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! 🙂
Arabica vs Robusta Coffee: Why Are Arabica Beans Better Anyway?
We all have been led to believe that Arabica coffee beans are ‘supposed’ to be better than Robusta beans. Every bag of gourmet coffee beans I’ve ever purchased proudly displays that they use only 100% Arabica!
But why are they so much better?
Is it really that big of a difference?
Does anyone know?
As it turns out there really is a big difference between Robusta and Arabica coffee and if you stick with me for a bit I’ll let you in on a little secret…
Robusta beans are actually pretty good for making certain types of coffee – not all types though.
I’ll go into this in greater detail a little later but first let’s summarize their differences:
Arabica vs Robusta Coffee Beans
Arabica and Robusta coffee beans differ primarily based on a few main components:
- They taste different with Robusta tasting much more bitter.
- Arabica beans cost more to produce and consume.
- Robusta coffee beans are a hardy crop and easier to grow.
- Arabica coffee contains much less caffeine.
Now let’s look at each of these components one at a time and in greater detail.
I think you’ll find this interesting.
Robusta Coffee Beans are Easier to Grow & Harvest
The main reason that robusta beans are cultivated so widely is because they are hardier and produce more yield for the space the crop requires.
Robusta beans grow at lower altitudes and because the plant contains so much caffeine it is very resistant to damage from insects. It’s a hardy and reliable crop giving beans which are much cheaper to produce than the more refined and sensitive arabica beans.
Robusta beans are around 40% cheaper to buy than arabica, so the temptation for producers to include it in their blends is obvious. Taste is often compromised until an optimum between price and flavor is reached.
Robusta beans also tend to be the dominant bean used in the production of instant coffee. Instant coffee being cheaper than store-bought ground coffee is notoriously less tasty than fresh brewed coffee and it is higher in caffeine – both of these traits come from the main ingredient Robusta.
Do Arabica Beans Actually Taste Better?
Robusta beans are bitter and contain less sugars than arabica beans, they taste nutty rather than fruity and make bitter coffee similar to what you’d find in coffee that is past it’s prime.
Arabica beans, while they can also fluctuate between fruity and bitter, are generally sweeter than Robusta coffee, with nicer flavor and tones.
While you can get robustas that are better than some arabicas, you’re not going to find this happening regularly.
But is there nothing more than this to the robusta bean?
Is it nothing but a filler used to keep prices down?
Well apparently there is more to it, for some at least. Your robusta is certainly not a drip coffee bean, coffee pros are almost unanimous about that but there is one thing they can be good for.
Espresso on the other hand, is dipping a cautious toe in the water of robusta use, and finding there are some redeeming features to the much maligned bean species.
What Does Robusta Bring To An Espresso?
Robusta beans are sometimes used to give a thicker crema to the cup, and to give a lasting flavor to the coffee.
Robusta beans are excellent for making a more luxurious crema, and for this reason they are regularly used in Italy to make up part of espresso blends.
You can take advantage of this even if you don’t have an espresso maker because there are a few ways to approximate espresso at home without a machine.
The trick then is to find a robusta that is neutral enough in taste, blend it with the sweeter arabica beans and you’ve got the best of both worlds: the great flavor of arabica and a crema you could float your biscotti on.
Robusta Coffee Adds Caffeine to Your Blend
Another difference between these types of bean is in the caffeine content.
Arabica beans contain much less caffeine than robustas. This means that when they are used in espresso, they can give the shot a little more punch. Given that it is most common for espresso to be made with dark roasted beans which have much of the caffeine roasted away already, the use of robustas can really give the drink its mojo back.
In our article comparing the differences between the Chemex and the Aeropress espresso maker we say that each of these brewing methods can yield richer coffee than drip so there is a little room for robusta beans in good coffee.
All that’s required is to find a variety which doesn’t taste of anything at all and then it’ll make a very useful addition to your espresso. It can’t hurt to experiment with it, after all, it certainly has qualities that can add a lot to your cup.
So What Does 100% Arabica Mean?
So the next time you are browsing the coffee and tea isle of your local grocery store and you see a bag of coffee grind or whole beans with the words “100 percent arabica coffee” you can be sure that the coffee contains no Robusta beans of any kind.
It does not however mean the coffee is low in caffeine and it does not mean that the coffee is not a blend. In actuality the producer might still be mixing arabica beans from a variety of sources to achieve a well balanced flavor profile.
Light roasted beans tend to have more caffeine too so a light blend especially will likely contain a higher level of caffeine.
You also can’t infer that the arabica beans are certified by any trade industry or seal of approval from any organization. They may or may not be organic, they may or may not be certified, and they may or may not be fair trade. Arabica beans can be any of those or none of those.
And the same goes for Robusta coffee as well!
Whether or not there will ever be a robusta blend that competes with the high end arabica beans is questionable and remains yet to be seen from my vantage point but there’s no reason to discredit all robusta coffee as inferior. Within blends especially robusta coffee has it’s place – it’s your job as the consumer unfortunately to figure out of the producer is using cheap beans as filler or using quality robusta to enhance the profile of the blend.