Arabica vs Robusta: Choosing the Right Coffee Bean

If you regularly buy packaged coffee beans, you might have noticed that there are a lot of different varieties to choose from. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that some packages have the word Arabica on them, while Robusta is written on the other ones.

Even though coffee bean types aren’t just limited to Arabica and Robusta, these two types make up a very large amount of coffee production. Due to this reason, you’ll be able to find Arabica and Robusta coffee beans almost everywhere you go. With two different coffee bean types being very popular, there is a choice to be made when it comes to purchasing.

Coffee bean selection has a huge impact on how your brew turns out, which is why we think that it’s important for everybody to know the differences between the two major types of coffee beans. Even if you aren’t so much of an enthusiast, you can really improve your coffee experience by simply choosing the right type of coffee bean for yourself.

Arabica Coffee

Origin

Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) is considered to be the oldest species of coffee, making up for about 60% of coffee production in the world. It originates from Yemen, where the Coffea arabica plant was found for the first time during the 12th century.

Nowadays, Coffea arabica is being grown all over the globe as the most popular coffee species in the world. That being said, Coffea arabica takes around seven years to mature and be eligible for harvesting, and also is a very fragile plant compared to Coffea canephora, which is the plant responsible for the production of Robusta beans.

On top of being a delicate plant, Coffea arabica only grows in high altitudes, which makes it a very hard plant to grow and harvest. The areas which provide the greatest conditions for Coffea arabica growth are usually located around the equator, as the Coffea arabica plant benefits greatly from tropical climates.

For these reasons, you’ll find that Arabica coffee beans are usually on the more expensive side, especially if they are of high quality.

Taste

Arabica coffee beans are considered to be the superior type of coffee beans when it comes to taste, due to their high acidity and aromatic flavor notes. These flavor notes are usually considered to be reminiscent of fruits, chocolate, caramel, and nuts.

Arabica beans also tend to have a lower amount of caffeine, which helps them maintain the sweet flavor profile as caffeine is inherently a bitter component.

For those who are looking for a sweeter and softer coffee experience, Arabica beans are the best choice.

Shape

Arabica beans have an oval shape with a large crease in the middle and should be fairly easy to identify.

Compared to Robusta beans, they are usually larger.

Robusta Coffee

Origin

Robusta coffee (Coffea canephora) is the second most-produced coffee in the world, representing roughly 40% of coffee production. It originates from central and western Africa.

Just like Arabica coffee, Robusta coffee is also grown in a lot of countries nowadays, with Vietnam leading the amount of Robusta coffee produced. Unlike Coffea arabica, Coffea canephora is fairly easy to grow, and also is more resistant to diseases and pests.

On top of being easy to grow, Coffea canephora also has a greater crop yield compared to Coffea arabica, which makes Robusta coffee cheaper to produce than Arabica coffee. 

For these reasons, you will also find that Robusta beans are usually cheaper than Arabica beans in the shop.

Taste

Robusta coffee beans are known for their more earthy and bitter flavor notes. Since this isn’t really a preferred taste, Arabica beans are considered to be superior in this department. If you stumble upon a coffee blend that’s heavily or completely Robusta, you should most likely stay away.

That being said, Robusta beans also have their place in the coffee world. For the most part, coffee blends include a low amount of Robusta beans (10%-15%) to complement the Arabica beans. The earthy taste which comes with the Robusta beans ensures that the coffee blend has a more “complete” taste. 

Espresso lovers will especially enjoy a portion of Robusta coffee beans in their blend as Robusta beans produce a nice and thick layer of crema. 

When it comes to caffeine content, a Robusta bean almost has double the amount compared to an Arabica bean, which definitely contributes to the bitter taste in some way.

Shape

Compared to Arabica beans, Robusta beans are smaller and circular. 

The crease in the middle of the coffee bean also exists in Robusta beans, but it is usually less pronounced.

Shopping for Coffee Beans

There are a lot of different coffee beans to choose from when you go to the coffee shop or the supermarket, which certainly makes it hard to pick the best one for yourself.

As there are a lot of factors that go into the decision-making process when choosing coffee beans, it’s only normal to be overwhelmed by the number of choices.

In hopes of pointing you in the right direction, we will be discussing different variants of coffee beans you may encounter at the shop, and the properties they bring to the table.

Single Origin

Single-origin coffee is a term you most likely have seen or heard before. Simply put, single-origin coffee means that the coffee beans come from a single geographical region.

This usually means that the beans you’re getting are all at least produced in the same country. In some cases, it could even mean that they are all part of the same crop.

We have spoken earlier about how Arabica beans being hard to grow affects the price considerably, and the price difference is even more apparent when it comes to single-origin coffee. Since all the beans you’re getting are produced in one region, the availability is lesser, and that naturally increases the price.

For the most part, single-origin coffee is considered to be more premium compared to blends due to the reasons above. For those who enjoy their coffee black, single-origin coffee is usually the choice as it allows you to experience coffee in its purest form.

That being said, there are arguments to be made in favor of coffee blends when it comes to the final product, as coffee blends are designed in a way to bring the flavors out as well as possible. With blends, it’s possible to get the best of different coffee beans and create a diverse coffee experience that could outperform single-origin coffee depending on preference and how well the blend is made.

Coffee Blends

Coffee blends make up most of the coffee market due to their high availability and lower price compared to single-origin coffee. Blended coffee is known for its more flavorful taste profile, and is mostly used for preparing coffee drinks such as a latte or cappuccino.

You’ll notice that coffee blends are usually categorized by the ratio of Arabica to Robusta beans they contain, which is the next topic we will be talking about.

100% Arabica

The first type of coffee blend we will discuss is 100% Arabica. These blends contain no Robusta beans at all, and most people will claim that this is the best blend of coffee you can get since Robusta beans are known for being cheap.

Unfortunately, 100% Arabica doesn’t always mean that you’ll get great coffee beans, as Arabica is merely the type of bean you’re getting. There is a lot more to what makes a coffee bean good or bad than just the type, and this is definitely not the only benchmark you should use when you’re picking a coffee blend.

The quality of the coffee beans play a huge role in how the blend will turn out, and a blend with Robusta beans in it may taste better than a 100% Arabica blend.

80-95% Arabica

Blends that aren’t entirely composed of Arabica beans fall into this category, where the amount of Arabica beans usually vary between 80% and 95%, with Robusta beans filling the rest of the blend.

You may hear that these blends are frowned upon since they contain Robusta beans, but don’t be fooled by that. Depending on the quality of the beans, these blends can be much better than 100% Arabica blends made with lower quality beans.

We believe that a combination of Arabica and Robusta create a more complete coffee experience by using the strengths of both coffee bean types, as high-quality Robusta beans complement Arabica beans nicely with the depth they add to the blend.

Choosing the Right Coffee Beans

Now that we have talked about the two most popular coffee bean types and the different variants of coffee beans you can find in the store, it’s time to understand the factors which make certain coffee beans better than others.

Now that we have talked about the two most popular coffee bean types and the different variants of coffee beans you can find in the store, it’s time to understand the factors which make certain coffee beans better than others.

Freshness

Even though coffee lasts for a long time, it will always taste the best when it’s fresh.

Refrain from purchasing packages that don’t mention the exact roast date on them, as these beans are most likely way past the peak of their freshness. 

Don’t be fooled by the “best before” date on the package, thinking that your coffee beans will stay completely fresh until that date. Even though the coffee beans are good enough to be used until this date, there’s a good chance that your coffee will taste very flat.

We recommend buying freshly (1-7 days after the roast date) roasted coffee and using it all up within a month of its roast date to get the most out of your coffee beans. As flavors of the coffee bean lose their strength over time, it’s better to use the beans as soon as possible.

Roast

You’ll notice that coffee bean packages usually mention that they are roasted for a specific brew type.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, as the two types of roasts you’ll encounter on packages are espresso roast, and filter roast. As you can tell by the names, espresso roast is more suited for brewing espresso, and the filter roast is more suited for filter coffee.

Even though these roasts are named after certain brew types, there is no special process to obtain these roasts. The difference between these two roast types simply come from different levels of roasting, as espresso usually works better with darker roasts while lighter roasts are preferred for filter coffee.

That being said, these are merely recommendations for those who are unsure when it comes to choosing coffee beans, and if you already have a preferred roast to go with your preferred brewing method, there is absolutely no need to change anything.

Processing

You may have stumbled upon the words “washed” or “unwashed” while reading the text on a package of coffee beans. These words refer to how the coffee beans are processed, which has a level of impact on the flavor profile of the coffee beans.

The unwashed coffee method is one that has been used for hundreds of years, as it simply involves washing the cherry and leaving it to dry in the sun. This method produces heavier coffee compared to the washed method and isn’t preferred if the washed method is possible.

The washed coffee method is a new and more complex method where the outer layer of the cherry is removed right after harvesting, followed by the cherry being fermented in water. After the fermentation process is over, the cherry is placed outside to be left to dry. This method is accepted to be the better one out of the two as the coffee turns out to have a more aromatic flavor profile. 

When it comes to picking between the two, we lean towards washed coffee. That being said, there is a lot of room for preference here, which makes it a good idea to try both and see which one you prefer.

Variety

Last but definitely not least, let’s talk about varieties.

Since coffee beans can have plenty of different origins, there are many varieties of coffee beans.

Let’s use Arabica as an example. You can find Arabica beans in a lot of different countries, but you’ll end up with different subspecies of Arabica depending on where you got your beans from. These subspecies are called varieties, and play a big role in the flavor profile of your coffee.

The three most common Arabica varieties you’ll encounter are Typica, Bourbon, and Caturra. There is a good chance that you have stumbled upon one of these words written on a pack of coffee beans, as this is an important piece of information that defines the coffee bean.

If you haven’t paid attention to varieties so far, try to make note of some coffee beans you have liked so far, and check their varieties. There is a good chance that the beans belong to the same or at least similar varieties.

Generally speaking, Bourbon and Typica are considered to be the better varieties out of the three, so it’s a good starting point for those who are just starting to choose coffee beans.

Conclusion

The world of coffee beans is definitely a big one, with plenty of different alternatives and combinations to choose from. 

It may be overwhelming at first, but it’s actually quite wonderful that there are so many intricacies to the brew we all love and enjoy. With time, you’ll see that the feeling of being overwhelmed will replace itself with pleasure and excitement.

Coffee bean selection is the heart of brewing the perfect cup of coffee, so don’t give up and keep experimenting with different options until you feel like you found the taste you’ve been looking for.