When you buy a pound of beans at the coffee shop, you may have noticed that it advertises that it’s “100% Pure Arabica” coffee. Coffee novices may not care, but if you’re a seasoned coffee drinker, then you want to pay attention to whether your coffee is Arabica or not. You don’t have to be a botanist to learn about what makes coffee beans Arabica, and learning the difference between coffee beans will help you make sure that your morning cup is as delicious as possible. So let’s go over what Arabica coffee is.
There’s a bit of science involved in understanding how coffee plants work. Just like any plant or animal, the coffee plant, or coffee, has more than one species. The two species of coffee plant are Robusta and Arabica, and they have several important differences. Generally, Arabica is higher quality, being the go-to in craft coffee shops, or for those top-shelf beans in the store. Robusta is reserved for cheaper bulk cans of coffee like Folgers and Yuban. Understanding each one’s unique elements will help you pick the right bean the next time you’re out getting coffee.
Arabica beans are the premium coffee plant. If you walk into a coffee house or buy nicer beans in the store, you’re getting Arabica beans. These coffee beans have a much more refined taste whether you get it dark or light roast, making them perfect for the coffee enthusiast. They’re a bit more pricey, but it’s well worth it to get access to the powerful, bold flavor that you want out of coffee. They work well with any brew method, be it espresso or pour over. They have a little less caffeine, but that just means you can have an extra cup every day.
Robusta beans are the discount coffee grinds that hotels put in your room. These beans are incredibly sturdy and resilient, making them very easy to grow. Easy production means lower prices, and Robusta beans come in much cheaper than Arabica, but have lost market share ever since the craft coffee movement started a couple decades ago. It currently accounts for 20% of the world’s coffee market, and is used for bulk coffee sellers like Folgers. While it may not taste good, it can be a good option for large groups.
Why Arabica Coffee Is Better Than Others
The general consensus is that, yes, Arabica coffee is better. It has a more robust flavor, making it perfect to have just a cup of black coffee or to have a latte, though it does have a little less caffeine. The only drawback is that it’s more expensive than Robusta coffee, since it’s not as sturdy in the farm. Otherwise, there’s a reason that coffee connoisseurs and craft roasters always opt for Arabica beans. That’s why it makes up over 75% of all of the coffee beans grown in the world.
The perfect taste
Flavor is what’s important to most coffee fans. That rich and toasty flavor works perfectly on its own, with some cream, or even with other flavors. Arabica absolutely wins in the flavor department, getting the best flavor out of every cup. It’s got more lipid content, and it’s the oils in coffee that transfer to the water during the brewing process. This is what turns hot water into the delicious drink you know and love.
Robusta coffee is going to taste burnt, rubbery, and cheap, which is why it’s the default for low-end coffee brands. For decades, Americans would drink Robusta coffee without considering the flavor, but now the market has moved to embrace the taste of Arabica. You’ll also get better light and medium roasts out of Arabica, since it has a more pungent flavor and more sugar and acid contents. These are key to the floral brightness in a light roast.
Lower caffeine content
While flavor reigns supreme in most coffee drinkers’ purchasing decisions, caffeine is another huge plus from drinking coffee. It can be the perfect thing to pull you out of bed in the morning, or it can give you the boost you need in the early afternoon. If you’re only drinking coffee to get that caffeine rush, then Arabica is not the best choice. Part of why Robusta has a poor flavor is that it has a much higher caffeine content, getting almost double the caffeine content of Arabica beans.
However, you may not want that much caffeine. If you have a caffeine sensitivity, or are afraid of having a caffeine crash, then Robusta beans might overwhelm you. If you really want to get that extra caffeine content, you just have more coffee. If you’re a fan of the taste of coffee, then that’s a pretty good trade off. Otherwise, you can rely on Robusta to cram as much caffeine into your diet as you can.
Quality vs. quantity
Everyone has a budget they allocate for food and coffee, and Arabica beans might be a bit tougher to fit into your spending. It’s not uncommon for good quality beans to cost as much as $20 per pound, which may be out of range for many. Green robusta beans cost as little as half of what green Arabica beans do, with roasted ones also being much cheaper. Plus, if you pick up the cheapest coffee you can find, you’re looking at a huge price difference. A big can of pre-ground Robusta beans will cost as little as ¼ a pound of Arabica beans per pound.
Like with most things, you get what you pay for when you buy Robusta beans. Sure, they fit into anyone’s budget, but it can really be worth it to up your coffee budget just a little bit to get those Arabica beans. You can transform your morning coffee from a just the caffeine boost into an enjoyable, relaxing part of your day. Plus, if you’re already going out to get coffee beans every day, you’re already spending on Arabica beans.
How the beans are grown
While it may not affect your purchasing decisions directly, it’s interesting to look at the difference in how Arabica beans are grown and distributed. Robusta beans are much more durable, and are thus able to be grown in a wider variety of climates. They have fewer crop failures, which is why they’re so much cheaper than Arabica beans. Of course, what this means is that when you buy a pound of Arabica, you’re getting coffee that was grown with much more effort and care.
Arabica Better vs. Colombian Coffee
A really common question among up-and-coming coffee experts is if Arabica is better than the legendary Colombian coffee. This is actually a false question, since Colombian coffee is simply coffee grown in Colombia. You can have Colombian Arabica or Robusta beans, as long as they’re grown in that region. Of course, you want to maximize the flavor of Columbian coffee by only reaching for the Arabica.
Reasons For Not Buying Arabica
When it comes down to, asking the actual purchase, you have a few things you want to keep in mind. Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, how you make your coffee, and other factors, you may not want to always reach for the Arabica. Even though it’s inferior in flavor, Robusta has a few uses that make it a good option.
Different brewing methods
Arabica will always taste good no matter what brew method you use. Whether it’s a pot of drip coffee in the morning or a double espresso on your lunch break, Arabica will always do the trick. But some methods make Robusta beans much more tolerable. French press, percolators, and drip machines don’t extract as many flavors as methods like espresso or pour over. So if you’re really trying to save money on coffee, consider using Robusta on the drip machine.
Robusta beans are cheaper, which is great for the budget coffee fan. However, you can still enjoy Arabica beans while being budget conscious. Consider buying blends of Arabica and Robusta beans, or even buy both types of beans to mix at home. Or you can save the Robusta for when you need the caffeine fix, saving the Arabica for when you want to slowly enjoy your own cappuccino.
Other things to consider
Robusta is cheap and often comes in large quantities. So if you’re hosting a party, it can be a great option. If you just want caffeine, then Robusta is the way to go. And if you have instant coffee or coffee extract, the odds are it’s Robusta. Otherwise, Arabica is the way to go for getting that premium coffee flavor.
Picking The Right Beans
No matter how much you value your coffee, you can’t go wrong with Arabica beans. Whether you’ve never really had coffee before or you down a pot every day, you’ll immediately recognize the distinct, powerful flavor of Arabica beans. Even though they cost more and don’t have as much caffeine, these beans are the superior choice. Sure, you can keep an extra tin of Robusta beans around for parties or at the office, but you really want to make sure you’re getting 100% pure Arabica beans.