Arabica vs. Robusta – What are the Differences?

Patrick headshotArabica and Robusta are two different species of coffee. Most coffees, including New Frontier and even many American supermarket brands, are made with 100% Arabica beans. Robusta coffee tends to be inferior in flavor and quality.

Arabica coffee has a wide range of flavors, from sweet and light to tangy and bold. There are fruity notes that one smell from the beans. Arabica coffees have a wide and comple range of flavors. Every conceivable style and flavor of coffee can be made from the Arabica species of coffee.

Robusta beans have a slightly grainy or grassy taste that can range from non-existent to bitter. The unroasted beans tend to have an earthy, peanutty scent. After roasting, they tend to have very little odor at all. There are high quality Robustas, but most are reserved for espresso.

The History
Robusta coffee beans grow at lower altitudes in larger crops. With a higher caffeine content, they are more disease and pest resistant. What the plants put into protecting themselves, they don’t put into creating flavor. That’s why the Arabica beans is superior.

After World War II, many companies began to blend Robusta beans into their coffees because they were cheaper and easier to produce. In France, they encouraged their format colonies to produce Robusta so that the French, who were devastated by the war, could still afford to drink coffee. They even imposed a special tax on Arabica beans.

Most instant coffees are made from Robusta beans and many supermarket brands are blends to make them less expensive. Most specialty coffees and even name brand store-bought coffees are 100% Arabica beans.

Important Notes
Just because they are Arabica beans does not mean that you are buying a quality coffee. There are plenty of low quality Arabica beans in the world and even the very best beans in the hands of a bad coffee roaster can turn to charcoal.

Some coffee roasters have begun to show the great qualities of Robusta coffees. Because great Robusta can be much harder to find, a high quality Robusta can be twice the price of good quality Arabica.

Robusta beans produce much more crema when used for espressos. Many espresso brands are mixed with 70% Robusta to provide a nice crema on the top of an espresso drink.

What’s Important
The most important thing to remember is that everyone has different tastes. There is nothing wrong with a great Robusta is that’s what you like. Try everything.

Also, coffee beans, like wines, are often better when blended. If you find that you have a strong Robusta, try blending it with a mild Arabica to create a wonderful beverage that no one else in the world has.