No beans about it
Chances are if you have been on the lookout for bags of beans you have encountered the terms “Arabica” and “Robusta” but what exactly are they and how are they different? Let’s take a little crash course in botany, but don’t worry, this will be less lecture series and more experiential learning because we strongly encourage you to explore the differences firsthand after you check this article out. Now, on to the differences between Robusta and Arabica!
What’s in a name?
The differences between Robusta and Arabica are more than just in their names, as they are in fact two different types of coffee plants. Think less the differences between black and green tea; which can come from the same plant but are processed differently but more the differences between red and white wine; which use different grapes entirely. Though both the Arabica and Robusta plant are coffee and therefore caffeinated and delicious, they do offer up some unique traits.
The Arabica plant is a delicate, fine, and tender specimen. These plants are considerably frail and can contract diseases and blights that can wipe out a whole crop rather easily. They need very specific conditions to thrive properly, but once they get these they offer up sweet, smooth, rich, complex, and as many critics point out “better tasting” coffee (that’s subjective, though!). The Arabica plant contains a little bit less caffeine than its Robusta cousins, though.
Arabica plants love high altitudes, especially on volcanic soil in tropical regions. Though a place in the tropics is key, they prefer cooler weather, thriving in heavy and regular rains accompanied by near-constant cloud coverage because they can scorch and wither easily. Though both Arabica and Robusta are produced in most major coffee regions, one can bet that their South and Central American beans are Arabica. But Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Tanzania all produce some keen Arabica beans, too. Special mention includes Jamaica’s prized Blue Mountain coffee beans which are also Arabica!
As its name suggests Robusta plants are, well, robust! While Arabica plants are susceptible to blights and other ailments, the Robusta is incredibly hardy, it can also grow anywhere thriving especially well in low, flat, dry, sunny, and hot regions, unlike Arabica which needs the near-polar opposite! Robusta plants also offer up a bit more caffeine with their beans, but they do come with a catch.
The Robusta beans are exceptionally strong and bitter tasting. Many connoisseurs and laypeople alike tend to prefer the flavour of Arabica over the bitter, robust, or dull flavours that can come from Robusta beans. That is why Robusta may end up in blends with more delicate and tasty Arabica or in lots of pre-grounds or instant coffee selections. Robusta does have the capacity to be phenomenal though, as anyone who has enjoyed coffee in the Vietnamese style can attest (it really is!). Speaking of Vietnam, they are a major producer of Robusta along with Indonesia, Tanzania and other parts of Africa, and even Brazil.
Full of beans!
Knowing the difference between these two beans can help you zero in on exactly what you are looking for when you are next hunting for brewed coffee at the cafe or bags of beans online or in the store. Would you like a truly amplifying Robusta, or a more flavourful Arabica? The happy medium of course would be an exceptional coffee blend. Happy brewing folks and may your beans always be fresh whether they are mountainous Arabica or study Robusta beans.