The type of beans you use in your coffee can without a doubt make a profound difference in how it tastes and how long your beans last. If you’re a coffee aficionado, you have more than likely heard of Robusta and Arabica.
Now, if you aren’t familiar with with these two names, they are the terms that describe two different species of beans that are most commonly grown commercially.
These two are the same in that they are processed the same way, but beyond that point they lack any similarity at all.
Robusta and Arabica coffee beans are different in everything from taste to their growing environments.
So let’s take a look at the differences.
How are Robusta and Arabica Different?
Robusta and Arabica are two different types of coffee and as such, are in of themselves, vastly different.
- Taste. Robusta has a harsher taste range than Arabica, which has a much wider taste range, ranging from sweet to a sharp, almost tangy taste.
- Growing Environment. Robusta is a hardy plant grown at lower altitudes than that of Arabica which is grown in higher, subtropical climates.
- Quality. Robusta is a hardier plant and can survive harsher conditions. Robusta has a more finished product per acre ration than Arabica and have a low upkeep cost.
I want to talk a little be about each of these types of beans individually so you can understand what they are.
Is Robusta Better than Arabica?
I would really have to say no on this one.
There are many reasons that Robusta is better than Arabica.
Robusta is naturally low in acidity and high in bitterness. It is massed produced through a farming method called mono-cropping, planting the same plant in the same place every year. This is bad because overtime it ruins the soil and the land becomes infertile.
Robusta’s taste is generally referred to as being somewhat like oatmeal. Whereas unroasted Robusta beans are described as a peanut-like taste.
Robusta as I said is much hardier than Arabica. It does not need as much care and farmers lose less crop when farming Robusta. Because of this, Robusta is around 40% of the global coffee bean production and the beans cost less to to produce and command a lower cost to the eventual buyer.
As I said earlier, the taste Robusta has is somewhat worse than that of Arabica.
One reason that the taste of Robusta beans isn’t as good as Arabicais that it has more caffeine compared to Arabica. This may sound like a positive thing but caffeine carries a bitter taste which makes it an unpleasant drink.
The Robusta bean has 2.7% caffeine content, almost double the 1.5% of Arabica. Coffee types like Espresso use Robusta for the high caffeine content, but the taste is somewhat offset by the milk.
One additional reason some espresso blends contain a touch of robusta beans is that the robusta coffee beans tends to add a bit more crema to the beverage than arabica beans alone.
Now let’s look at Arabica Coffee.
Is Arabica better than Robusta?
There’s no contest here, the answer is a yes and it’s why most bags of coffee sold in stores tend to proudly display that their beans are 100% arabica.
Even still arabica beans have a very wide taste range (depending on its varietal). The range differs from sweet-soft to sharp-tangy. When unroasted, Arabica beans smell like blueberries. Their roasted smell is described as perfumey with notes of fruit and sugar tones.
Robusta coffee beans come from a resilient plant that is able to be grown in low altitudes of 200-800 meters. Robusta beans aren’t very susceptible to damage done by pests. Additionally, they produce more finished product per acre and require fairly low production costs.
In contrast, Arabica coffee beans are fragile and must grow in cool, subtropical climates.
Arabica beans also need a lot of moisture, rich soil, shade and sun. Because of their fragility, Arabica beans are vulnerable to attack from various pests and can be damaged by cold temperatures or poor handling. This type of bean also needs to be grown at a higher elevation (600-2000 meters).
In fact arabica beans are typically more desirable the higher their altitude because this brings out more acidity and sweetness to the brewed cup of coffee.
In most cases if you are making standard coffee in your home in a drip machine, french press, or pour over dripper then arabica beans will be what you want 100% of the time.
Robusta is a good additive to beef up caffeine content in espresso and instant coffee and it makes espresso look and smell a bit better as it naturally improves crema.
Robusta is also thrown into lower priced ground coffee blends to keep costs in sourcing down as well as to keep costs to end customers down… those customers who are looking for affordable coffee rather than the best coffees in the world.
Is Robusta Coffee Bad?
The takeaway here is this – robusta coffee in inferior to arabica coffee beans in most ways but that doesn’t mean it is bad. There is a significant place for robusta in the marketplace and it should not be avoided at all costs.
There will always be a market for cheap highly caffeinated coffee and robusta makes a great additive for coffee blends to achieve a balance between bitterness and acidity. I just wouldn’t advise you to brew up 100% robusta coffee anytime soon as that may just be too much for anyone! 🙂
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Gamble Bay Coffee