica blends are too high and floral for us; some of the rich, dark harshness of robusta can be a good thing in a blend. The common wisdom that Arabica coffee is better is true in some sense, but, you should now have a better sense of the complexities involved in making a comparison. Robusta coffee is easier for farmers to grow and has its place in espresso blends, but Arabica will always be the top choice for single-origin coffee since it is more delicate and pleasing to drink on its own.
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