Arabica vs. Robusta
After roasting, coffee beans essentially all look the same. However, were you aware that there are dozens of different varieties of coffee beans? In fact there are over 120 coffee species! However, there are two main types that are widely produced and sold all around the world: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora (aka Coffea Robusta). So when it comes to your daily cup of coffee, these are the two that matter.
What’s the difference?
Well, differences are significant and it is helpful to understand said differences when choosing your coffee.
Arabica coffee (pronounced: \ ə-ˈra-bə-kə) is approximately 60-75% of the worlds coffee. Arabica coffee contains almost 60% more lipids (fats, oils, vitamins, etc.) and almost twice the concentration of sugar than Robusta. Which generally leads to better tasting coffee. High quality Arabica coffee should have a slightly sweet flavor, with hints of chocolate, nuts, and/or caramel. And you may also notice hints of fruit or berries. There should be a pleasant acidity and a little bitterness leading to an all-around smoother coffee experience than Robusta – though how the beans are roasted will drastically affect the flavor profile.
Arabica beans are slightly larger and more oval in shape.
Arabica originated in the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia (or ‘Arabia’) and Arabica coffees are grown in Africa and Papua New Guinea, though largely grown throughout South American and Central American countries with the largest producer being Brazil.
The Arabica coffee plant is a persnickety plant, preferring temperatures between 59°F and 75°F and is grown at higher altitudes (900m/3000ft to 2000m/6600ft). It prefers mountainsides, hillsides and shady areas in more temperate climates.
There are several varietals of Arabica coffee, which we’ll dive into soon!
Robusta coffee (pronounced: \ rō-ˈbə-stə) is approximately 25-40% of the worlds coffee. Robusta coffee contains around double the caffeine (and less concentration of sugar) than Arabica. Which generally leads to a less appealing coffee flavor. Robusta coffee typically has a more bitter, rubbery/grain-like flavor, with a peanutty after taste, leading to an all-around stronger and harsher coffee experience than Arabica. Robusta is an easier crop to tend to and has a higher yield. And in fact the extra caffeine Robusta beans produce is a chemical defense system which is toxic to insects.
Robusta beans are smaller more circular in shape.
Robusta originated in central and western sub-Saharan African and Robusta coffees are largely grown in the Eastern Hemisphere, mainly in Africa and Indonesia with the largest producer being Vietnam. Historically, large producers would add Robusta beans to bags of Arabica as a filler (to help save $$$) or to add a particular flavor, though this practice has dropped significantly in recent years (note: No Coast Coffee Roasters provides 100% Arabica coffee, and does not dilute any blends or potential blends with Robusta coffee). That said, espresso blends (and instant coffee) often DO contain Robusta beans, as it is said to improve the Crema (mainly on Italian-style roasts and at the expense of better taste – a true give and take relationship).
The Robusta coffee plant is a resilient plant, that is often grown at lower altitudes (sea level to 900m/3000ft). It prefers tropical and subtropical areas, can survive high temperatures (85°F and up) and is less susceptible to disease.
From a price perspective, green beans of Robusta are about half the price of Arabica green beans (on the commodity market). So as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
So which one is better: Arabica or Robusta?
The short answer is Arabica. Arabica is the undisputed champ. Though again, how the beans are roasted can significantly affect the end results. Generally speaking, Arabica provides a smoother coffee, with a sweeter taste, and is more popular for iced coffee and cold brewing as well.
Head to our online store and snag some of our delicious 100% Arabica coffees -