Did you know that coffee is actually part of a flowering plant family called Rubiaceae? Within this family, you will find over five hundred genera and about six thousand species. One of these is the bean we love, coffee. Although botanists consider all Rubiaceae seed plants to be coffee plants, the coffee they drink falls mainly into only two species - Arabica and Canephora, also known as Robusta. This brings us to the difference between Arabica beans and Robusta beans.
Arabica vs Robusta
Arabica has two main varieties, Typica and Bourbon. In Canephora, we drink the variety called Robusta. This is why the term Robusta is generally used for all this variety of coffee. In fact, coffee beans have been divided into two main types - Arabica and Robusta. The main difference, in addition to the fact that they are different species from the same family of plants, is reduced to the aroma and characteristics of the grain itself.
Same family, different characteristics
Keep in mind that even a single type of bean or variety can vary in quality and flavor. Growing conditions and often unpredictable process methods will produce a variable flavor profile in the resulting cup. A successfully cultivated coffee bean has a completely distinct set of characteristics when grown in one location compared to another.
The first example of this would be coffee called Kona. While the berries themselves are the Arabica variety, these berries are grown only in Kona, a district of the big island of Hawaii. The specific environmental conditions of Kona give their grains their unique qualities, which are not presented when grown elsewhere. The same would be true for Arabica beans and Robusta beans. There can be a big difference in flavors and quality due to the growing and terroir conditions.
Arabica Coffee Beans
Although it contains less caffeine than Robusta, Arabica beans are often considered superior in taste. Arabica tends to have a finer and sweeter taste, with aromatic notes of chocolate and sugar. They often have hints of fruit or berries. Robusta, on the other hand, has a stronger, harsher, and more bitter taste, with grainy or rubbery nuances.
According to the International Coffee Organization, more than 60% of world coffee production comes from Arabica growers. This was the type of bean that started the whole coffee story in Ethiopia and still grows best at higher rates. Glorious in smell, Arabica flowers appear only after a few years and produce ellipsoidal fruits, inside which are two flat seeds known as coffee beans.
An Arabica shrub grows up to 15 feet (5m) tall but is usually cut to about 6 feet (2m) to make it more commercially viable. Arabica has two sets of chromosomes, so it is capable of self-pollination. This means that it generally remains stable as a species, as cross-pollination is less likely.
Of the two most common varieties of Arabica coffee beans, Typica was the first variety discovered. Therefore, it is considered the original coffee of the New World. It is also a low-yielding variety that is appreciated for its excellent bucket quality.
Bourbon de Arabica varieties, on the other hand, are often appreciated for their complex and balanced flavors and have produced many high-quality mutations and subtypes. Some natural mutations of Arabica are known as Caturra, San Ramon, and Pacas.
There are also a number of Bourbon varieties that have been propagated to suit regional climate, environment, and altitude. One of them is the popular Blue Mountain variety, which blooms only at high altitudes. Other examples include Mundo Novo and Yellow Bourbon.
Robusta Coffee Beans
The most common variety of Coffea Canephora is Robusta, the younger brother of Arabica Street. Despite the fact that its aroma is considered less refined, Robusta is widely used in espresso blends, as it is known to produce a better cream than Arabica. It is more resistant, more resistant to diseases, and produces better yields. Also, pack more caffeine!
Robusta, caffeine, and chlorogenic acids
It is believed that the increased caffeine content of Robusta, along with its chlorogenic acids, is a result of the plant's self-protection mechanism in the prevention of pests and diseases. When present at low levels, chlorogenic acids are considered an important part of the aroma profile of a coffee. However, Robusta contains higher levels of these acids, and the oxidation products generated by them can sometimes introduce unwanted flavors, which can compromise the quality of the cup.
Arabica beans vs Robusta beans and growth
There are a number of subtypes of Robusta berries, each with a unique set of features. The same goes for Arabica beans. Robusta varieties sometimes have higher immunity to diseases and an increased production capacity compared to Arabica. Growing well at lower altitudes, Robusta thrives in areas where Arabica is devastated by fungi and other diseases and pests.
Robusta is a stronger plant, about twice as big as Arabica, and grows well at higher humidity. After flowering, the berries take almost a year to ripen. Robusta is self-sterile, therefore cross-pollination by wind, bees, and other insects is necessary for the plant to reproduce.