If you buy roasted coffee beans or whole green coffee beans, you’ll notice two common words on the labels: Arabica and Robusta, these two words refer to the species of coffee the coffee beans are from. And, if you are new to the coffee world, you might be thinking, what does it matter? Isn’t a coffee bean, a coffee bean?
This question alone is enough to have coffee enthusiasts attack you.
With over 100 different species, Arabica and Robusta species have become the two most commonly used coffee beans in commercial production. While there are many differences between the two coffee beans, which we will explore in the next section. The main differences are where they are grown (the coffee beans’ origin) and how they taste.
By understanding these differences and the many others, you’ll be better positioned when choosing your coffee.
What Are The Differences Between Arabica and Robusta Coffee Beans?
The differences between the two coffee beans fall into many different categories, from taste, production, appearance, and caffeine levels. Other than both being coffee beans, there aren’t many similarities.
Growing Conditions and Environment
These two coffee plants’ desired growing environments couldn’t be more different.
Robusta beans are easier to grow and produce, able to grow anywhere from sea level to around 600m. While its Arabica counterpart requires an elevation of upwards of 600m and tropical environments.
Robusta coffee plants are more ‘hardy’ which means they are more resilient to pests and diseases. Compared to Arabica coffee plants, which are fragile and require nutrient-dense soil, lots of moisture, and a healthy balance of sun and shade.
Taste and Flavor Profile
With a bitter and sometimes peanutty aftertaste, Robusta coffee beans are less desired in the coffee world because they are described to have harsher and earthier notes.
Arabica coffee beans have a variety of complex flavors which range from soft to sharp, allowing for fruity and sugary notes and aromas. With a higher acidity level, Arabica coffee beans leave a crisp taste.
Averaging between 2.2 – 2.7% Robusta coffee beans have approximately 1 – 1.5% higher caffeine content when compared to Arabica coffee beans. Meaning a coffee brewed with Arabica beans will have less caffeine than a coffee brewed with Robusta beans, it’s this extra caffeine that contributes to the Robustas’ bitter taste.
With Robusta being easier to grow on the farm and being less susceptible to pests, insects, and disease, it’s no surprise that they bring in a higher yield. This makes Robusta coffee beans cheaper to produce, on the contrary, Arabica coffee requires more resources to grow and therefore is more expensive.
What Is Better Robusta or Arabica?
While there is no better coffee bean per se, due to its flavor complexity, balance, and acidity. Arabica coffee beans are considered by the majority in the coffee world as superior coffee beans.
This doesn’t render Robusta coffee beans useless, accounting for 30% of the entire coffee grown around the world, these beans are perfect for coffee blends. A coffee blend can hide unpleasant and undesirable characteristics of the coffee’s origin by using milder Arabica coffee beans. The Robustas taste and caffeine contact can enhance the flavor within a blend.
If you are a regular espresso drinker, you’ll understand that an important part of any espresso is the crema. Robusta beans produce a better crema when compared to Arabica coffee beans. So coffee roasters will regularly blend Robusta beans into an espresso blend to help create that much-desired crema.
So, unless you purchase single-origin coffee beans (in which case you’ll prefer Arabica). Rarely will you have to choose between either coffee bean.
Are There Other Coffee Beans Besides Arabica and Robusta?
We’ve spent the entire article talking about Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. You must be thinking, out of 100 species, there must be more than just two… And you’d be correct.
While the most popular and common coffee beans are Arabica and Robusta, the other two you could find in some coffee blends are Liberica and Excelsa.
Liberica, found in the Philippines, where it is widely available and served black with sugar, has a reputation for being inconsistent. It’s one you’ll either love or hate. There isn’t any in-between with Liberica.
Excelsa is found on the outskirts of Asia. Those who have tried this unique coffee bean say they find the notes are fruity and light on the aroma. While also contains less caffeine and provides a lot of complexity if added to blends.
While from the same family, Robusta and Arabica coffee beans are vastly different. Providing you with two textures on the opposite sides of each other. And, even though Arabica coffee beans are considered superior, Robusta coffee beans within a blend can enhance the final cup of coffee’s flavor.