There are over 100 species of plants in the genus “Coffea”, but only three are cultivated for commercial coffee consumption. Coffea Arabica (Arabica), Coffea Canephora known as Robusta and Coffea Liberica known as Liberian Coffee.
The Liberian coffee variety is grown mainly in Liberia, Malaysia and Ivory Coast and makes up only 1% of the world coffee market. The most popular and commercial varieties are Arabica and Robusta. Their main differences are:
1. Taste: Arabica beans have a sweet and mild taste and high acidity. Before roasting they have a blueberry aroma. After roasting, their aroma becomes intense with hints of fruit and sugar. They include a wide range of different flavors depending on the variety and the growing region.
Robusta beans have a heavier and bitter taste without a wide variety of flavors. They are often reported to taste like oats or burnt rubber. It is of inferior quality to the Arabica variety. High-quality Robusta beans are rare, and they exist in small quantities.
2. Cultivation Conditions: The Arabica plant usually grows from 2.5m to 4.5m tall, thrives at altitudes from 600m to 2200m, at temperatures from 15°C to 24°C and annual rainfall of 1200mm to 2200mm. Arabica is grown in Africa, Papua New Guinea, India, but mainly in Latin America with Brazil being the largest producer.
The Robusta plant is slightly taller, from 4.5m to 6.5m and thrives at altitudes from 0m to 800m, at temperatures from 18ºC to 36ºC and annual rainfall of 2200mm to 3000mm. Robusta is cultivated in the Eastern Hemisphere and mainly in Africa and Indonesia. There are also countries, such as Brazil and India, that produce both varieties.
3. Caffeine: Robusta has almost twice as much caffeine as Arabica, which is why it tastes more bitter. However, the amount of caffeine acts as a chemical defense and makes the plant more resistant to insects and fungi.
4. Lipid and Sugar Content: Arabica contains about 60% more lipids and 50% more sugars than Robusta. This has the effect of creating various aromatic compounds during the roasting process and achieving a better structured body.
5. Bean Shape: Arabica beans are larger and more elliptical in shape than Robusta beans. Of course, there are also differences in the construction structure of the grains, which explains why they behave differently in the same baking conditions.
6. Economic facts: Robusta plants are more resistant to insects, reach full production in a shorter time, have almost twice the yield per plant and the crops are easier to exploit due to the low altitude. All of the above results in a cost per kilo that is lower than Arabica. In general, Arabica is a higher quality coffee and quite a bit more expensive. Robusta is mainly used to reduce the cost of coffee and/or to improve crema in instant coffees as well. About 70% of world production is Arabica and 30% is Robusta.
Of course, a 100% Arabica coffee does not mean that it is of superior quality. There are Arabica varieties that are inferior in quality to some good Robusta varieties. Anyway, taste is purely subjective. Some may find the fruity taste of Arabica off-putting, while the creaminess and bitterness of Robusta is pleasant. Many choose blends of Arabica and Robusta, because they enjoy the particularities of both varieties. So try different blends and decide for yourself which one is ideal for you.