We normally think of coffee from different countries as different types of coffee. While each country has conditions and methods that affect the flavor of your cup, most of the coffee you buy is from one kind of plant. There are two main types of coffee called Arabica and Robusta. While you’ve probably tried both of these at some point, they each have their own niche. Arabica beans are what you would find in a specialty coffee shop. At Copper Canyon we sell 100% Arabica beans from all across the globe. While you won’t find any Robusta beans for sale at our shop, they are used for almost all of the instant coffee on store shelves. What is the difference between these two types of beans? Can they only be used for one style of coffee? Let’s take a look at some of the differences between these beans.
Arabica beans have less caffeine than Robusta beans. They also tend to have a much smoother flavor profile with a sweeter taste. While the flavor notes will depend on the roaster, Arabica beans typically have a chocolatey flavor or a fruity/berry flavor. This flavor profile makes Arabica beans the first choice for many roasters. Produced in over 30 countries, Arabica is the more common type of coffee, over Robusta.
The two types of coffee have distinctly different looking plants. An Arabica bush grows up to 15 feet tall, but it is usually pruned down so the whole plant can be easily accessed. The plants have two sets of chromosomes so they are able to self-pollinate. This means that the species is generally quite stable in its makeup, but there are still different varieties within the Arabica label. The two most common varieties are Typica and Bourbon. Within these two varieties there are notable differences in flavor and appearance.
The Typica variety was discovered first, gaining the title of “the original coffee”. This variety is lower-yielding than the Bourbon variety. Typica beans are often associated with a great cup of coffee. The Bourborn variety is known for having complex aromas. This variety is also prone to spawning mutations. Some of these mutations are named and cultivated while others are eliminated.
While you would be less likely to find Robusta coffee in a specialty coffee shop, it does have some notable properties. Robusta beans typically have more caffeine than Arabica beans. The plants have high levels of caffeine and naturally occurring chlorogenic acids that act as a self-preservation mechanism to keep pests away. While often regarded as less refined, Robusta beans can produce a better crema (the top of an espresso shot) than Arabica. This makes Robusta beans a common choice in many commercial espresso blends. Though they can provide a more bodied crema, the high levels of chlorogenic acid can make the flavor of the coffee less desirable when roasted.
In general, Robusta beans will have a much harsher taste with far more caffeine. Arabica beans will have a much smoother taste with about a third of the caffeine. All of our beans at Copper Canyon Coffee are Arabica beans. Robusta beans do not qualify as specialty grade coffee, while there are specialty Robusta beans, they use a different grading scale from the usual Arabica scale. (Keep reading a blog for a future post about how coffee is sorted and graded.)
Difference In Crops
Arabica and Robusta plants have different ways of growing thus allowing farmers to use different practices to grow the beans. These different practices have an effect on the price of the beans. Typically Arabica beans are more expensive than Robusta because of the overall quality of the cup. While the taste contributes to these prices, the plants’ unique growing styles are also contributing factors. Typically Arabica coffee plants have to be rotated, similar to many other types of crops. The plants suck the nutrients out of the soil and the soil needs a break to regenerate more nutrients for future plants. This typically isn’t too much of an issue because many bush and tree crops have a limited production lifespan. Coffee plants are most productive from ages 7-20 but they can live for several decades. Once the plants are decreasing in yield they will likely be replanted. Many farmers plant other crops in between rounds of coffee bushes to boost the nutrients in the soil.
While it benefits Arabica plants to be rotated, Robusta plants are content with staying in the same place. The plants are more resilient than their Arabica counterparts which means they can survive in a wider variety of places. Because of this fact, some countries have turned to deforestation to plant Robusta plants. While the Arabica plants are typically plants in designated crop space, the Robusta species can survive in less controlled environments which drives some countries to deforestation in favor of monetizing the unrefined land. Once the Robusta bushes have been planted they are often left there year after year, sucking all of the nutrients out of the soil. These practices are bad for the environment for multiple reasons. Deforestation has a negative effect on the native wildlife and using the same land year after year can destroy the soil making it nearly impossible to farm in the future.
While both Arabica and Robusta coffee have made their own space in the coffee world, we strive to source our coffee from farms that encourage sustainable practices. You can check out our selection of Arabica beans here!