Did you know that majority of the coffee in the world can be classified under two types?
Yes, you may love café mocha, machiatto, cappuccino, Americano, long black, espresso, lungo, ristretto, mochaccino, java mocha and many more.
But all of these come from two major types of coffee beans, Arabica and Robusta.
Between Arabica and Robusta, the former is the most common coffee in the world. About 75 percent of the world’s coffee production is Arabica beans. The beans have a complex acidity and taste compounds which means that there are layers and layers of variation in terms of flavor. Generally, Arabica is sweeter than Robusta. It has flavor notes like fruits, florals, chocolate and nuts.
Robusta coffee accounts for the remaining 25 percent of the world’s coffee production. Most manufacturers of instant coffee mix use Robusta beans. Robusta is less sweet and less flavorful. This means that manufacturers can easily mix in their flavors. Robusta is also three times cheaper than Arabica. Robusta coffee tree are easier to grow and tend, more resistant to weather changes. Plus, Robusta beans have 25 percent more caffeine than Arabica.
But are These Two The Only Types of Coffee Beans?
The answer is no. There are other types of coffee beans.
Arabica (Coffea arabica)
Arabica coffee beans are the most popular among the coffee drinking world. It accounts for 75 percent of the world coffee production and consumption. Arabica beans grow in high altitude with even rainfall and plentiful shade. The Arabica tree is easy to tend and prune. It makes harvesting easier because the tree does not grow taller than 6 feet.
Note that the quality of the Arabica bean diminishes when served cold or with creamer. It is best served hot, perhaps brewed with the pour-over or drip coffee technique.
Robusta (Coffea caniphora)
Robusta is the second most popular coffee beans. It can withstand various conditions and can grow in hot regions. Robusta coffee beans have almost double the amount of caffeine that Arabica does. It is because caffeine acts as a means of self-defense that the Robusta plant has such a strong resistance to disease.
If you love milk and sugar in your coffee, Robusta is the perfect coffee for you. The flavor of the coffee does not diminish, rather it is enhanced by adding your favorite coffee condiments.
Liberica (Coffea liberica)
The Liberica almost got extinct but was saved and came into the coffee world scene in 1995. The Liberica trees mostly grow in the Philippines. Liberica beans are larger than the others, often asymmetrical, and is the only coffee bean in the world that has such an irregular shape. The beans are said to have a unique aroma, consisting of floral and fruity notes, with a full body that possesses a smoky taste; those who have had Liberica coffee say that it is unlike any coffee they have ever tasted- with many saying it does not even taste like coffee, stating that it tastes too “woody”.
Excelsa (Coffea excelsa )
Excelsa is related to the Liberica and grows in Southeast Asia. It accounts for a mere 7% of the world’s coffee circulation. It is largely used in blends in order to give the coffee an extra boost of flavor and complexity, better affecting the middle and back palate. Excelsa is said to possess a tart and fruity body- which are flavors reminiscent of a light roast- that also somehow has dark roasty notes.
These are the basic types of coffee beans but the first two are the most popular and widely distributed coffee beans in the world.
Why is Arabica better than Robusta?
It is quite a difficult question to answer. Since coffee is a preferential drink, Arabica drinkers will definitely say that Arabica beans are more superior than Robusta. On the other, Robusta drinkers will fight that Robusta is the real coffee.
To settle the matter, let’s take a look at the differences of Arabica and Robusta.
This is a critical difference between the two. Arabica has a more sophisticated layer of flavor. Arabica has a sweeter taste and more flavorful notes. On the other hand, Robusta’s taste and flavor is compared to burnt tires and rubber. It sounded disgusting, right? But it only means that the Robusta’s flavor is earthier, stronger and bolder.
- Caffeine content
Caffeine content plays a role in the taste difference of Arabica and Robusta. Arabica has an average of 1.5 percent caffeine, while Robusta contains 2.7 percent. That’s double the caffeine content. If you love strong coffee for your mornings, the Robusta beans can give you an instant boost. But that is the reason why Robusta coffee is extra bitter and bolder. This is also one of the reason why instant coffee mix uses Robusta beans. The intense caffeine flavor helps sell instant coffee mix as an energy drink.
- Lipid and Sugars
Arabica has about 60 percent more lipid and twice the sugar content than Robusta. This gives Arabica a milder and sweeter taste than Robusta.
Arabica is expensive. The price of Arabica beans is three times higher than Robusta.
- Planting and harvesting
Arabica is more expensive because it’s more difficult to tend compared to Robusta. Arabica primarily grows in the Latin American region. The soil, altitude and climate are more adaptive to growing Arabica coffee tree. On the other hand, Robusta easily grows in hot regions like Africa and Indonesia. Robusta is also resistant to bugs and pest. This is the reason why it has more caffeine because it is a chemical defense for the coffee beans. Robusta coffee tree bears fruit quickly than Arabica. As a result, they yield more crop per tree.
Did you know that Ethiopia is the original home of Arabica? The country has been producing coffee for over 1000 years. Annually, they produce about 384,000 metric tons of coffee beans.
On the other hand, Vietnam is the number one producer of Robusta beans. They export about 1,650,000 metric tons of coffee beans per year.
- Bean shape
Arabica beans are more oval, while Robusta is more circular. The shape affects the roasting of the beans. It is easier to roast Robusta because the shape of the beans is even. It is easier to roll and toss the beans inside the roaster. Arabica needs careful roasting. The oval shape may cause some parts of the beans to be unroasted, while other may be over-roasted.
- Plant height
Arabica is shorter than Robusta. Typical Arabica coffee tree grows up to 4.5 meters. Robusta can grow up to 6 meters.
Coffee is rich in antioxidants. There’s no doubt about that. But the question is which has more between Arabic and Robusta? If we based in on taste alone, since antioxidants is the reason why coffee is acidic, then Arabica has more antioxidants than Robusta. Simply because Arabica is more acidic than Robusta.
However, a closer look at the chemical composition of the beans, it turns out that Robusta wins over Arabica in terms of CGA content or chlorogenic acid. This antioxidant is a known insect deterrent and it keeps the Robusta tree strong from plant pests and diseases. Robusta has 7-10 percent CGA, while Arabica has 5-8 percent CGA.
If price, taste and exclusivity are major factors for your coffee preference, take the Arabica. It has more flavor variations in one cup, more expensive and you are ensured that Arabica coffee comes from a single origin, be it Colombia, Brazil or Guatemala.
Now, if you are after caffeine, more health benefits and more affordable coffee, choose the Robusta.
Why Arabica Coffee Is Better Than Robusta
The type of beans you use in your coffee can without a doubt make a profound difference in how it tastes and how long your beans last. If you’re a coffee aficionado, you have more than likely heard of Robusta and Arabica.
Now, if you aren’t familiar with with these two names, they are the terms that describe two different species of beans that are most commonly grown commercially.
These two are the same in that they are processed the same way, but beyond that point they lack any similarity at all.
Robusta and Arabica coffee beans are different in everything from taste to their growing environments.
So let’s take a look at the differences.
How are Robusta and Arabica Different?
Robusta and Arabica are two different types of coffee and as such, are in of themselves, vastly different.
- Taste. Robusta has a harsher taste range than Arabica, which has a much wider taste range, ranging from sweet to a sharp, almost tangy taste.
- Growing Environment. Robusta is a hardy plant grown at lower altitudes than that of Arabica which is grown in higher, subtropical climates.
- Quality. Robusta is a hardier plant and can survive harsher conditions. Robusta has a more finished product per acre ration than Arabica and have a low upkeep cost.
I want to talk a little be about each of these types of beans individually so you can understand what they are.
Is Robusta Better than Arabica?
I would really have to say no on this one.
There are many reasons that Robusta is better than Arabica.
Robusta is naturally low in acidity and high in bitterness. It is massed produced through a farming method called mono-cropping, planting the same plant in the same place every year. This is bad because overtime it ruins the soil and the land becomes infertile.
Robusta’s taste is generally referred to as being somewhat like oatmeal. Whereas unroasted Robusta beans are described as a peanut-like taste.
Robusta as I said is much hardier than Arabica. It does not need as much care and farmers lose less crop when farming Robusta. Because of this, Robusta is around 40% of the global coffee bean production and the beans cost less to to produce and command a lower cost to the eventual buyer.
As I said earlier, the taste Robusta has is somewhat worse than that of Arabica.
One reason that the taste of Robusta beans isn’t as good as Arabicais that it has more caffeine compared to Arabica. This may sound like a positive thing but caffeine carries a bitter taste which makes it an unpleasant drink.
The Robusta bean has 2.7% caffeine content, almost double the 1.5% of Arabica. Coffee types like Espresso use Robusta for the high caffeine content, but the taste is somewhat offset by the milk.
One additional reason some espresso blends contain a touch of robusta beans is that the robusta coffee beans tends to add a bit more crema to the beverage than arabica beans alone.
Now let’s look at Arabica Coffee.
Is Arabica better than Robusta?
There’s no contest here, the answer is a yes and it’s why most bags of coffee sold in stores tend to proudly display that their beans are 100% arabica.
Even still arabica beans have a very wide taste range (depending on its varietal). The range differs from sweet-soft to sharp-tangy. When unroasted, Arabica beans smell like blueberries. Their roasted smell is described as perfumey with notes of fruit and sugar tones.
Robusta coffee beans come from a resilient plant that is able to be grown in low altitudes of 200-800 meters. Robusta beans aren’t very susceptible to damage done by pests. Additionally, they produce more finished product per acre and require fairly low production costs.
In contrast, Arabica coffee beans are fragile and must grow in cool, subtropical climates.
Arabica beans also need a lot of moisture, rich soil, shade and sun. Because of their fragility, Arabica beans are vulnerable to attack from various pests and can be damaged by cold temperatures or poor handling. This type of bean also needs to be grown at a higher elevation (600-2000 meters).
In fact arabica beans are typically more desirable the higher their altitude because this brings out more acidity and sweetness to the brewed cup of coffee.
In most cases if you are making standard coffee in your home in a drip machine, french press, or pour over dripper then arabica beans will be what you want 100% of the time.
Robusta is a good additive to beef up caffeine content in espresso and instant coffee and it makes espresso look and smell a bit better as it naturally improves crema.
Robusta is also thrown into lower priced ground coffee blends to keep costs in sourcing down as well as to keep costs to end customers down… those customers who are looking for affordable coffee rather than the best coffees in the world.
Is Robusta Coffee Bad?
The takeaway here is this – robusta coffee in inferior to arabica coffee beans in most ways but that doesn’t mean it is bad. There is a significant place for robusta in the marketplace and it should not be avoided at all costs.
There will always be a market for cheap highly caffeinated coffee and robusta makes a great additive for coffee blends to achieve a balance between bitterness and acidity. I just wouldn’t advise you to brew up 100% robusta coffee anytime soon as that may just be too much for anyone! 🙂