Coffee is part of a family of plants known as Rubiaceae, and within this family are over five hundred Genera and around six thousand species. While botanists consider all seed-bearing Rubiaceae plants as coffee plants, our commercial coffee beverages mostly fall within two species – Arabica and Robusta (aka Canephora). There are numerous differences between Arabica and Robusta, but which is better?
Arabica beans are generally regarded as superior-tasting beans. Arabica has a sweeter, smoother taste, with chocolate and sugar notes and hints of berries or fruits. In contrast, Robusta has a stronger, more bitter taste, with rubbery and grainy overtones. On the plus side, it has higher caffeine content.
Arabica generally tastes better than Robusta, it’s not as easy to grow as Robusta, and for that, it’s typically more expensive.
Robusta is generally used to make instant coffee, but some superstar Robusta coffee beans such as those used in Death Wish Coffee and Caffe Borbone, for example.
To get a clearer picture of their differences, let’s discuss their origins, price differences, uses, and, more importantly, their health benefits.
Arabica And Robusta Origin Differences
Arabica coffee originated in Ethiopia. The plant is known as the Coffea Arabica plant. Within the Arabica species are varietals which include:
And much more.
Arabica coffee needs higher altitudes to grow (1,000 to 2,000 meters). It’s a very delicate plant, so it needs suitable soil and climate. The climate temperature should be between 15 to 25 degrees Celsius.
Robusta coffee beans come from the Coffea Canephora plant, which initially comes from Africa. This plant is easier to grow.
It generally grows at lower altitudes (0 to 700 meters); it’s also more resistant to disease, humidity, and heat. However, the plant thrives under higher temperatures.
Arabica Vs. Robusta
Arabica and Robusta have more differences than similarities. They are similar in that they turn into coffee after being harvested, roasted, and brewed, but that is where the similarities end. Arabica and Robusta differ in taste, growing environment, quality, and price.
People have described Robusta as tasting like oatmeal and being rubbery; it can be anywhere between neutral and harsh. Unroasted coffee beans have a raw peanutty smell.
Arabica features a broad taste range, depending on its varietal. Arabica can be sweet and soft to sharp and tangy. They have a perfumey aroma with fruit and sugar notes when unroasted.
Robusta beans come from a sturdy plant that can grow at low altitudes of 200 to 800 meters. As a result, the plant is mainly resistant to pest damage, and they yield more products per acre, and production costs are also relatively low.
Contrarily, the arabica coffee plant is fragile, and the beans are highly susceptible to disease. This plant needs cool, subtropical climates, rich soil, lots of moisture, sun, and shade. They also require higher altitudes of 600 to 2,000 meters.
Arabica beans are generally higher in quality due to their flavor. With that said, you can get poor-quality Arabica beans and excellent-quality Robusta beans if you search hard enough. The high caffeine content in Robusta beans is often used to produce instant coffee.
Arabica is much more expensive than Robusta because it is more delicate and harder to plant and grow. Robusta may be cheaper to cultivate.
However, it’s not a good plant for the environment. Robusta growers practice mono-cropping, which grows the same plant in the same place year after year. This process involves clearcutting the forest to cultivate the crop.
Since Robusta is the more resilient plant of the two, it results in large companies buying and clearcutting large rainforest areas to plant Robusta beans. Excessive mono-cropping erodes the soil and destroys nutrients rendering the soil unusable.
Which Brands Use Which Bean?
Conventional wisdom dictates that 100% Robusta doesn’t taste so good. However, this seems to be changing. Some coffee companies sell Robusta as the main bean and do an excellent job of bringing out the best flavors in the Robusta coffee beans.
The best specialty coffees on the global market, including authentic Kopi Luwak, use Arabica beans. So it seems as though Arabica is still the go-to coffee bean for any coffee lover.
However, many companies will use a small amount of Robusta with Arabica to bring out bolder flavors and increase the caffeine content. A good blend of Arabica and Robusta involves about 70% Arabica beans to 30% Robusta beans.
The flavors that you would typically get from commercial Robusta beans include notes of garden peas, cedar pipe, toasted bread, pepper, roasted peanuts, medicine, rubber, and a host of other less desirable notes.
Some brands that use 100% Robusta beans or close to 100% include:
- Maximum Charge Strong Coffee
- Bach Vietnamese Coffee
- Death Wish Coffee
- Caffe Borbone
Brands that use 100% Arabica beans include:
- La Colombe Corsica blend
- Stumptown Coffee Roasters Hair Bender Whole Bean Coffee
- Death Wish Coffee
- Peet’s Coffee Big Bang Medium Roast
- Equal Exchange Organic Whole Bean Coffee
Roasting Arabica And Robusta Coffee Beans
Robusta beans can be roasted for longer than Arabica without damaging their taste and structure because of their density.
Longer development times are good for Robusta beans as they may draw out more pleasant flavors. Roasting Robusta coffee beans for nine or ten minutes can bring out spicy and chocolatey notes in high-quality Robusta.
Fine-quality Robusta can produce notes of lemon, tea, vanilla, honey, caramel, cocoa, malt pulp, raspberries, banana, and much more.
The first crack is not as loud when roasting Robusta, so you must take extra care not to miss it as it can mean overdevelopment, bringing out more acidic notes in the coffee beans.
If you opt to use Robusta in a blend, you should split the roast to enhance the characteristics of both Arabica and Robusta. Robusta can create a bolder espresso when mixed in with Arabica.
The golden rule to follow when roasting Robusta is not to base your profile on any Arabica roasting experience as the two beans are fundamentally different.
The majority of Arabica coffee lovers find themselves gravitating towards medium roasted Arabica beans. The reason is that a decent medium roast brings out the complex flavors of the compounds and oils inside the bean.
Roasting Arabica beyond light roast can enhance balance and depth of flavor without losing those delicious fruity and berry notes. However, the light roast can be a bit extreme and not always well-balanced.
Dark roasted Arabica coffee beans can be extremely rich and bold. In addition, darker coffee beans can take on an almost burnt flavor, which can be favorable for those who like intense flavors.
However, the further you go in the roasting process, the harder it can be to distinguish an ordinary Arabica from a gourmet coffee.
The Caffeine Content In Arabica And Robusta
Meanwhile, a single Arabica bean contains about 1.9 milligrams of caffeine. It is between 2.2 to 2.7 % caffeine or 2.2 to 2.7g of caffeine per 3.5 ounces by dry weight. Thus, one 250ml cup of Arabica filtered coffee has about 100 milligrams of caffeine.
An entire coffee plant is full of caffeine, regardless of species, with the highest concentration locked within the cherry fruit. The reason it contains caffeine is to protect itself as caffeine is toxic to many pests. Caffeine is a natural pesticide.
While Arabica and Robusta are the most popular coffee beans globally, they could not be more different. One of the main differences between Arabica and Robusta is the amount of caffeine within the beans.
While the high caffeine content in the Robusta plant protects it from pest damage, Arabica must grow in higher altitudes to void pests.
Roasting doesn’t affect the caffeine levels of the bean; a light roast has no more caffeine than a dark roast. However, since a dark roast is less dense than a light roast, you need to weigh more of the dark coffee beans to get the most from your espresso.
There is some confusion over caffeine and bitterness. While it’s true that caffeine is bitter, caffeine only accounts for a small part of the bitterness in Arabica coffee.
Dark Roast coffee tastes bitter due to the chemical reactions that occur during extended roasting – prolonged roasting results in turning coffee acids into bitter-tasting compounds.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Arabica And Robusta Coffee?
Robusta coffee contains many health benefits; it boosts mental health, energy; it’s also good for your skin and hair because of the antioxidants.
Its diuretic effect can help you to control nausea. As we all know, caffeine can help you lose weight when you drink it at the correct times and in moderation.
Arabica coffee is also rich in antioxidants. Its small caffeine content can help you to stay focused and alert. It also contains vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, manganese, and niacin.
Arabica is superior to Robusta in taste, it’s considered higher quality, but Robusta has its benefits. The higher caffeine content in blends with Robusta adds an extra pick-me-up for those who need it in the morning; it also has its health benefits which is certainly a plus.
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