Arabica or Robusta Coffee: Which is better?

Arabica or Robusta Coffee: Which is better?

Posted by David Bromley on

There are hundreds of varieties of coffee in the world, traditionally the coffee that we drink mainly comes from the Arabica or Robusta species. Arabica coffee accounts for 60% of the global exportations of coffee. So why is Arabica more popular than Robusta and what makes it different?

Quality

The quality and flavour of any drink or food product is always going to influence how popular it is. But what influences a coffee beans quality and flavour?

The Environment & Agricultural Practices

The environment is a factor that farmers have very little control over. But the agricultural practices used by a farmer can influence the amount of impact the environment has.

For example: the temperature, amount of sun, rain, wind and number of insects are some of the environmental factors which will affect the taste of the coffee.

A farmer can influence these environmental factors by:

  • Planting more trees to provide shelter from the sun or wind
  • Installing sophisticated irrigation or drainage to affect how much water the plants receive
  • Spraying the crops with chemicals to deter pests / insects
  • Using fertiliser to enrich the soil – giving more nutrients to the plants

The type of soil the plants are grown in, accompanied by the weather, altitude and climate will have a significant impact on the flavour and quality of the beans.

Genetics

The quality of the coffee produced by a plant is not only influenced by the location it is being grown in. If an Arabica and Robusta plant are grown next to each other then they will still have different flavour profiles, this is down to the genetics and characteristics of the plants.

Arabica Robusta
  • Thrives at a higher elevation (1300-2000 metres)
  • Thrives at a lower elevation
  • Sugar 8%
  • 5% sugar
  • Caffeine 1.5%
  • Caffeine 3%
  • Susceptible to poor weather and disease
  • Resistant to poor weather and disease
  • Higher oil levels
  • Less oil
  • Low yield
  • High yield

 

As a generalisation the Arabica plant has a sweeter and more delicate taste. It is harder to grow and produces a low yield. Farmers grow this bean as it produces a higher quality and more flavourful bean which is in high demand in the market.

The Robusta plant does have its own benefits; it produces a large yield of beans and is more resistant to poor weather and disease. But its lack of sugar and high caffeine content means the bean has a bitter taste, especially compared to the Arabica. Farmers grow the Robusta bean as it highly reliable, due to its resistance to poor weather and disease, yet still it produces a strong and distinct flavour with a good amount of caffeine.

Customer Tastes

Customer tastes have shifted over the last few years. But instant coffee still accounts for the majority of the market. Consumers have recently been moving away from instant, towards high quality, fresh coffee. Drinkers now regularly brew coffee themselves at home, buy it in cafes or use capsule and pod machines.

Instant coffee attracted its audience with its ease of use and affordability. But instant coffee sales have been stagnating, with customers beginning to place a higher importance on the quality of the coffee and being able to know exactly where it has come from.

Artisan roasters, coffee shops and cafes are all using high quality arabica beans as the base for blends or alone in single origin coffees. Arabica is the popular choice simply due to its complex and satisfying flavour profiles.

The UK coffee market is estimated to be worth £10 billion, with 95 million cups of coffee consumed every day. The demand for coffee worldwide is continuing to rise by about 2% each year. That means 3 million more bags will be needed every year to satisfy this increase in demand.

Meeting Customer Demands

Coffee producers have been taking a variety of steps to give consumers what they want and supply this insatiable demand for quality coffee. From selecting only their best beans from a single region to be used for a single origin coffee, to combining different beans from various regions to create blends. A coffee’s taste can be an indication of where it was grown and how it was produced.

Single Origin

A single origin is when the beans are sourced from a single producer, crop, region or country. These beans are normally of a higher quality and have been selected specifically for their exceptional taste. This premium coffee often comes at a price but customers are willing to pay it.

Blends

Blends are coffee that is made up with beans originating from more than one place. A blend can be seen almost like a recipe or a cocktail, where flavours are being combined to strike an overall balance with beans complementing one another. Blends can have a more complex range of flavours than a single origin but are often less intense. The majority of instant coffee sold consists of blended coffee.

Arabica & Robusta

Arabica coffee beans are typically used in single origin coffee, as they are of a higher quality and offer a more delicate taste. A cup of freshly ground Robusta would likely have a taste which is too strong and bitter for the majority of drinkers.

Blends are produced for a number of reasons, not just to create complex flavour profiles. Blends allow coffee producers to meet a certain price point. By combining Robusta & Arabica beans together they are able to reduce the cost compared to just using Arabica beans. It is common for Robusta beans to be used to ‘bulk’ out a coffee without sacrificing the flavour of the blend.

Summary

Arabica beans are more flavourful and are generally a higher quality than the Robusta counterpart. Customers are beginning to place a much greater emphasis on the quality and taste of the coffee that they are drinking. With customers demanding high quality beans farmers are trying their best to provide them with what they want. This means that high quality, flavourful and ethically sourced beans are being grown and harvested, eventually making their way into your cup of coffee. So, if you are after the best cup of coffee than Arabica will most likely be the bean to choose.

 

Office Beverages are able to offer a range of high-quality beans. From a delicate and delicious 100% Fairtrade Arabica to a complex and satisfying RFA approved Robusta and Arabica blend. These beans are available freshly ground as well as whole. If you would like any more information or to find out about our full range of coffee beans and ingredient then please get in touch.

 

Sources:

Adams and Russell (2019) “Which is the best coffee - Arabica & Robusta” Available here: (https://www.adamsandrussell.co.uk/journal/arabica-robusta)

BBC News (2019) Prasad R “How the 2019 coffee crisis might affect you” Available here: (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-48631129?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cdz5g8jnrjzt/coffee&link_location=live-reporting-story)

BBC NEWS Josephs J (2017) “How changing coffee tastes are helping farmers” Available here: (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42403021)

Financial Times (2018) Atkins R “Nestle brews shake-up in instant coffee with Gold Blend revamp” Available here: (https://www.ft.com/content/33a231e6-1d74-11e8-aaca-4574d7dabfb6)

Folmer B (2016) “The Craft and Science of Coffee”

Forbes (2017) Mowery L “Here's Why Single Origin Coffee Is More Expensive But Worth Your Dollars” Available here: ( https://www.forbes.com/sites/lmowery/2017/02/28/heres-why-single-origin-coffee-is-more-expensive-but-worth-your-dollars/#6950f3fa749e)

Miko  (N.D) “The latest coffee trends on the high street for 2019” Available here: (https://www.mikocoffee.com/uk/the-latest-coffee-trends-on-the-high-street-for-2019/)

Noarth Star (2018) Sears O “Coffee Blends” Available here: (https://www.northstarroast.com/coffee-blends/)  

Roasty Coffee (N.D) “Difference between Arabica & Robusta”  Available here: (https://www.roastycoffee.com/arabica-robusta/)