Have you ever ordered the same coffee but from a different location and noticed that it tasted completely different? That is likely down to the type of coffee bean used. Coffee is a globally loved beverage, and Arabica and Robusta coffee beans make up the majority of coffee consumption. While all coffee shares underlying characteristics and tastes, there are considerable differences between Arabica and Robusta beans that make each one preferred under certain circumstances. We are going to have a look at whether Arabica or Robusta coffee beans are better.
Although there are actually 4 types of coffee beans, we will be looking at the 2 most commonly used.
What Are Arabica Coffee Beans?
Arabica coffee (coffea arabica) is a well-known type of coffee bean that makes up over half of the global cultivation. It is also considered to be one of the first types of cultivated coffee with a rich history of development, commerce, and flavor. Arabica beans usually have a light and sweet flavor, although roasting greatly impacts taste. Arabica coffee is often higher in acid and fats, also called lipids.
What Are Robusta Coffee Beans?
Robusta coffee beans (coffea canephora or coffea robusta) are considered the second most common coffee and make up nearly half of global cultivation. It is most commonly found in espresso blends and instant coffee but is also commonly used in a variety of blends since it is cheaper to produce. Robusta beans usually have a bitter flavor, although roasting impacts this flavor. It is lower in acid and higher in caffeine compared to other coffees.
Arabica VS Robusta | Key Differences
Both Arabica and Robusta beans can be roasted, ground, and brewed to make a coffee beverage. Beyond that, there are many striking differences between the beans, including taste, cost, and quality:
Taste is the most obvious difference for the common coffee consumer. Arabica beans are naturally more neutral. Therefore, through roasting and brewing methods, Arabica can have a wider range of flavor profiles in the finished product. However, arabica beans generally have a fruity scent and taste, raw and roasted, and typically have a light, sweet, and tangy flavor when brewed.
On the other hand, Robusta beans usually have a nuttier smell and taste as a bean, and they produce a more bitter flavored coffee when brewed. Since Robusta beans typically have a stronger and sometimes less pleasant taste, they are often blended with another type of bean, such as Arabica. Robusta beans are also less acidic, so blends containing Robusta may be helpful for individuals that have stomach sensitivities to the acid in some coffees.
Overall, Robusta beans are significantly cheaper to produce and buy compared to Arabica beans. However, this lower cost is not always a good thing. Robusta coffee is a much more resilient and faster-growing crop compared to Arabica coffee. It can grow successfully in a larger variety of climates, is less prone to insect or animal damage, and usually produces more coffee beans than Arabica crops.
The cultivation success of the Robusta beans, unfortunately, encourages some negative growing practices across the world. Since the crops are cheaper and more productive, Robusta beans are often cultivated by larger corporations that purchase large plots of land. The clearing of this land and the practice of mono-cropping, or growing the same crop in the same location annually, creates a variety of negative environmental impacts.
Large-scale coffee producers are also more likely to engage in unfair labor practices. Despite this, the low cost of Robusta beans does benefit the consumer, since beans and products using these beans can be sold for a much lower retail price.
Arabica coffees, on the other hand, are more difficult to successfully cultivate. Arabica beans require cooler, subtropical environments with nearly perfect blends of rich soil, proper sunshine, and frequent periods of shade. Arabica plants are fragile and prone to a variety of damage from environmental pests and human errors during cultivation.
Therefore, Arabica beans are generally more expensive to grow, harvest, produce, and purchase. Despite the difficulties, Arabica coffee produces more consistently higher quality beans with a great track record of taste. Due to the care required to grow Arabica beans, the cultivation practices, scale, environmental impacts, and labor processes are often better for the environment, farmers, and consumers. Depending on various opinions, the benefits may outweigh the costs.
While taste and cost are considered the biggest and most significant differences between Arabica and Robusta beans, there are other significant variations. Arabica beans contain higher levels of natural sugars and lipids or fats. These natural qualities improve the flavors of the coffee and flavor retention through harvest, roasting, and other production processes. Robusta coffee has lower levels of acidity and higher caffeine levels. These can be beneficial to consumers with sensitivity to acids, as well as consumers that are looking for higher caffeine in their coffee beverage.
Which Coffee Is Better, Arabica or Robusta?
Like other considerations and comparisons in the world of coffee, there is not a straightforward answer to this question. A lot of what makes a type of coffee “better” depends on the individual and what they enjoy most about coffee.
For consumers that prioritize quality in their coffee, Arabica beans are usually the right choice. It is generally accepted that Arabica coffee has a better flavor, and that the flavor is more reliable. The natural chemistry of Arabica beans makes them more stable during the production and brewing processes. Arabica beans are also historically better for the environment, labor practices, and other production factors.
Comparatively, Robusta coffee beans may be preferred by certain producers and consumers. Individuals seeking lower acidity or higher caffeine may gravitate towards Robusta coffee or blends using Robusta beans. Also, since Robusta coffee has a stronger, bitter flavor that can withstand heavier processing, it is better for instant coffees or pre-made coffee products, such as canned and bottled coffee beverages.
The Final Sip
So, is Arabica or Robusta coffee better? While there are indisputable differences that make Arabica coffee considered to be the higher quality option, there are still situations that make Robusta coffee useful. Like origins, brewing styles, or other considerations, the preferred coffee is ultimately up to the individual. If a person is enjoying the brewed coffee beverage in their hand, then they made the right choice.