For those of you new to the coffee world, you may have noticed that some beans boast about being 100% Arabica or even Robusta. But what exactly does that mean?
Did you know that there are over 100 different species of coffee? Arabica and Robusta beans are just two different species of coffee, but they are the two most commonly cultivated beans for coffee consumption. But what is the difference between Arabica and Robusta coffee beans and does it really matter what kind you use in your coffee?
Let’s take a closer look at these two means and explore what makes them different and unique in the world of coffee.
Arabica vs Robusta: A Quick Intro
Before we get into the breakdown of the beans, here’s some brief information on each.
Arabica coffee beans are more oval and flat in shape and pack a sweeter, lighter, smoother taste. They also have more oils in the beans themselves, so they can pack more fruity, zesty, sweet flavors. Arabica beans account for about 75% of all the coffee on the market and are typically more expensive to purchase.
Robusta beans are slightly smaller and rounder in shape and pack a stronger, bitter, powerful taste. Since they have fewer oils, they often have more natural, earthy, heavier flavors. They account for 25% of coffee on the market and are often less expensive than Arabica beans.
Plants, Cultivation, and Cost
Now down to the nitty-gritty.
Arabica is widely considered the most popular coffee among most drinkers, mainly because of the smoother, softer, lighter taste that is easier for more people to enjoy. Latin America, specifically Brazil, is currently the largest producer of Arabica coffee with Vietnam leading the way in Robusta coffee.
These beans are more normally grown at a higher altitude, are more vulnerable to pests, and are overall more difficult to nurture and harvest. The plants, which are about 15 feet tall, also produce a lower yield. Because of this, it takes a lot more harvesting to get the required amount of coffee needed to brew.
Robusta beans are lesser-known and consumed than Arabica beans due to their more bitter taste. They are grown at a lower altitude and are commonly grown in the Eastern hemisphere, in places like Africa, Indonesia, and Vietnam, Vietnam being the highest producer of the plants.
It’s much easier to cultivate, and the plants themselves are also less susceptible to pests and disease. They grow about 20 feet tall, and they require less attention and care than Arabica bean plants do. Robusta plants also produce a higher yield, so they are more efficient to cultivate.
Caffeine, Antioxidants, and Sugars
On top of the differences between the plants and the cultivation of these plants, each bean contains different levels of minerals and other chemical compounds.
For example, Robusta beans contain much more caffeine than Arabica beans. Robusta beans contain 2.7% caffeine content. Contrast that with the 1.5% caffeine content found in Arabica beans and you’ll see why Robusta, with almost double the caffeine content, is tailor-made for those who love a hearty boost of caffeine in the morning.
However, the caffeine content isn’t the only difference. Arabica beans contain 60% more lipids and almost double the number of natural sugars when compared to Robusta. This can definitely impact the taste of the coffee, but we will talk about that later.
Many know that coffee in general packs many healthy antioxidants, but not many know that the amount of antioxidants vary between coffee species. For example, Robusta beans contain 7 to 10% Chlorogenic acid but Arabica beans only have about 5.5 to 8% CGA.
As you can see, even the chemical make up of these coffees and what it gives us are quite different from one another.
Cost of the Beans
On the market, Arabica coffee beans fetch a much higher price than Robusta coffee beans. This is due to their difficulty to grow and harvest, as well as the high demand they have across the globe.
Where the Beans Are Used
If you start reading the fine print of most of the beans you will find in your local coffee shop, you will find that most of them are Arabica coffee. In fact, many coffee roasters boast that their beans are 100% Arabica as if it is a badge of honor.
Though Arabica is the most popular type of bean used in coffee, that doesn’t mean Robusta beans don’t have their place in the coffee world. In many espresso beans, especially Italian roasts, you will find a mixture of both Arabica and Robusta beans. You can also find Robusta beans used in coffee that are stronger in caffeine content.
Robusta beans are also almost exclusively used in the production of instant coffee. Since instant coffee is really only useful for a caffeine fix and isn’t really concerned about flavor, Robusta beans are the immediate go-to.
So we know that most people prefer Arabica to Robusta beans, but why is that, exactly? The reality is it all comes down to taste.
Robusta beans, because of the increased caffeine and the lack of sugars, tend to taste stronger, bitter and have earthy, nutty, and woody overtones. These beans are perfect for espresso, adding a lot of kick and flavor to any cup of coffee.
Arabica beans tend to have a much fruitier and sweeter taste when compared to Robusta, making them more popular than Robusta beans.
It should also be noted that truly high-quality Robusta beans can taste every bit as good as Arabica and in some cases, many will enjoy it even more than a high-quality Arabica bean.
While Robusta beans often earn a reputation for being lower quality than Arabica beans, that’s really not the case. They actually bring their own unique flavors to the table. While they are more suited to coffee drinkers who prefer a little extra caffeine and a much stronger taste, to say they are of lower quality is far from the truth.
The truth is that both beans bring something unique to the coffee world and should be recognized for that. If you’re a coffee lover looking to expand your palate, then it’s worth your while to give both of these beans a chance. When taking these primary characteristics into account, the possibilities to enhance your cup of joe are endless.