Arabica Vs. Robusta – Whats the difference?

Chances are you have walked down a grocery store coffee isle, or driven by a business that

photo taken from kopiacademy.com

photo taken from kopiacademy.com

screamed “100% Arabica.” Most people have no idea what this means and why they should care, but they quickly find themselves looking for these markings on grocery store shelves and demanding it from their local coffee shops. Very similar to what we do with certifications such as Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, Bird Friendly, Organic… and so on.  So how does Arabica affect our morning cup of coffee?

Arabica doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with:

–       Quality.
–       Social Standards.
–       Environmental Practices.

It simply is a species of coffee in which there are many varietals steaming from it.

Arabica:

–      Comprises of roughly 75-80% of the commercial coffee market.
–      Grows at higher elevations.
–      Is more delicate and susceptible to diseases.
–      Have more complex flavors in the cup.

The cultivation of Arabica plants is comparable to the cultivation of the finest wine making grapes. The combination of some of those factors make Arabica species more costly to produce and consequently more costly to the consumer.

In North America you’ll find Arabica in most coffee shops and specialty food stores, even most whole bean coffees in grocery stores are Arabica.

Robusta:

–       Has higher caffeine content.
–       Usually are found at lower elevation.
–       Large annual yields.

Robusta plants being more tolerable to disease and harsh conditions and can produce larger yields annually.
All though most of the cards fall in the favor of Arabica beans, if you were to cup a low quality Arabica vs. a high quality Robusta, it would be safe to bet that the Robusta will prevail. But consistently in coffee tastings Robusta comes through as the inferior product when it is up against Arabica.

Many traditional Italian blends used for espresso will have Robusta as a main component; they do this to add some bitterness that their types of beverages are known for. In North American espresso we tend to gravitate towards creating an espresso that is better balanced.
Ground coffees, coffees in cans and instant coffees comprise of mainly Robusta.

What have been your discoveries with Arabica and Robusta coffees, or diving deeper yet, the differences in the varietals of each species? 

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