The difference between Arabica and Robusta: Is the Robusta inferior?

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Arabica versus Robusta argument. Some opinions rate the Arabica as higher quality bean, however this is not necessarily the case.  

When comparing the two varieties, it comes down to taste, chemical make-up and cultivation requirements. These differences help to explain why the Arabica accounts for between 60 and 80% of the world’s coffee production, whilst the Robusta makes up the rest.  

It’s all in the Taste 

Arabica beans are often described as ‘fruity’ and ‘floral’. This is because this variety contains more natural sugars and is higher in acidity than its robust cousin. The Arabica is therefore sweeter, lighter in flavor and more palatable to most people.  

This fancy- pants bean also contains more oils and 60% more lipids than the Robusta, which contribute significantly towards the flavor and aroma of the coffee after roasting.  

The Robusta bean contains half the amount of sugar when compared to the Arabica, but it contains twice as much caffeine. Therefore, this bean has a stronger, bitterer taste. It can be described as ‘nutty’ or ‘earthy’ and adds a depth of flavor that the Arabica lacks and is often used when creating a blend. 

Robusta beans are mainly used in the production of instant coffee due to their high caffeine content whilst the Arabica is preferred in our growing ‘coffee culture’ due to its delicate tastes and its compatibility with espresso based drinks. 

Blame it on your Roots

The taste of a coffee is largely determined by the place it is grown. The diversity in flavor is absorbed from its environment through the soil and through its exposure to the climate. The quality of the bean relies on the suitability of its environment and the processing it goes through from tree to cup. 

Both beans originate from Africa, but the Robusta is mainly found in countries in the Eastern hemisphere including Indonesia and Vietnam. In fact Vietnam boasts the largest production of Robusta beans globally. 

The Arabica is cultivated mostly in Latin America and parts of Africa, with the majority being produced in Brazil.  

Something in the naming gives away their character; the Arabica sounds fancy and is also more fussy than the more hardy and robust Robusta (Ha Ha). 

Arabica coffee is very sensitive to weather conditions and more susceptible to pests. It is grown at high altitudes, preferring to live between 600 and 2000 meters above sea level. Our elegant favorite enjoys a more temperate environment, thriving in temperatures ranging between 15 and 24 (no higher, no lower). 

The Robusta bean, however, is more adaptable to adverse weather conditions and puts up a stronger fight against diseases and pests, making it easier to grow. This variety is cultivated at altitudes ranging between 200 and 600 meters. It therefore prefers a warmer environment anywhere between 24 and 29 degrees. 

It can take between 9 and 11 months for an Arabica bean to ripen, and over this time, this plant requires a lot of dedicated attention. 

The hardy Robusta can produce up to double the quantity of beans, providing multiple harvests in one year given the right conditions. 

These cultivation factors greatly impact the cost of the beans.  The Arabica is more expensive because it is more difficult to grow and there is a higher demand for them in the global coffee network. Robusta is therefore seen as an inferior bean. 

Perhaps there is something to be said for the reality that the bean that requires the most recourses makes up the majority of the world’s production (but that can be for another day, another article). 

It is important to give credit where it is due and we should remember that our tough Robusta friend has its own unique contribution for the world of coffee and grown in the right way, can match the quality of any Arabica. 

When choosing your coffee, you have to consider; How much caffeine do you want (or crave), do you prefer sweet or astringent or is the price the grand decider. With the boundless choices we have today, you are free to experiment. 

So try them out, test the brewed waters and maybe you will find yourself a Robusta to love.