Chances are, if you haven’t heard of Arabica coffee beans, you will have heard of Robusta coffee beans. If you haven’t heard of either of those and are sat there thinking to yourself…
“I thought a coffee bean was just a coffee bean?”
...then congratulations, today is your lucky day, we are about to tell you that is far from the case!
Much like Arabica beans, Robusta beans can trace their heritage back to western and central Africa. They come from the berry of an indigenous plant called Coffea Canephora. Unlike Arabica, the Coffea Canephora plant was not discovered to be a species of coffee until the 13th century; approx. 100 years later than Arabica.
In the 19th century the plant was shipped to Vietnam by French colonists. The plant thrived here, due to the ideal growing conditions and to this day Vietnam is the largest grower and distributor of Robusta beans in the world.
Coffea Canephora is a hardy plant and can grow in altitudes, soil type and weather conditions that Coffea Arabica cannot. Because of this Robusta beans are easier to cultivate and are cheaper to produce. Two properties that make Coffea Canephora more hardy are the increased levels of caffeine, and reduced sugar and lipid content. The higher caffeine levels make the Robusta beans less susceptible to pests and diseases. Some people may see a higher caffeine content as a positive thing (People drink coffee for the caffeine hit right?); however, caffeine naturally has a bitter taste and this is passed over into coffee brewed with Robusta beans. Couple that with naturally lower sugar levels and the Robusta bean has more bitter, burnt, less appealing flavour than it’s Arabica cousin.
Commercially, Robusta beans are seen as a lower quality product than Arabica and consequently are much cheaper to purchase. For this reason, Robusta beans are often used to make instant coffees and in cheaper ground coffee blends as a filler to bulk out the final product. Higher quality coffee products are nearly always from the Arabica bean. Robusta beans do have their place though. Italian coffee is famed for being a strong, bitter and dark roasted. As a longer roast can give the beans a more burnt flavour and also reduce caffeine content, Robusta beans are favoured over Arabica for this style of roasting.
If you don't mind your coffee slightly bitter, then an Arabica/Robusta blend would be a perfect everyday drinker. However if you prefer a smoother more flavourful coffee, try to avoid the Robusta beans and stick with Arabica.