If you’re an avid coffee drinker, you’re bound to have stumbled across the terms Arabica vs Robusta. But what do they mean, and how are the two different?
It turns out that while there is a subtle difference in terms of flavor, the general price and origin of these two beans vary more than you might think. While the type of coffee beans you opt for is a matter of preference, there are several distinct differences between these two types.
Read on to learn all about each one.
About Arabica Beans
You’re likely to have seen Arabica stamped across a coffee bag or on a cafe menu more often than Robusta. That’s because Arabica is the most popular coffee bean variety and is widely used for espresso drinks. Let’s break down a few facts about this coffee species.
Arabica beans grow in tropical climates and places with a high elevation. This coffee variety most commonly grows in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Top producers of Arabica beans include Colombia, India, and Ethiopia.
Arabica trees resemble shrubs with large green leaves and crimson berries on their branches. Inside these berries, you’ll find the beans we all love. These trees grow best in temperatures between 64 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and are also more sensitive to changes in temperature.
While these plants need steady annual rain, they don’t need as much as other species. Thus, the climate in countries near the equator provides an ideal environment for them to thrive.
Historians believe that people first cultivated Arabica beans. Today, this coffee bean represents 60% of coffee you can buy around the world.
Ancient people used Arabica beans for making protein-packed snacks. It wasn’t until the 12th century that people began to cultivate it for coffee production.
Arabica trees are different from others in their ability to self-pollinate and their set of 44 chromosomes. Most coffee bean varieties have only half that many chromosomes and rely on pollinators to distribute their DNA.
It takes the Arabica tree between four and seven years to mature. Once it’s ready to produce coffee beans, it can make about two pounds per year. The Arabica tree’s lifespan is around thirty years or less, depending on how you take care of it.
Flavor and Composition
Unlike other types of coffee beans, the Arabica variety boasts a less bitter flavor. Arabica provides a sweet taste and is generally less robust despite having a highly acidic profile. It also holds several distinct notes, from fruity to nutty. Depending on the beans’ country of origin and cultivation, you may also detect floral tones.
The caffeine content in Arabica beans averages about 1.5% per serving. It’s thus not the most caffeinated variety, but it’s optimal for artisanal drinks.
The price for Arabica beans is higher than that of other varieties. Though many countries cultivate the Arabica plant, it isn’t the easiest to keep alive. Maintaining it may be pricier because many pests and diseases can attack the Arabica plant.
Despite its higher price, most coffee shops and restaurants opt for Arabica beans over other coffee beans. The subtle notes in Arabica beans are easier to mix with other flavors to create various drink combinations.
Generally, the price for arabica beans is about twice as much as that of Robusta beans.
About Robusta Beans
Robusta Coffee beans are most popular among coffee lovers who prefer a harsh, bitter flavor. It comes in second in terms of popularity and is a great choice for those who value caffeine over taste. Though it only makes up about 30% of coffee you can buy, it’s gradually increased in popularity.
The plant that produces Robusta beans is Coffea Canephora. It’s a large shrub native to central Africa that grows white flowers and fruity bulbs on its branches. When ripe, the fruits in the flowers turn a red color. These shrubs are larger than those of the Arabica variety and have a shallow root system.
People first discovered this plant species in Congo during the 1800s. Traders introduced Robusta to the region a century later when Asia lost several Arabica plants to coffee rust disease.
Most countries that produce Robusta beans today are in the eastern hemisphere. These include parts of Central Africa and Southeast Asia. Brazil is one of the few Latin American countries to grow Robusta beans. Top producers include:
Robusta beans need a lower elevation to thrive and do better than Arabica beans in hot or cold weather.
Robusta trees have two harvesting seasons. One takes place during the highest rainfall period, and the other during the lowest rainfall. These plants yield more fruit than other coffee plants during their harvest seasons and don’t take as long to mature.
Another quality that makes Robusta trees easier to cultivate is their resistance to pests and disease. Unlike Arabica trees, Robusta trees can grow even in harsh conditions. It typically takes about six months after the plant’s flowering to yield a good crop.
When it comes to picking cherries off the coffee plants, pickers typically take whole branches off robusta plants. Because of their strong nature, workers usually are not as gentle with these berries as they are with Arabica ones.
Cross-bred varieties of the Robusta plant fall into one of two categories: Erecta (upright) or Nganda (spread out). You can find several other kinds of Robusta in the wild.
Flavor and Composition
Robusta beans don’t have the same sweet undertones that Arabica beans do. Instead, they have bitter, earthy notes and can taste grainy or woodsy. However, the caffeine content in Robusta beans is twice as high as in the Arabica variety.
Additionally, Robusta beans feature low acidity and sugar. Their flavor is not as complex as Arabica’s and is thus most commonly used for making dark roasts and instant coffee drinks.
Robusta beans are inexpensive due to their easy cultivation and the trees’ ability to produce more fruit. A single Robusta plant can make roughly five kilos or 11 pounds of coffee cherries.
There’s less demand for the Robusta variety, which also helps lower the price. However, due to a weather-induced supply shortage in coffee beans, demand for Robusta may go up.
Brazil, the world’s primary Arabica coffee supplier, suffered unusual droughts and frosts in 2020. As a result, many businesses in the coffee industry are switching over to Robusta beans instead.
Arabica vs Robusta
Arabica vs Robusta: which one’s better? The answer depends on your personal taste and coffee goals. If you want something to wake you up quickly in the morning and doesn’t break the bank, you may prefer to buy Robusta blends. But, if you love specialty coffees, you will probably enjoy the versatility of Arabica blends.
If you’re wondering what popular coffee brands use which beans, you’re not alone. Well-known coffee chains like Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee use Arabica beans only.
Brands that focus on high caffeine content, such as Deathwish Coffee and Folger’s, use a mix of both Arabica and Robusta beans. Biohazard brand coffee uses 100% Robusta. Meanwhile, traditional Vietnamese and Italian coffees also typically use Robusta blends.
Another thing to consider is that Arabica and Robusta beans will roast differently under the same conditions. Many coffee connoisseurs prefer Robusta for specific drinks.
Most specialty coffees use Arabica for flavor, and Robusta is traditional for frothy drinks like espressos. That’s because Robusta beans’ texture lends itself to more foaminess. Additionally, espresso drinks generally have bitter tones.
If you like to add lots of cream and sugar to your coffee, Robusta may be a better option. Arabica, on the other hand, is enjoyable without much fuss.
The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about Arabica vs Robusta beans.
How do you tell the difference between Arabica and Robusta?
Arabica beans have an oval shape and are slightly longer. Robusta beans are a round, small shape. You can also tell the difference by tasting the coffee. Coffees made with Arabica beans have more fruity or berry undertones. Robusta will taste more bitter.
Is Starbucks coffee Arabica or Robusta?
Starbucks coffee uses Arabica beans.
How is Arabica harvested?
There are two ways to harvest coffee beans. You can either strip off all the cherries on a branch (manually or using a machine) or select only the ripe cherries to pick off.
What are the four types of coffee beans?
Arabica and robusta are the top two most commonly used types of coffee beans, followed by Liberica and Excelsa.
Arabica is the most popular coffee bean around the world, but many people prefer Robusta for its stronger caffeine content. Most specialty coffee shops only buy Arabica beans. That’s slowly changing, though, because of supply issues and brands switching over to mixed blends.