When it comes time to enjoy a good coffee, are you more the mild and fruity type or bitter and full-bodied? The difference between the two lies not only in the brewing or roasting method; it starts with the coffee bean itself.
There are several dozen species of coffee (Coffea), but only Arabica, Canephora (Robusta), and Liberica are cultivated for consumption. Since this latter variety isn’t very widespread in the markets, we’ll focus on the first two, which make up 70% (Arabica) and 30% (Robusta) of global coffee production, respectively. The question naturally arises: should we choose Arabica or Robusta coffee?
To better highlight the differences between them, here’s a short presentation on each of these two botanical species.
From the Latin “Coffea Arabica,” Arabica coffee is the most common variety in the world. Cultivated for hundreds of years, its name comes from its place of origin, which is located on the Arabian Peninsula (Ethiopia-Yemen). To grow to its full potential, several factors have to come together: a humid and shady environment, soil rich in acids and minerals, and a relatively high altitude (between 800 and 2000 metres). It requires a great deal of care during its growth period, and the plant remains fragile throughout its life.
Arabica coffee is mainly cultivated in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Ethiopia. Several varieties of Arabica plants are available: Bourbon, Typica, Tico, Blue Mountain, Catuai, Catimor, Mundo Novo, San Ramon, and Caturra. You can detect a certain variation in terms of flavour, but the main difference lies in their origin.
As its name suggests, we’re dealing with robust, full-bodied, bitter coffee here. This species isn’t only strong to the taste: the plant is extremely resistant to insects and extreme climatic conditions. Compared to Arabica coffee, Robusta is much easier to cultivate and grows more quickly. The result: it can be sold for less. Primarily cultivated in Africa and Asia, its sales have risen over the last century.
A question of taste
The reference “100% Arabica” is often regarded as a sign of quality. However, the question is much more complex than it might appear at first glance. Although Ethiopian Arabicas are frequently cited as being among the best gourmet coffees in the world, some Robustas are able to match other Arabicas in terms of quality. It’s all a question of taste – and sometimes of mixtures.
Coffee that comes from Arabica beans is mild, with slightly fruity notes. It has a beautiful complexity of flavours, and its acidity level is well balanced. It’s worth noting that Arabica beans contain more sugar than Robusta, which contributes to their more “accessible” taste.
Robusta coffee, meanwhile, is dark and full-bodied, with a taste that lingers for a long time on the palate. Certain people detect flavours of cocoa and earth in it. Due to its powerful flavours, it is often used in mixtures, where its pronounced taste becomes an asset. Furthermore, it is often used to prepare Italian coffees (espresso). When prepared as is, it contains twice as much caffeine as Arabica.
Just try them!
It’s impossible to decide which variety is better than the other from every point of view. In response to that initial question, there’s an element of personal preference. The best way to choose what suits you best between Arabica and Robusta coffee is to try several different kinds of them until you’ve found the one that you prefer.