What is the difference between arabica and robusta?

Arabica beans and robusta beans are two different species of coffee grown commercially for consumption as coffee. The general differences are those of taste, the conditions under which the two species grow and economic differences.

Taste: Arabicas have a wider taste range, between varieties. They range in taste from sweet-soft to sharp-tangy. Their unroasted smell is sometimes likened to blueberries. Their roasted smell is perfumey with fruity notes and sugary tones.
Robustas taste range is neutral to harsh and they are often described as tasting grain-like, oatmeally. Burnt tires is the description that I personally find most accurate. Their unroasted smell is often described as raw-peanutty. There are high quality robustas on the market but they are rare and reserved exclusively for the best robusta containing espressos.

Production Conditions: Arabicas are delicate, they require cool subtropical climates, lots of moisture, rich soil, shade and sun. They are subject to attack from various pests, and are extremely vulnerable to cold and bad handling. Arabicas also must be grown at a higher elevation of 600 to 2000 meters.

Robustas are hardier plants, capable of growing well at low altitudes of 200 to 800 meters, they are also less subject to problems related to pests and rough handling. They yield more pounds of finished goods per acre at a lower cost of production.

Economics: Customs and trade, supply and demand over the course of the last 150 years has determined the relative values of arabica vs. robusta beans. Generally speaking, the best coffees are all arabicas and the highest quality blends are pure arabica blends. They are also the priciest.

In the U.S. you will generally find arabicas in the coffee store and specialty food shop, and robustas in the supermarket cans. Jars of instant are almost exclusively robusta.

In Italy, home of espresso, the very highest quality brands are pure arabica, and like here, the popular-priced goods are blended with robusta beans. Because "Imported from Italy" can make an ordinary supermarket quality Italian espresso a "gourmet" coffee in the U.S., you will find robustas in some Italian brands offered for sale in the United States.

The coffee you like is a very personal thing. You may find that you really prefer the all-arabica blends, or you may feel comfortable with something less, just because you like it. That's OK. The American marketplace, thanks to the Specialty Coffee movement here, is now rich enough in roast types, species, varieties, blends, brews, grinds, and price points to have something for every taste and pocketbook.

It should be noted that a low quality arabica bean cupped next to a high quality robusta will probably be the inferior bean. So, don't get too caught up in the arabica versus robusta argument. Many great espresso blends use robusta for it's strength and crema.

I should also mention that Arabica does not equal quality. Over seventy percent of the coffee grown throughout the world is arabica. Much of it is garbage so do not assume that just because you are buying arabica you are getting a quality coffee.

One other side note that must be mentioned is that Robusta has approximately twice as much caffeine as Arabica. This may be an issue for some people when choosing their coffee.


The personal is political

There is another dimension to all this that rarely seems to get a mention.

I buy only Arabica because Arabica generally requires a larger, more skilled workforce to harvest. Because Arabica will not grow well at high temperatures, but still needs sunlight, it needs to be grown at altitude in tropical zones - typically on hill slopes where mechanical harvesters cannot be readily or efficiently used.

Robusta can be grown in hotter conditions - so it can be grown on the plains where it can be harvested mechanically and cheaply. The cheaper Robusta floods the local market and this then helps drive the more expensive Arabica growers out of business. The Arabica workers then end up working for the big Robusta growers, if there's work available.

More often because Robusta can be harvested by relatively few workers using mechanical harvesters, there is no work for the unemployed Arabica workers who end up displaced from their traditional livelihoods and flood into the urban slums in search of work.

In short, if you want to support the big agro businesses that do so much damage to our planet, then buy Robusta!

If on the other hand you want to help small communities survive, start by ensuring that you only buy Arabica.

wow-pompous much?

wow-pompous much?

no, just well written

no just well written and well thought out, possibly a little beyond you?

Not a clear choice

It's not as clear a choice as choosing Arabica over Robusta: The reason why there was so much investment in Robusta, for example in Vietnam, was the demand for cheap coffee and cheap means low quality. So what do the coffee companies do with it? They steam it to remove the taste and then replace the taste with something else. Lo and behold we have the flavoured coffee or even the gourmet flavoured coffee such as "smooth vanilla" which can and do cost more than a quality roasted Arabica. Robusta beans also make their way into instant coffee and premixed coffee such as those consumed in great quantities in Korea. So really it's not so much a case of choosing Arabica over Robusta but choosing to avoid those coffee products which contain Robusta of which there are many. But really it's a matter of personal preference and personal choice and what is excellence to one is a load of rubbish to another: For example, I drink Vietnamese coffee done in the usual way in a Phin with condensed milk in the cup because I like it. So to me Vietnamese Robusta is the bee's knees.

Ultimately it boils down to personal taste...

Personally, I prefer the Arabicas because they don't give me heartburn, allowing me to drink it all day; and I can roast my own to control the caffeine content (heat destroys caffeine, so the lighter the roast, the more caffeine ends up in the cup).

But, ultimately, it boils down to personal taste; what tickles your palate is all you should consider when picking your coffee.

That said; it's time for my morning quad cappuccino. Today's cup is a nice medium roasted Jamaican Blue Mountain Peaberry... in a cup of frothed half and half from a local dairy ...mmm!

What if Robusta is harvested,

What if Robusta is harvested, not with highly mechanised model, but with a large work force, without displacing their jobs? 
What if Robusta grown is a high quality Robusta? A better tasting variety?
Arabica was discovered by mankind a hundred years prior to generating other varieties. That doesn't mean other variety coffee doesn't have superior tasting output.

The trouble with conditional statements...

What If...???
'If' denotes a conditional statement; and it way too easy to state a thing in a way that none of the conditions of the statement are or can be true.

My father was fond of saying:

"If a chicken had a square butt; it would lay cubes."
"If I had a square butt; I'd sh*t cubes."

...thus discounting anything I said that began with 'if'...

The trouble with conditional statements and ill informed people

Your knowledge of the coffee market is as weak as your knowledge of the anatomy of a chicken.

"If a chicken had a square butt; it would still lay normal eggs it might sh*t cubes but the eggs would be normal. There is not an animal on the planet that lays or births out of its butt"

With proper research and gathering of actual information you would have realized the flaw in the statement before writting it on the internet. Rather than just rehashing someone else opion and passing it off as your own.

JSilverton -

Your entire post is correct. And your father was awesome! Thanks for the laugh. :)

Don't understand this comment

Don't understand this comment as person is "political". Find it's unfair to a very fairly / objectively written article that is precise and easy to understand.
Pls keep own preference w urself only and leave fair / impartial comment is important for ppl who really wants to understand and be more knowledgable.

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