Arabica and Robusta are another pair of words thrown around coffee ads and bags of coffee, leading a lot of people to have either confusion or wrong impressions. Sometimes Google doesn’t seem to know what you’re talking about when you type in these words.
We are here to set the different beans straight, as knowing the difference could really help you choose coffee better fitting to what you like. There are dozens of types of beans out there, but these two are currently the most popular. Arabica and Robusta differ in growing conditions, taste, caffeine content, and price.
Let’s dive into the specifics!
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Coffee Beans Growing Conditions
Like any other plant, coffee beans require great care and consideration when growing. Arabica and Robusta beans require very different conditions in order to thrive and bring us the coffee that we are used to. Both of them resemble something closer to berries when they start growing, but from there, they part ways and become their own plant—practically with their own personalities.
This bean is grown at a 600+ meter altitude in a variety of locations—more often than not in Latin America. For example, Columbia only produces arabica beans! shared that “precision harvesting is critical”, and growers have to be very conscious of pests (who love coffee as much as we do, apparently). The beans need moisture, rich soil, shade, and sun in order to thrive. Although these are difficult conditions to control, most coffee bean production in the world is Arabica. As the biggest grower of all types of coffee, Brazil is said to produce 5,714,381,000 POUNDS of coffee each year—we would bet a lot of that is arabica!
What do you think, is 5.7 billion pounds of coffee a bit too much or not enough?
“Resilient” might be the best word to describe the Robusta bean itself. It is grown at sea level, mostly in Africa, Indonesia, and Vietnam. These conditions mean that Robusta beans are less likely to become infested with pests or devastated by bad weather. On top of all of these easy conditions, the Robusta plant grows well and at a rate much faster than an Arabica plant. All they seem to ask for is a lot of water in order to stay hydrated in the hot sun. What comes out of this process are beans that are thicker, smaller and rounder than Arabica beans.
How do These Beans Taste?
Considering the notes that you are used to in your coffee, you can pretty easily tell if you’re drinking Arabica or Robusta based on that.
Offering tones of “sugar, fruit, and berries”, it is only natural that Arabica is a bit more acidic in taste. Coffee newbies often confuse notes as flavors, but in this case it’s fun to know that Arabica beans smell like blueberries before they are roasted. Luckily though, they don’t necessarily taste that way. The varieties of Arabica are not necessarily going to have blueberry notes, but the fruits still tends to stand. Arabica beans are noticeably fruitier and softer than Robusta beans, which a lot of people seem to enjoy over the of the Robusta beans.
These beans are often known for having “a stronger, harsher taste, with a grain-like overtone and pea-nutty aftertaste”. Rather than being sweet, these beans are a bit more bitter (but that is not a bad thing). That harsh flavor has become popular for espresso because of how the beans affect the thickness of the crema and the flavor of the shot.
It just has a more BOLD flavor if you will, but like any other coffee bean it’s super delicious!
Caffeine Content of the Coffee Beans
Possibly the most important difference? Something about the beans themselves, in combination with everything else we had discussed, leads them to be quite different in this field. As much as people want to pin light and dark roasts against each other to compare their caffeine contents, it’s really the bean itself that is important.
This bean has about a 1.2 – 1.5% caffeine content. This initially seems really low, but it’s most likely what you have been consuming for years now. Also, it manages to add up so much so that you need to watch your caffeine intake.
Undeniably a better option for espresso (on top of the flavor) because Robusta beans contain almost twice as much caffeine as Arabica beans. This means that Robusta is about 2.2- 2.7% caffeine, so a much better bang for your buck in that sense. Robusta is more popular for espresso due to this perk!
How Expensive are Arabica & Robusta Coffee Beans?
Unless you’re buying coffee for your own shop, this may not seem like something to put much thought in to, but it could be affecting the price of the bags of coffee that you pick up at your local coffee shop or store.
Look back at those growing conditions. It takes a lot of work to keep those pests off and adjust the conditions as the beans need them. Everything about Arabica is considered high quality and the prices reflect that.
Being easier to grow means less labor, so robusta is on the cheaper end of things. On top of being easier to grow successfully, more finished product comes out of less square acres than for arabica. Most coffee available at your local super market are robusta because of the fact that they are cheaper.