Coffee Beans: Differences Between Arabica and Robusta Coffee Beans
Differences Between Arabica and Robusta Coffee Beans
Arabica beans and robusta beans are two different species of coffee grown commercially for consumption as coffee. The general differences are those of taste, the conditions under which the two species grow and economic differences.
Arabica coffee beans are considerably higher in price and therefore used for most premium coffee bean blends whereas robusta coffee beans are typically found in instant coffees are are used as fillers in blends (a 70:30 blend consists of 70 percent arabica coffee beans and 30 percent robusta coffee beans
Taste: Arabica coffee beans have a wider taste range, between varieties. They range in taste from sweet-soft to sharp-tangy. Their unroasted smell is sometimes likened to blueberries. Their roasted smell is perfumey with fruity notes and sugary tones.
Robusta coffee beans taste range is neutral to harsh and they are often described as tasting grain-like, oatmeally. Burnt tires is the description that I personally find most accurate. Their unroasted smell is often described as raw-peanutty. There are high quality robustas on the market but they are rare and reserved exclusively for the best robusta containing espressos. Robusta does give a better crema than Arabica and also contributes a lot to the body of a coffee which is important for quality espressos.
Production Conditions: Arabica coffee beans are delicate, they require cool subtropical climates, lots of moisture, rich soil, shade and sun. They are subject to attack from various pests, and are extremely vulnerable to cold and bad handling. Arabica coffee beans also must be grown at a higher elevation of 600 to 2000 meters.
Robusta coffee beans are hardier plants, capable of growing well at low altitudes of 200 to 800 meters, they are also less subject to problems related to pests and rough handling. They yield more pounds of finished goods per acre at a lower cost of production.
Economics: Customs and trade, supply and demand over the course of the last 150 years has determined the relative values of arabica vs. robusta beans. Generally speaking, the best coffees are all arabicas and the highest quality blends are pure arabica blends. They are also the priciest.
In Italy, home of espresso, the very highest quality brands are pure arabica, and like here, the popular-priced goods are blended with robusta beans. Because “Imported from Italy” can make an ordinary supermarket quality Italian espresso a “gourmet” coffee in the South Africa, you will find robustas in some Italian brands offered for sale in South Africa. In fact many famous Italian brand coffees contain a large percentage of Robusta in South Africa as the highest quality coffees belonging to these brands are reserved for use in Europe.
The coffee you like is a very personal thing. You may find that you really prefer the all-arabica blends, or you may feel comfortable with something less, just because you like it. That’s OK. The South African marketplace, thanks to the Specialty Coffee movement here, is now rich enough in roast types, species, varieties, blends, brews, grinds, and price points to have something for every taste and pocketbook.
It should be noted that a low quality arabica bean cupped next to a high quality robusta will probably be the inferior bean. So, don’t get too caught up in the arabica versus robusta argument. Many great espresso blends use robusta for it’s strength and crema.
I should also mention that Arabica does not equal quality. Over seventy percent of the coffee grown throughout the world is arabica. Much of it is garbage so do not assume that just because you are buying arabica you are getting a quality coffee.
One other side note that must be mentioned is that Robusta has approximately four times as much caffeine as Arabica. This may be an issue for some people when choosing their coffee.