What's the Difference Between Arabica and Robusta Coffee?

Coffee shops are bragging they have arabica coffee or robusta coffee, but what does that even mean? And how does it affect the taste?

What's the Difference Between Arabica and Robusta Coffee?

Most people drink coffee. There's a crazy amount of ways you can drink it now: instant, at home coffee machines, filter methods, espresso, iced, or even in a cake.

Depending on what sort of coffee you drink, it can taste pretty different. Admittedly, this does have a lot to do with the method (weird, but coffee cake will taste different to an espresso), but it also has a lot to do with the actual type of coffee bean.

There are two types of coffee bean: arabica and robusta. Depending on which of these beans is used at the start of the process, the final taste is completely different.

Arabica and robusta are grown in different ways, timescales, and continents.

Basically, arabica is the higher quality bean that is used for speciality and high quality coffee.

Confusingly, however, this is not always the case, high quality robusta beans are better than low quality arabica—so if somewhere is advertising arabica beans they still might make a nasty coffee.

The basic differences are these; arabica is a smaller, more delicate plant which is grown on mountain or hill sides, ideally in the shade and takes years to mature.

Robusta is much hardier, it can be grown on flat land closer to sea level, produces a much higher yield and does not take as long to mature.

The reason for this is that robusta has double the amount of caffeine than arabica.

This caffeine content makes robusta, as its name suggests, more Robust against stuff like insects or disease.

Arabica is an oval shaped, darker bean, whereas robusta beans are more round and pale.

So, the scientific bit: robusta beans have 7-10% CGA (Chlorogenic acid content), whereas arabica has 5-8% CGA.

It’s important to note here that acids in coffee are actually a good thing, just not chlorogenic acid because this reduces the perception of the good acids which are present.

Arabica has 60% more lipids (fatty acids and oils that become important to the flavour further along in the process) than robusta and double the concentration of sugars.

The only real important difference you need to take away from this is that robusta has a stronger, bitter almost peanut taste while arabica has a softer and sweeter taste with the right sort of acidic taste.

But it doesn’t stop there, coffee is a natural product so there is a massive variation in the organic compounds of each harvest, something as minor as the air being slightly more humid during growing can affect the taste massively. Because of this, lots of coffee roasters use blends.

Weirdly, though Italy, a country with a very good reputation for coffee, often uses blends of arabica and robusta.

This is because the two types of bean balance out each other's bad qualities and enhance each other's good. Also, Italians often use actual cream in their coffee not milk, and the sugars in the cream will cover up and neutralise any bad robusta tastes.

Only recently the trend has shifted to single origin coffee beans, which has come about with the rise in popularity of speciality coffee.

Arabica and robusta both originate from Africa, although now arabica is predominantly grown in Latin America and Africa and Robusta in the East in countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and India.

Arabica still makes up 75% of all coffee sales across the world, despite being the more expensive choice.

Essentially, with coffee, the safest option is arabica.

But when something is a matter of taste it is hard to say which is really better—I know a lot of people who prefer a really strong tasting cup.

Still good to know where it comes from though, right?

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Ellie Hearn
Ellie Hearn
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