THE BEAN IDENTITY
Did you know that coffee is actually part of a family of flowering plants called Rubiaceae? Within this family, you will find over five hundred Genera (the biological group that a family is divided into) and about six thousand species. One of these is the bean we love, coffee (Coffea in scientific terms)! Although botanists regard all seed-bearing plants in the Rubiaceae family as coffee plants, the coffees we drink fall mainly within just two species – Arabica and Canephora, also known as Robusta. This brings us to the difference between Arabica beans vs Robusta beans.
Arabica beans vs Robusta beans
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 this entire variety of coffee. In effect, coffee beans have been divided into two main types – Arabica and Robusta. The main difference, besides being different species of the same plant family, comes down to flavour and characteristics of the actual bean.
Keep in mind that even a single type of bean or variety can vary in quality and flavor. Often unpredictable growing conditions and process methods will produce a varying flavour profile in the resulting cup. A successfully grown coffee bean exhibits a completely distinct set of characteristics when grown in one location as compared to another.
Arabica coffee beans
Despite containing less caffeine than Robusta, Arabica beans are often considered superior in taste. Arabica tends to have a smoother, sweeter taste, with flavour notes of chocolate and sugar. They often also have hints of fruits or berries. Robusta, on the other hand, has a stronger, harsher and more bitter taste, with grainy or rubbery overtones.
According to the International Coffee Organization, more than 60 per cent of world coffee production comes from Arabica cultivators. This was the type of bean that started off the whole coffee story in Ethiopia, and it still grows best in higher elevations. Glorious in smell, Arabica flowers appear only after a couple of years and produce ellipsoidal fruits, inside which are two flat seeds known as the coffee beans.
An Arabica shrub grows up to 15 feet (5m) tall but is usually pruned 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 remains generally stable as a species because cross-pollination is less probable.
Of the two most common varieties of Arabica coffee beans, Typica was the first variety to be discovered. It is therefore regarded as the original coffee of the New World. It is also a low-yielding variety that is valued for its excellent cup quality.
Bourbon varieties of Arabica, on the other hand, are often prized for their complex, balanced aromas and have spawned many high-quality mutations and subtypes. A few natural mutations of Arabica are known as of Caturra, San Ramon, and Pacas.
There are also a number of Bourbon cultivars that have been propagated to suit the regional climate, environment, and elevation. One of these is the prized Blue Mountain varieties, which only flourish at high altitudes. Other examples include Mundo Novo and Yellow Bourbon.
Robusta is much cheaper than Arabica, but it is also worse for the environment and your taste buds. Robusta fosters use mono-cropping, the practice of growing the same plant every year in one place. This process yields more space since it involves clear-cutting the forest for the crop. Because Robusta is a more resilient plant than the delicate Arabica, it can be grown in more places, leading to large companies purchasing vast amounts of the rainforest, clear-cutting the land, and planting Robusta beans. When done excessively, mono-cropping erodes the soil and demolishes nutrients that make the soil nearly unusable. Because it's harder to plant and grow, Arabica is more expensive than Robusta. And some companies may even mix Robusta with their Arabica to save money (and serve you a crappy cup).
ARABICA VS. ROBUSTA: WHICH IS BETTER?
No contest! If you had to choose between an Arabica bean and a Robusta bean, it's essential to always choose Arabica! Other few differences include:
- Robusta has more caffeine
- Arabica has almost twice the amount of sugar
- Robusta has less acidity
- Arabica has more lipids
But the main difference that we all care about is the fact that Arabica coffee tastes better than a cup of Robusta! Although it's more expensive, it's definitely worth it if you want to enjoy your morning cup of Joe.