Arabica vs Robusta Coffee
Believe it or not, there are dozens of different types of coffee beans--many of which you’ve likely never heard of. That is because almost 100% of coffee comes from two unique types: Arabica and Robusta. These two types of coffee are by far the most popular and are consumed around the world. They each have unique qualities that impact their taste, caffeine levels, cultivation and--ultimately--their popularity.
What are the Differences Between Arabica and Robusta Coffee?
Of the various species of coffee plants, Arabica and Robusta are by far the most widely consumed. Even though they are both coffee, these two types of coffee can have very different characteristics. We use only 100% Arabica beans at Amora, and there’s a reason for that!
Let’s get straight into what you came for: how do the tastes of Arabica and Robusta coffee vary?
Quite simply, Arabica coffee beans tend to be sweeter with varying tones of fruit. Robusta, on the other hand, is more earthy, bitter and has peanut notes. Arabica also tends to be much smoother and softer than its counterpart. This is because of several reasons. Firstly, Arabica beans have about 60% more lipids. While this amount also depends on the method of brewing and roasting, more lipids typically mean more flavor retention.
Arabica also contains about 2x the sugar content as Robusta. This, along with the higher caffeine content in Robusta, makes Arabica the far sweeter option. On top of that, Robusta beans have about a 50% higher concentration of Chlorogenic Acid (CGA), which is known to have a bitter taste (more on this later).
It’s important to note that taste is also highly dependent on the quality. Because Robusta is much cheaper to grow and has a higher caffeine content, it is the bean of choice for low-quality coffees such as instant coffee. This has associated Robusta with low-quality coffee; however, sometimes you’ll find some decent Robusta coffee. But, at Amora, we choose only 100% Arabica beans for our coffee and blends as it consistently produces the best tasting and highest quality coffee for our customers.
While many of us like to enjoy a nice cup of joe for its rich flavors, some of us just like to throw back a cup of coffee before we head to work. For those of us (which I’ll admit includes me), all that matters is how much caffeine we can get in our system.
Robusta coffee beans contain almost twice as much caffeine as arabica coffee beans--specifically, Robusta contains about 2.7% caffeine while Arabica contains about 1.5%. So if you don’t care to taste coffee, and just want to get ready for work, Robusta may be the bean for you.
Caffeine level also varies within blends. The more Robusta, the more caffeine. Most espresso blends--especially in Italy--are primarily Robusta. So make sure to check the label to make sure you know how much caffeine you’ll be getting.
If you're looking for decaf, head to our guide on decaffeinated coffee methods.
Because Arabica beans are so much harder to grow, and produce lower yields, they will typically cost more than Robusta. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t cheap arabica and expensive Robusta.
This price difference is why many low-end coffee companies use all cheap Robusta; the cheapest robusta is cheaper than the cheapest Arabica. This is part of why Robusta gets such a bad reputation. Chances are, the cheapest (and worst) coffee we’ve all had was most likely Robusta.
Where You’ll Find Arabica and Robusta Coffee
As I mentioned above, most cheap coffee brands use exclusively Robusta beans because of their cheap price. On top of that, many coffee brands will stuff their blends with cheap Robusta to up caffeine levels or lower the price while still being able to say that their coffee is mainly Arabica.
Just because a brand includes Robusta doesn’t mean that they are doing it to be cheap. Many coffee lovers enjoy the nutty taste of Robusta as well as the crema that it adds to a coffee. For those who don’t know, crema is the layer of tan foam that sits on top of an espresso.
In fact, Robusta is commonly used in some of the highest-quality espressos. However, Arabica is the bean of choice for specialty coffee brands. Its unique flavors and sweetness make it a great choice for your average cup of coffee.
In an effort to capitalize on the craze around arabica, many mid to low-end coffee companies will advertise everywhere that their coffee is “100% Arabica”. While this can be a sign of good coffee, and some of the finest brands do use strictly Arabica, don’t take this to mean that the coffee is of the highest quality. Instead, do some research on where the beans are sourced from and the process they undergo.
Where is Arabica Grown?
Arabian coffee (or coffea arabica for you geeks out there) plants grow best in sub-tropical environments such as Central and South America. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of Arabica beans.
Arabica plants are actually relatively fragile and can only survive in temperatures of about 59°F to 75°F (15°C to 24°C). This limits where they can be grown and how susceptible they are to temperature changes--and is part of the reason they are more expensive.
Another reason that Arabica beans are more expensive is that they produce consistently lower yields (about half of Robusta) and take twice as long to become harvestable (4 years compared to 2 for Robusta).
The Arabica coffee plant prefers to grow about 2000 feet above sea level and on the side of mountains or hills--making it a perfect fit for the rugged terrains of South and Central America.
Where is Robusta Grown?
Robusta coffee (coffea robusta or coffea canephora) is the second most popular coffee strain in the world. It is grown primarily in Africa and Southeast Asia, with Vietnam being the world’s largest producer.
The Robusta coffee plant is much more durable than Arabica and can survive in temperatures from 65°F to 97°F (18°C to 36°C). It is also much more resistant to pests partly due to its higher caffeine levels, which is a natural pesticide.
Robusta also contains nearly 60% more Chlorogenic Acid (CGA) than Arabica. While CGA may make it more bitter, it is also a natural pesticide and healthy antioxidant. Robusta’s high caffeine and CGA levels are the largest factors in its ease growth--and therefore its cheap price.
Arabica vs Robusta: Wrapping it Up
Whether you prefer Robusta or Arabica, make sure you check to see if the beans are responsibly sourced and come from high-quality farms. Here at Amora Coffee, we offer some of the world’s best coffee on a convenient subscription base, using 100% Arabica beans. Just sign up for our monthly coffee club and we’ll send you premium coffee each month that matches your preferences. We’ll even send you the first bag free!