With coffee, the differences in flavor can all circle back to its bean type. Most common of those types in consumption and growth: Arabica and Robusta.
So, how does an Arabica bean differ from a Robusta bean? Knowing the Arabica and Robusta coffee difference is important to understand and appreciate the cup of joe you happily Hoover up every morning.
Arabica vs Robusta: Origins
The Arabica bean can be sourced to Yemen as the first-ever coffee to be brewed. It’s part of a flowering plant species, Coffea Arabica, grown originally in the highlands of Ethiopia. A tropical plant, it flowers during the rainy season before producing its fruit nine months later. What’s harvested is the seed inside that fruit—the “cherry”—that’s an oblong shape. Arabica beans are grown and harvested, popularly, in regions of Brazil, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and Colombia.
Robusta, meanwhile, comes from a plant, Coffea canephora, native to sub-Saharan Africa. Robusta is produced mostly in Vietnam; coffee was introduced to that region by the French in the 19th century. It’s the country’s second-largest agricultural export, behind rice. Robusta beans are also harvested in Indonesia and West Africa.
Arabica Coffee vs Robusta Coffee Flavors
Arabica beans typically contain a higher sugar content in the bean and less caffeine, meaning it will come out sweeter and more acidic. This means flavor notes that are lightly sweet and fruity, often with a berry or citrus taste. Because so much care goes into cultivating an Arabica bean—there’s a laundry list of variables for growing it, like altitude, rain, and the amount of time from planting to harvesting—there’s a wide spectrum of quality with Arabica beans. They take longer to grow than Robusta, in almost all cases, but with that patience comes great reward in the end-product: a silky mouthfeel and pleasant taste from a lovingly cared for plant. The flavor and body can even be tea-like, depending on the roast and how it’s brewed.
Robusta, by contrast, has a much more universally earthy, nutty taste that’s more bitter thanks to its high caffeine content—nearly twice that of Arabica. It complements Arabica well in some coffee blends and can be a high-quality, aromatic espresso brew. Still, it is also the most commonly used bean in instant coffee.
The differences in taste are subjective, overall. While some appreciate the extra robustness and crema Robusta can add to an espresso shot, others find it harsh and off-putting. Arabica, of course, can boast an acidity level that’s too high for some or too light in flavor. And how the coffee turns out in a cup, depends on how it is roasted and brewed.
Coffee Beans Arabica vs Robusta: The Cost
There’s a reason Robusta typically ends up as instant coffee: It’s a lot easier to maintain the crops, can be planted in lower altitudes, and matures faster. Therefore, it’s cheaper in cost. It makes up about a fifth of the world’s coffee market. Low-priced supermarket coffee grounds or those iffy-looking convenience store brews are often Robusta.
Arabica, by comparison, is typically more expensive and can commonly be found at craft shops. Making up about 60 percent of the world coffee market, its high-altitude and multi-year growing process means it’s usually priced at a premium.
Whether you prefer the light, sweet taste of Arabica or the bitter, nutty notes of Robusta coffee, try different blends and roasts to expand your horizons. You may even surprise yourself and discover a new go-to brew!