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More often than not, comparisons of different types of coffee center around different coffee recipes. If you ask someone, even a regular coffee consumer, to name some coffees, you’ll probably get responses like ‘cappuccino,’ ‘mocha’ or ‘americano.’
However, in reality, coffee types are often differentiated from one another long before the time comes to create the beverage itself. This is because coffee plants (and, by extension, their beans) can be classified into various subspecies.
The two most common species of coffee are Arabica and Robusta. Although many coffee drinkers might not even know which coffee species their morning pick-me-up is made from, there are actually distinct differences in the properties of Arabica and Robusta coffee.
Today, we’re going to talk about the differences and similarities between Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. We’ll have a look at their historical and geographical origins, physical, taste, aromatic, and nutritional characteristics.
We thought we’d start with Arabica coffee for the simple reason that these subspecies account for a massive 75% of the coffee industry worldwide.
If you ever drink instant coffee, chances are, that freeze-dried blend contains Arabica coffee at least to some extent – so you may as well know something about it!
Origins and History
Arabica coffee beans are the product of the Coffea Arabica plant, which is native to, and originated from, Ethiopia (East Africa).
The history and global significance of Arabica coffee is an interesting one. The beginnings of Arabica coffee consumption can be traced back all the way to roughly 1,000 BC.
It is thought that the Oromo tribe (the most populous ethnic group in Ethiopia, then known as Kefa) would consume Arabica coffee beans for much the same reason as we do today – an energy boost.
In the 7th century AD, coffee Arabica was transported by ship to Yemen and Arabia. From there, aided by factors like trade, missionary travel, and (not least) colonialism, Arabica coffee made its way around the world.
Today, as we mentioned earlier, this coffee species makes up ¾ of the world’s coffee industry. But what is it about the Arabica coffee bean that makes it such a popular choice?
Properties of Arabica Coffee Beans
Why is Arabica coffee such a staple of coffee production? Let’s look at some of its properties.
A massive contributor to the popularity of Arabica coffee is its flavor. Of all the coffee beans in the world, Arabica is one of the most widely palatable because it tastes quite sweet compared to some other coffee species.
For non-coffee-drinkers, ‘sweet’ probably wouldn’t be the first word that comes to mind when trying it for the first time, but to those whose palates are accustomed to the unique flavor of coffee, it really is very smooth and mild.
Before roasting, Arabica coffee beans have an interesting, blueberry-like smell. This aroma morphs into a kind of sharp sweetness during and after the roasting process.
Besides its uniquely sweet flavor and aroma, the Arabica coffee bean can be distinguished from other coffee beans by its shape. Arabica beans are quite large at about 10 mm in length. They are oval in shape and feature quite a deep center cut.
Despite being larger than your average coffee bean and having many desirable qualities in terms of coffee consumption, Arabica coffee is surprisingly tricky to grow.
The Coffea Arabica plant is very sensitive and needs optimal (high) humidity levels and a high altitude to thrive. Additionally, the light and temperature levels surrounding the plant need to be carefully monitored because too much heat or direct sunlight can literally burn the plant.
Arabica coffee is also quite expensive. For this reason, it’s quite rare to find coffee brands or sellers that use Arabica beans exclusively.
Now you know that Arabica coffee constitutes 75% of worldwide coffee manufacture, you might be wondering where the other 25% comes from. The answer is Robusta coffee.
Origins and History
Robusta coffee beans are the fruit of the Coffea Canephora plant, which, like Coffea Arabica, originated in Ethiopia. This plant is also native to other areas in Central and Western Africa.
The Coffea Canephora plant was introduced to Vietnam during the 1800s by French colonists, and this is where the majority of Robusta coffee is grown today. It is also still found in Africa, as well as in Brazil and India.
Properties of Robusta Coffee Beans
Robusta coffee is significantly more bitter than Arabica coffee. This is probably the main reason why this coffee species isn’t as popular outside of seasoned coffee drinkers.
The reason Robusta coffee has more of a bitter taste than Arabica coffee is that it contains higher levels of caffeine than its sweeter counterpart.
This makes Robusta coffee an ideal choice both for regular coffee drinkers who enjoy stronger flavors or for those who drink coffee for the caffeine kick rather than the taste.
Despite being quite bitter, Robusta coffee is still delicious in its own way. It has an earthy aroma and a distinctly nutty aftertaste that many coffee lovers can’t get enough of.
In comparison to Arabica coffee, Robusta beans are more circular than oval and typically smaller in size. In most cases, the center cut will also be less noticeable. Often, Robusta beans are lighter in color, too.
Observant readers may be wondering why Robusta coffee isn’t called after its plant name, as Arabica coffee is. This is because Robusta coffee is named after its most defining characteristic, which is a highly resilient nature.
Unlike Coffea Arabica, Coffea Canephora is very robust. It has a higher natural resistance to varying weather conditions, altitudes, and even diseases, so its growing conditions are much more flexible.
The ease of growing Robusta coffee is the main reason it’s so much more affordable than Arabica coffee. Because of this, most coffee manufacturers will mix some Robusta coffee into their Arabica coffee blends to bring the overall price down.
Difference between Arabica and Robusta coffee beans
The following table lists some of the main differences between the Arabica and Robusta coffee beans.
|Country of Origin||Ethiopia||Ethiopia|
|Popularity||Approx. 75% of world coffee||Approx. 25% of world coffee|
|Flavor||Usually sweet||Usually bitter|
|Aroma||Sharp and sweet||Earthy|
|Growing Conditions||High altitude/humidity||Flexible|
To summarise, Arabica and Robusta coffee species are both delicious and important contributors to the coffee industry as we know it today.
While these coffee beans differ in almost every aspect aside from their country of origin, they both have their own part to play in catering to the individual palates of coffee drinkers.
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