What are Robusta coffee beans? (Arabica vs Robusta)

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Robusta coffee beans are one of two types of “coffee beans” grown by coffee farmers. Robusta is sometimes considered less desirable than the other type, Arabica because it has a stronger flavor and lower acidity.

However, due to its lower price robusta remains popular in producing ground coffee for use with commercial espresso machines.  

Robusta is also used as an ingredient in blended coffees that are marketed under various brand names around the world. An example would be Café Bustelo which contains both Robusta and Arabica beans.

2. History of Robusta coffee?

Robusta coffee beans
Anastasia Zhenina | unsplash.com

The robusta coffee plant is native to tropical west and central Africa. It was first described botanically in 1820 by Coffea cultivator Pierre Jean Marie Robiquet, though its berries had been ingested for many centuries before European colonization of the African continent.  

It was introduced into Brazil about 1840 and while it flourished there it made little impact on world markets until the latter half of the twentieth century when improvements in worldwide transportation increased its distribution even more rapidly than had occurred with arabica.

Harvesting & Processing

Before the beans are harvested they turn a yellowish color than red when fully mature. The ripe fruit usually falls to the ground because of natural causes such as wind or rain, but often farmers will utilize a machine to cut down the tree and aid in harvesting. The red coffee berries may then be processed in one of two ways: the dry method or the wet method.

With the wet processing method (the more common method), the coffee fruit is left for several days to ferment before the beans are cleaned, dried, and wrapped. With this method, fermentation helps reduce astringency and acid taste as well as simplifying mechanical harvesting.

However, fermenting also decrease caffeine content by an average of 30%–35%.  After harvest, coffee beans must be quickly processed and shipped out for roasting while still fresh and full of flavor. If not properly cared for during transportation, they can easily become stale due to aging effects.

3. How does Robusta coffee taste?

Robusta beans contain less chromene than arabica beans which means they have a milder taste. 

When you drink any coffee, it’s all about the bean and water ratio. That will determine whether your cup of joe is too weak, too strong, or just right. The same goes for the robusta/Arabica ersatz blend that is usually used in espresso machines.

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It’s not easy to get bitterness when using them because of the lower caffeine content than Arabica beans, but if you’re trying to make an imitation espresso with Robusta/Arabica, use more ground coffee per shot (of filtered water). Using higher pressure can also help give it more body over time. But over-extraction tends to bring out acidic flavors, which can be unpleasant.

And if you’re drinking Robusta/Arabica straight-up (in a drip coffee maker or French press), make sure to use coarse ground beans. The water needs enough space to seep through the grinds for maximal flavor extraction without bitterness.

4. How to make a cup of Robusta coffee?

Here are some recommendations for making the best-tasting Robusta coffee at home.

The water should be just off the boil, between 195°F – 205°F (91°C). If you don’t have a thermometer, bring it to a boil then let it rest for one or two minutes before using.  The grind is very important when making coffee with whole beans. Use coarsely ground coffee.

If there are no grind settings on your grinder, use an “old fashion” manual hand crank grinder or simply purchase a pre-ground Robusta / Arabica blend from your local grocery store. Brewing time should be around 3 minutes for 8 oz of water. Don’t forget to stir the pot once halfway through brewing.

5. Benefits of drinking Robusta coffee?

Robusta coffee beans

– Smokey, dark chocolate, with a very long finish. Robusta is also described as tasting earthy or musty, but this varies between beans and may be more noticeable in poorly handled coffee.  Robusta coffees can have higher concentrations of certain vitamins and minerals than arabica coffees because the plant makes more of these nutrients to protect itself against diseases.

– Robusta beans are usually cheaper than arabicas.

– They have a very low acid content, which some people find more pleasant on their stomachs. And if you don’t like the taste of the red fruit, but still want a cup of coffee with a hint of berry flavor, you’ll get just that from a Robusta blend.

– The caffeine levels in Robusta are much higher than in Arabicas. While this is appealing for some coffee drinkers, it can also cause unpleasant side effects such as heart palpitations and jitters so consider your tolerance before making a switch to any brewed form of these beans.

– Not everyone likes the bitter aftertaste associated with Robustas so many choose to mix it with arabica beans in a 50/50 blend. This can be helpful when using it in espresso machines, but just remember to increase the number of coffee grounds to compensate for the lower percentage of Robusta beans you’re using.

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6. Where is Robusta coffee grown?

Until recently, India was the world’s largest producer of Robusta coffee (it’s now Vietnam), and they still produce more than any other country. However, Brazil is currently the top exporter worldwide for this type of coffee with Asia and Africa as the major importers.

– As it is easier to cultivate than the arabica beans, Robusta coffee is grown in lower altitudes than Arabica.

7. Arabica vs Robusta:

Can you taste the difference?

That’s a very subjective question. Here are some notes by CoffeeReview allowing Robusta drinkers and Arabica lovers to make an informed choice:

– Robusta has more caffeine than Arabica, twice as much in fact (2x). It also contains nearly double the essential amino acids and fatty acids (1.9x), and is richer in many vitamins and minerals such as D, K, B12, A & E  (3x). – Due to its bitterness it can be mixed with 30% Arabica without ruining the final blend for most palates. The result would be like drinking any coffee that’s been roughly 50/50 preblended with sugar or sweetener anyway.

– Robusta has a less complex flavor than Arabica, but the dry fragrance is more intense. There’s no missing it once you’ve experienced one of these beans in its unground form. – Many people believe that Robusta has more crema because of its oil content, which is true…but most espresso machines don’t have steam valves calibrated to accommodate extra oil in the brew so the only way to enjoy this effect is by mixing your own or ordering a Cream Latte instead of a Latte.

– The taste range of Robusta is much wider than Arabica too. It can be made into any type of coffee from bitter and harsh to sweet and lush, depending on how’s been roasted, brewed, and blended in the end.

– The main problem with Robusta is that it’s much lower quality than Arabica, also causing poor flavor in many cases. You can taste this when drinking a pure Robusta brew so if this was your preference before switching to smoother options, you’ll notice the difference for sure.

FAQs:

1. Where is Arabica coffee grown?
– Arabica beans typically grow in tropical climates with mild, humid weather and rich soil. It’s native to the large area of tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia called the “coffee belt.” The largest exporters of coffee now are Brazil and Vietnam as Robusta thrives in their warmer climates.

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2. Where is Robusta coffee harvested?
– Most commercial production of Robusta comes from Western Africa (Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Uganda), although Indonesia and India also produce significant amounts of this type of bean for both domestic use and export.

3. Where is Arabica coffee harvested?
– Arabica beans are best at high altitudes around 6,500 ft. above sea level in humid conditions. They grow in a wide band across Latin America and Africa between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn depending on their desired quality and flavor profile. 

4. How to make a cup of Arabica coffee?
– As mentioned earlier, when making coffee with whole beans you need finely ground coffee that is more powdery in consistency than chunky. For a good aroma use a wooden spoon or a stainless steel scoop when mixing the water and bean grinds before applying heat, which should be just off the boil, between 195°F – 205°F (91°C). If you don’t have a thermometer, bring it to boiling point then remove it from the heat until the bubbling stops.

5. How long does brew Robusta last?
– Most coffees are best within an hour of brewing so if you’re not planning to drink it all at once, make sure to transfer the extra coffee into an air-tight container and refrigerate. This will stop the flavor from dissipating over time but remember that the colder temperature will also stop this process so allow for some “warming up” before drinking if you don’t want your cup of coffee to be too cold.

Conclusion:

As you can see, Robusta and Arabica coffee beans have many differences even though it might be hard to tell them apart at a glance. But if you do a side-by-side comparison of these types of coffee, you’ll notice that Robustas tend to be smaller in size and rounder with thicker skin.

Their flavor profiles are also quite different although they both share the classic rich taste associated with all types of high-quality coffees. 

The caffeine content is higher in Robusta but remember that this substance affects everyone differently so don’t rely on this difference alone to help decide whether or not you should switch from one type of bean to the other.

Source image: Anastasia Zhenina | unsplash.com

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