Robusta and Arabica: the body and soul of coffee

From the plant to the cup, everything you need to know about the two most popular coffee varieties: Arabica and Robusta characteristics and taste 

The origin of coffee blends types

Let’s start with a question. What does it mean single origin coffee? Good to know, very rarely will you be likely to try a single origin coffee. Popular coffee blends are obtained from several varieties of coffee plants growing in the four corners of the world.

In nature there are more than one hundred species of Coffea. These plants belong to the Rubiacee, an evergreen shrubs family, with emerald coloured leaves and small clusters of red fruits, similar to cherries, which contain two beans each. Most varieties are so rare and of little importance commercially, that they are virtually unknown. Those grown can be counted on the fingers of one hand: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica and Excelsa. Mixed togheter, they create a long coffee blends list.

On their own, Arabica and Robusta cover 98% of coffee’s world production. Both are very different in terms of origin, cultivation and roasted fruit’s taste. Blended together, they give life to the coffee that we enjoy every morning. To understand the characteristics and the aroma of the final product, we’ll fly from the highlands of Ethiopia to the plantations of the Amazon, where coffee is born. Are you ready for take-off?

Arabica, the high-mountain noble coffee

Coffee Arabica plant, which alone boasts 70% of the world’s coffee production, is born in the mountainous regions of Ethiopia and is cultivated in some areas of East Africa, Latin America and Asia. We are talking about a delicate and vulnerable plant. To thrive, it needs a tropical climate at an altitude of 900-2,200 meters above sea level, with temperatures not exceeding 20°C and mineral-rich volcanic soils. It does not tolerate droughts and wind. Arabica is considered the finest quality coffee. Its fruits are hand-collected and require particular attention to temperatures and timing during the roasting stage.

Robusta, a tough one!

Adaptability and resistance to disease are the main characteristics of Robusta coffee plant, also known as Coffea Canephora, the second most produced quality coffee in the world (28%). Discovered in Congo in the eighteenth century, it is now cultivated in Brazil, Vietnam and in West African countries. Compared to Arabica, Robusta plant is less delicate and more resistant to drought, bad weather, temperature fluctuations and parasites, thanks to the greater percentage of caffeine – a powerful natural insecticide – contained in its beans (3.5% compared to 1.5% in Arabica). It grows much faster in the lowlands, between 200 and 800 metres in height. The fruits are harvested by mechanised processes and the costs of cultivation are much lower. The toughness of the beans requires finer grinding.

Arabica vs Robusta: coffee blends explained

Roasted Arabica and Robusta beans are easily distinguished, starting with their shape. Arabica’s are slender and elongated, with an undulating groove, while Robusta’s are rounder and flattened, with a straight groove.

Arabica contains less caffeine but more sugar and oils than Robusta. For this reason, Arabica coffee taste is a delicate and a caramelised one. In the cup, it shows a hazelnut-coloured cream, with a reddish tinge. What does Robusta coffee taste like? Bitter and woody notes, with a persistent after-taste, prevail in Robusta’s aroma. Its cream is darker and thicker.

Arabica or Robusta, which is better?

The need for coffee to have both body and soul has generated an almost infinite range of blends: a good percentage of Arabica gives the cup a delicate and soft aromatic taste sensation, while coffee Robusta has a more intense, bitter and persistent flavour. The majority of people like a combined blend. An accurate dosage guarantees both a full-bodied and aromatic cup. There are numerous factors that determine the taste and the goodness of coffee: the quality of the mixture, first of all, but also roasting and conservation processes.

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