There around hundred species of coffee plants, but only a few are economically important and only two, Coffea Arabica (Arabica) and Coffea canephora (robusta) account for more than 95% of the coffee produced on the planet. The combined production of roughly ten billion Arabica plants and four billion robusta plants fulfills the global coffee needs.
Difference in Growing Conditions:
The Arabica coffee plant is recognized as being the original species that was cultivated over three thousand years ago. Native of Ethiopian highlands, it is also known as “mountain coffee” or “coffee shrub of Arabia”. Similar to wine, environmental factors like soil, rainfall, temperature and elevation all have an impact on the bean character.
The Arabica species can be cultivated at elevations of around 800 meters the best species prefer an altitude range of 1,300 to 1,800 metres with a temperature range of 18 °C to 25 °C. With higher elevations, the average temperature becomes cooler, which translates into longer ripening time for the fruit. This gives the fruit more time to foster the flavours, hints of acidity, and aroma. Temperatures below freezing can potentially destroy the whole crop.
As reflected by the name Robusta, is much hardier plant than Arabica. It better able to withstand heat and that is why it is typically cultivated at lower elevations and near the equator. It is typically cultivated at elevations of 200 to 800 meters. It does not easily succumb to disease or insects and yields more fruit per acre. It requires less water and matures faster than the Arabica plant.
Difference in Taste:
Robusta has a burnt, rubbery taste in contrast to Arabica which is sweeter and mild. Another reason why Robusta is valued less is its greater acid content. Arabica does not have these negative qualities hence, it is more highly valued. The longer maturing time of Arabica means it yields a drink that has a greater, more developed flavour profile. The milder flavour of Arabica is partially due to its lower caffeine content. Robusta delivers twice as strong a jolt of caffeine as Arabica, but it comes with the bitter taste. Additionally, Arabica has approximately twice the sugar content compared to Robusta and 60% more fats. Arabica comes with everything that makes it more pleasing to the palate.
Difference in Bean Appearance:
The bean of Arabica plant is larger than that of Robusta plant, this regardless of the fact that the Robusta plant is bigger than the Arabica plant. Arabica beans tend to more flat and oblong shaped, with a deep green colour. The crack in the bean center is curvier. The Robusta bean is more round in shape with a pale green colour. The crack in the bean is straight. Arabica beans are more dense and have 44 chromosomes whereas Robusta beans have 22 and are more porous.
Which is Better Arabica or Robusta?
It is estimated that approximately 70% of the coffee produced in the world is Arabica while 30% is Robusta. Even though the demand for Arabica is greater, Robusta is cheaper to cultivate, so cheaper on the consumer’s pocketbook. It is also conveniently available at general grocery stores, while Arabica has to be obtained from specialty stores or gourmet coffee shops.
Arabica coffee is ideally consumed straight, while Robusta is better suited for blends, particularly espresso drinks. In the blends, Robusta provides froth and caffeine while Arabica gives the beverage a pleasant flavour. The mixture of Robusta with Arabica in shots of espresso creates greater development of crema.
It needs to be mentioned that not all Arabica coffee is necessarily going to be awesome. Even in Arabica coffees, there are grades and sometimes the lower grades of Arabica are actually inferior to best qualities of Robusta! It is interesting to note that Robusta beans are not only used in some of the least enviable coffees in the world but they are found in some of the most valued ones as well!
Nearly all of the instant coffee produced in the world makes use of Robusta beans. This is because price determines the customer’s choice in the instant coffee sector. Hence, manufacturers give preference to the cheaper Robusta species. It is shocking for many people find out that Robusta beans are also a vital portion of some of the most venerated Italian espresso coffees. Without the Robusta beans, the thick crema the Italian espresso is famous for would not be possible.
The bottom line is that both types of coffees fulfil different needs. Hence, personal taste and the amount you are willing to spend determines which coffee is the best. If you prefer to drink a single source coffee then Arabica is better suited but if you enjoy your espresso then there no getting away from Robusta!