The two species of coffee that are most widely cultivated are Coffee Arabica (Arabica) and Coffee Canephora (Robusta). These two species make up 99% of the world’s coffee production. Although there are thousands of variations making up the remaining 1%, such as Liberica and Excelsa.
But what’s the difference between them and which is better? We spill the beans and explain what’s what.
Arabica accounts for around 70% of global coffee production. It typically has a more fruity, floral taste with complex acidity. It has more variation in flavour than Robusta and tends to be more expensive.
One of the reasons it’s more expensive is that it’s more difficult to cultivate and yields less than Robusta. It grows in cool, mountainous regions such as the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia, and needs to have the perfect conditions to thrive. The beans are oval in shape with a line down the middle and are noticeably larger than Robusta beans.
Because of its smooth taste and more complex flavours, many people, particularly in Western countries, favour Arabica and believe it to be better than Robusta. But that’s not always the case.
Robusta is mostly grown in West Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia. It has lower acidity than Arabica so it doesn’t taste as sweet. It’s most commonly used for instant coffee and espresso blends. With an earthy flavour, Robusta can taste a little bitter, however many coffee drinkers favour the bolder notes it can offer. If you’re looking for a quick caffeine fix, Robusta is the one to reach for as it has about 25% more caffeine than Arabica.
Robusta will also give more body and crema to an espresso through a coffee machine, whereas Arabica will give a more complex flavour with floral notes making it better for filter coffee. The Robusta coffee tree is relatively much easier to look after, and is more resilient to disease and poor weather conditions. The beans themselves tend to be smaller, paler and more rounded than Arabica beans.
It also matures quicker so for Robusta it is ready for harvest in two years and for Arabica it’s four years. For these reasons, it’s on average, a third cheaper than Arabica.
Which one to choose?
Like anything, coffee comes down to personal preference – it’s all about what you like. Some people love the earthy taste of Robusta and find the sweet notes of Arabica to be too subtle. Depending on how your coffee’s brewed, e.g. espresso or filter, a blend of both may even give the best experience. Check out our piece here on single-origin coffees vs. blends.
So if you need a hand in selecting the perfect coffee for you and your team at work, give us a call or drop us an email and we can arrange a free tasting session. And for more information on choosing a great coffee, check out our blog ‘Coffee Myths Unpacked by a Coffee Pro’.