We have all seen the bags of coffee that advertise “100% from Arabica” like it’s some kind of seal of approval from the royal coffee club. But obviously, there isn’t a royal coffee club that gives out seals of approval. Nope, this is a simple marketing technique.
But what does 100% from Arabica mean exactly? Keep reading and you will discover the answer to this question. Here is the difference between Arabica and Robusta coffee.
Where Does the Term Arabica and Robusta Come From?
The coffee bean is just a seed of a family species of plants called the Rubiaceae. There are over 100 species of these plants but we really only care about two. You guessed it, Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica and Robusta plants are two species of this entire family of coffee plants we use for drinkable coffee.
These two separate species of coffee will produce very different kinds of coffee and some heated debates in the coffee community.
Just Because Two Different Coffee Beans are From the Same Species Doesn’t Mean They Will Taste the Same
It’s important to note that Coffee beans grown in different regions will have much different taste profiles. This has to do with the weather of that specific region and the type of soil it grows in.
This means that Arabica beans grown in one region will be much different than another. The same goes for Robusta.
How Does the Taste Between Arabica and Robusta Coffee Beans Differ?
Arabica tends to be smoother and sweeter. It also has flavor notes of chocolate and sugar, as well as hints of fruits or berries. This is due to the fact that Arabica contains 60% more lipids and twice the concentration of sugars as compared to Robusta.
Also, you can expect less acidic properties in Arabica coffee beans. However, the roasting method of the beans will contribute more to the acidity level of the coffee than the type of bean itself.
Robusta is stronger, harsher, and more bitter. Since there are fewer oils and sugars, Robusta beans also tend to have more earthy and nutty overtones.
Robusta is more commonly used for espresso blends because of its more robust, bitter flavor and also due to the “crema” it produces which is that creamy layer found on top of an espresso shot.
Which Coffee Bean has More Caffeine? Arabica or Robusta?
Robusta has more caffeine. In fact, it has 2.7% caffeine compared to Arabica which contains only 1.5%. That’s a huge difference! That’s twice as much caffeine!
This increased caffeine content in Robusta partly adds to its more bitter taste.
You can expect coffee’s that advertise their strength in caffeine to be made primarily from Robusta beans.
A good example, Death Wish Coffee!
Difference Between Robusta and Arabica Plants
Robusta has more chlorogenic acids which are naturally occurring antioxidants. Why is this important? Well, these antioxidants make it better at defending itself against pests.
Along with the chlorogenic acid, the much greater content of caffeine adds to the Robusta’s bitter taste making it a deterrent for animals. Lucky for us, human beings are the only animals addicted to caffeine.
These properties of the robusta plants help them survive and grow in larger quantities in harsher environments.
In general, Arabica beans are grown at higher altitudes, require more nurturing, take longer to grow, and provide less yield. Robusta beans grow at lower altitudes, are less susceptible to pests and disease, and produce a higher yield.
Arabica beans tend to be grown more in Latin America while Robusta beans favor the eastern hemisphere in countries like Vietnam.
Which is More Expensive? Robusta or Arabica?
Arabica coffee tends to be more expensive.
Why? Like I mentioned above, the Robusta coffee plant produces a greater harvest (due to those protective qualities) which makes for cheaper beans!
Where Will You Find Arabica Vs Robusta Beans in Coffee?
Arabica coffee beans tend to be more expensive but higher quality than Robusta. Generally speaking, Robusta is a cheaper alternative that can be used as a filler.
For example, instant coffee. Instant coffee doesn’t focus on the quality of taste but rather on the caffeine fix, therefore, most of the time it will contain a high percentage of Robusta coffee to reduce cost.
Most of our coffee will come from Arabica beans. Although they are more expensive, they provide exceptional taste and are very popular in most of the world. As I mentioned in the intro, it’s common for coffee brands to boast “100% from Arabica” like it’s some kind of sign of approval. This is because the public loves Arabic and the coffee market knows this.
However, this doesn’t mean Robusta beans automatically mean worse quality. On the contrary, some of the best coffee brands out there use Robusta.
In fact, a lot of Italian roast espresso blends favor robusta beans. Many coffee aficionados think this is just cheapening the coffee, but I disagree. In my opinion, the Robusta coffee beans add an extra layer of bold coffee bitterness that enhances some blends that are supposed to be a strong kick in the butt.
Not to mention the increased caffeine content and “crema” layer it produces on top of an espresso shot. Can’t have a good espresso without the crema.
Also, not every Robusta and Arabica coffee bean is made equal! Very high-quality Robusta coffee beans can be better than an average Arabica bean, possibly even as good as a high-quality Arabica blend.
As mentioned earlier, how and where the beans are grown makes a big difference.
Brewing Differences Between Arabica and Robusta
Most of your common brewing methods will favor Arabica coffee beans. These are brewing choices such as drip coffee, pour-over, and French press.
But the world of coffee has so much more to offer!
As we mentioned above, many espresso drinkers swear by espresso made with Robusta beans.
It’s all about that “crema” y’all.
By the way, crema is a light, frothy, caramel-colored liquid found on top of an espresso shot. Many baristas (Such as myself back in the good ol’ days) swear that a well-pulled espresso shot will, and should, have that crema layer.
Does it add much to the taste of espresso? Nah not really, it’s more of a sign of good espresso.
Vietnamese iced coffee is an Asian delicacy that is made with Robusta coffee, ice, and sweetened condensed milk. As you can conclude from the name, it’s very popular with the Vietnamese.
And guess what, Vietnam happens to be the largest distributor of Robusta beans worldwide. Coincidence? Obviously not.
Generally speaking, sweetened ice coffees do very well with Robusta coffee beans. The extra bold earthy, bitter taste will compensate for the water-downed ice coffee. If you are drinking a black cup of coffee you want to have those fruity notes of Arabica beans but with a sweet coffee drink, those flavors won’t be appreciated anyway.
Which is Better, Arabica or Robusta Coffee Beans?
At face value, it may seem that Arabica coffee is better. After all, coffee made from Arabica beans is the most popular form of coffee. Arabica coffee is also smoother, sweeter, and ideal for everyday coffee drinkers.
But there is more to it.
As we discussed, Robusta coffee contains more caffeine which makes it a popular choice for some of those supercharged coffee brands. In fact, it contains 2x the amount of caffeine! Who needs sleep when you have that kind of power?
The strong, bitter Robusta flavor adds depth to espresso, as well as the “crema” layer. If you like sweet iced drinks you would probably also enjoy a Vietnamese iced coffee made with Robusta coffee beans.
You see, there is room for everyone in the coffee family. Just because Robusta coffee is cheap doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Coffee wasn’t meant to be enjoyed unilaterally. If you truly love coffee, or even if you medium love it, you will benefit from expanding your palate. Go on a taste bud adventure and try different kinds of Arabica and Robusta coffee.
I guarantee you will find room in your heart to love both species.
After reading this publication you should know more than what is socially acceptable about Arabica and Robusta coffee.
To conclude, here are the takeaway points.
- There are over 100 species of coffee plants, Arabica and Robusta are just 2 species from the entire coffee family.
- Most of the coffee we drink comes from Arabica beans. In fact, it’s about 60%
- Arabica coffee tends to be smoother, contains more of the inherent fruity flavors, and has a higher sugar concentration.
- Robusta coffee tends to be harsher, more bitter, more earthy, and more caffeinated (Almost twice the caffeine).
- Arabica coffee plants are less hearty than Robusta plants which means they do not produce as much product and are more likely to die.
- Robusta is easier to grow and therefore tends to be cheaper.
- Arabica coffee is best for your standard coffee brewing methods such as drip, French press, and pour-over. Robusta is better for specialty coffee like espresso and Vietnamese iced coffee.
- Which is better? The answer is neither! Arabica and Robusta coffee beans are both special in their own way. Both breeds deserve an equal amount of love.
And there you have it. Arabica and Robusta coffee beans in a nutshell. Hopefully, you will be more informed about your next coffee purchase.