Any avid coffee drinker will be able to tell you whether the coffee you’re drinking is Arabica or not, but they might not all be able to tell you the true difference between Arabica and Robusta.
The majority of the coffee that is produced in the world is Arabica while only about 25% is Robusta, and there’s a reason for that.
What Do We Mean When We Say Arabica or Robusta?
When you here someone talking about coffee, or you read the label of a package at the store, and the words Arabica or Robusta are brought to attention, it’s referring to the species of the coffee plant. Obviously, the Arabica plant is going to produce Arabica beans and the Robusta coffee plant is going to produce Robusta beans.
While there are over a hundred difference species of coffee plants around the world, these two are the most commonly used when it comes to consumable coffee. You rarely ever hear of another species of coffee being grown by farmers with the intention of being drank by humans.
These different species of coffee plant produce beans that are very different from each other. The taste and flavor profile, the amount of caffeine in the beans, the growing conditions needed for the plants to thrive, the sugar content, and even how the beans look physically.
Think of it like varieties of apples. A red delicious apple looks and tastes different than a granny smith apple, but they are both still apples.
What are the Differences Between Arabica Coffee and Robusta Coffee?
Physical Look of the Beans
The first thing that you’ll notice about Arabica beans when compared to Robusta beans is that the Arabica beans tend to have more of an oval shape whereas the Robusta beans are more rounded. The Arabica beans are typically lighter in color as well.
Arabica beans are a bit more difficult to farm than Robusta beans, and this is for a few reasons. For one, the Robusta beans grow at lower elevations while the Arabica beans grow in higher elevations with more tropical climates.
Robusta beans are also physically harder than Arabica beans and contain more caffeine which makes it harder for insects to affect the beans. Obviously having a harder physical element would make it harder for insects to penetrate the beans, but the caffeine level also helps ward of insects. Caffeine actually acts as a deterrent for insects. The higher level of caffeine in Robusta beans is actually toxic to most insects.
Because of the fact that Robusta beans are easier to tend to and produce a higher yield when compared to Arabica, this allows for the price to be cheaper as well.
I’m sure you’re asking yourself, if the price is cheaper, and these beans are easier to farm, then why don’t more people drink Robusta coffee? Well, as you’ll see in the next few points, the flavor profiles and sugar content in the Robusta beans mean that they just don’t taste as good.
Taste and Sugars
While the differences mentioned above are significant, the biggest difference between Arabica beans and Robusta beans comes in the flavor. These two coffee beans have very different flavors which lends itself to why most of the world prefers Arabica over Robusta.
Robusta coffee beans have a much harsher taste than that of the Arabica beans. Some people describe the taste as being almost burnt when compared to Arabica, which comes from the amplified levels of caffeine found in Robusta. Robusta beans contain around 2.7% caffeine while Arabica beans have about 1.5% caffeine.
Caffeine produces a very bitter taste which is part of the reason why the Robusta beans tend to taste worse that Arabica beans. Arabica beans also have more sugars in them which leads to a lighter, sweeter taste.
What Coffee Drinks Use Robusta Beans?
A lot of mass-produced coffee that you find at the grocery store is going to be made using Robusta beans. Big brands like Folgers use mostly Robusta beans, but sometimes you’ll find an Arabica blend. Maxwell house has only recently moved over to Arabica beans, but you’ll still want to make sure to read the labels if you’re looking for a specific bean.
If you’re an instant coffee drinker you’re most likely drinking coffee made with Robusta beans which helps keep the cost down. And, since nobody really expects a high-quality cup of coffee when making instant coffee, this is a great way to keep the costs down.
The other main coffee drink that uses a Robusta blend is espresso. Robusta coffee is widely used in espresso blends because it is said to help improve the Crema.All in all, if you’re looking for the best quality beans and the best cup of coffee, and your choices are Arabica or Robusta based coffee, we would choose the Arabica coffee 100% of the time.