Coffee Beans: Arabica vs Robusta

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Coffee comes from a genus of plants known as Coffea. There are potentially up to 100 species of coffee. However, Arabica Coffee (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea canephora) are the two primary coffee beans cultivated for drinking. Arabica makes up a larger proportion of coffee exports. “In the 12 months ending June 2019, exports of Arabica totalled 82 million bags whereas Robusta exports amounted to 46.11 million bags,” as reported by the International Coffee Association. Each have different profiles in which their complexity and flavour can be influenced through from the terroir to the final brewing process. We look at their differences.

Arabica is a flat and elongated bean. It is darker in colour compared to the Robusta bean. Most of the world’s coffee production is Arabica. The Arabica bean is viewed as superior because of its quality and smoother flavour, which appeals to the increasingly sophisticated consumer palette, which is why this variety is often used in specialty coffees such as premium cold-brew beverages.

The bean was first discovered in Ethiopia with its origin dating back to 1,000 B.C. The story of its discovery is not entirely known, however, there are several legends regarding its use. One of them includes Kaldi, the goat herder in what today is known as the province of Kaffa. He observed his goats became more energetic after eating the red coffee berries.

The Arabica variety can now be found cultivated in east and central Africa, Latin America and Indonesia, in which Brazil and Columbia are the biggest producers. The plants grow at high altitudes between 600-2000 metres, which gives the coffee its high level of acidity. The Arabica bean tends to be more aromatic with a higher level of sugar, often described as having flavours of fruit, chocolate and berry with nutty notes.

Robusta is an oval bean which originated in the Kongo. It is the second most popular variety in the world. It is a hardy variety, thriving in tropical and subtropical climates. It is typically cultivated at lower altitudes. They are easy to grow and able to produce fruit quicker than Arabica trees. This variety is also less vulnerable to pests than the Arabica species.

The Robusta tree is larger than the Arabica tree. It has twice as much caffeine as Arabica beans. Its flavour is also stronger than the Arabica variety, often described as bitter with woody and more earthy notes.

Vietnam is the largest producer of the Robusta variety, in which Robusta constitutes 95 percent of coffee production in Vietnam, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. High yields are responsible for the profitability in which Vietnam is now the second largest coffee producer in the world after Brazil. Robusta can also be found grown in India, Africa and Brazil. The Robusta variety is used more commonly in instant coffees and espresso blends.

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