If you’ve just discovered the vast world of home coffee brewing, you have probably noticed that some coffee beans boast about being 100% Arabica or 100% Robusta or a blend of the two.
It all begins as a seed, then later becomes a tree producing beautiful white blossoms smelling of jasmine. Before you know it, the fruits then turn into cherries, and inside these cherries are the “beans” we have all come to love’ Coffee beans.
There are over 100 coffee species, however when it comes to your daily brew, there are only two coffee beans that really matter and are widely produced and sold – Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora (also known as Coffea Robusta).
Where is Arabica and Robusta Coffee Grown?
80% of the world’s coffee production is Arabica. Found mostly in Ethiopia, this area provides the rich, often volcanic soil, regular rainfall, and sunshine that coffee needs to thrive.
Robusta is known to be grown in the West African Region at lower altitudes and higher temperatures. It makes up the rest of the world’s coffee production. It is cheaper to grow and easier to maintain. It also produces more crema and so is often used in blends.
Characteristics of Arabica and Robusta
For many coffee drinkers Arabica and Robusta taste the same. However, there are actually a handful of distinctive characteristics that do separate these two coffee beans.
- When having either of the two coffees you can instantly notice that Arabica is much sweeter than the Robusta. Arabica tends to have more sugary overtones, which is many coffee drinkers preference when compared to Robusta’s stronger sharper flavors
- It is also very common for Arabica to taste a bit chocolaty, fruity and nutty along with other subtle notes where as these additional flavors rarely appear in Robusta Beans
- The caffeine found in Arabica is roughly about half as much caffeine as found in Robusta. Robusta beans contain 2.7% caffeine content compared with the 1.5% caffeine content found in Arabica beans. For those that extra boost in the morning, Robusta is tailor-made for you.
At Tomoca both our Rwandan and Ethiopian Coffee beans are Arabica. But today we shall take you through the differences of both Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica tends to have a sweeter, smoother taste, with flavor notes of sugar and chocolate with often hints of berries or fruits. Robusta, on the other hand, has a harsher, bitter and more stronger taste with a rubbery or rainy overtones
2. Sugar Content:
Arabica contains a sweeter taste compared to Robusta. Arabica generally contains a higher number of sugars (5-10%) and oils (14-18%) than Robusta making for a sweeter cup with more smooth and supple texture with complex aromas
Robusta Green Beans are cheaper than Arabica, selling at around half the price. However you get what you pay for as it’s generally accepted that Arabica beans are of a higher quality.
4. Easier to Manage on a Farm:
Ideal average temperatures to grow Arabica coffee range between 15 ºC to 24ºC and 24 ºC to 30ºC for Robusta, which can flourish in harsher, humid and hotter conditions. Coffee needs an annual rainfall of 1500 mm to 3000 mm, with Arabica needing less than other species. Whereas Robusta coffee can be grown between sea-level and about 800 meters, Arabica does best at higher altitudes and is often grown in hilly areas.
Because of the extra caffeine, Robusta is easier to tend to on the farm. It has a higher yield and is less sensitive to insects – this means its toxic to bugs
As coffee is often grown in mountainous areas, use of mechanical harvesters is not possible and the ripe coffee cherries are usually picked by hand. The main exception is Brazil, where the landscape is flat and the large coffee fields allow for machinery use.
Coffee trees / bushes yield an average of 2 to 4 kilograms of cherries and a good picker can harvest 45 to 90 kilos of coffee fruit / cherries per day
Coffee is harvested in one of two ways:
Selectively Picked – only the ripe cherries are harvested and they are picked by hand.
Strip Picked – all the cherries are stripped off of the branch at one time, either by hand or machine
The trees are checked every 8 to 10 days by the pickers and individually and only the fully ripe cherries / fruits are picked. This method is labor intensive and more costly. Selective picking is primarily used for the finer Arabica beans
5. Where can you find it?
Robusta coffee blends are usually found in instant coffee. Especially In Espresso – Specifically Italian Style Brands. It is said to help improve the Crema which is the silky froth that sits on top of your black coffee. Arabica is usually found in coffee shops and used by barista’s across the globe to create signature blended coffee. E.g. the signature Coffees available at Tomoca Coffee Africa are Macchiato, Sprice, and Cravate
6. The Shape and Plant Height:
Robusta beans are much more circular, whereas Arabica are more oval.
The average Arabica plant is a large bush with dark-green oval leaves usually with a height of up to 6 meters. The cherries or fruits, are rounded and mature in 7 to 9 months. Arabica usually contain two flat circular seeds, the coffee beans.
Robusta is a robust small tree or shrub that grows up to 10 meters high. The fruits are rounded and take up to 11 months to mature. The seeds are oval in shape and smaller than Arabica seeds.
Robusta is grown exclusively in the Eastern Hemisphere, primarily in Africa and Indonesia. Arabica is also grown in Africa and Papua New Guinea, but it’s grown dominantly in Latin America. Colombia only produces Arabica beans. Some countries, like Brazil and India, produce both. Vietnam produces most of the Robusta beans while Brazil is the most significant Arabica producer.
While Arabica may still be the bean of choice, Robusta is beginning to make a name for itself.