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.