What’s The Difference Between Arabica & Robusta Coffee Beans?

by TobyOct 1, 2021

Given the amount of choice in coffee shops today, it really seems as though there are endless different types of coffee, and it can sometimes get overwhelming. You wouldn’t be silly for assuming there are hundreds of different types of coffee beans, but, in reality, almost all of the world’s coffee comes from only two types of coffee bean, Arabica and Robusta.

Now, the coffee experts among us might be thinking: what about Excelsa and Liberica beans? If so – we’re impressed – and you’re right to think that these beans are also grown for coffee. However, these two types of beans are used much less frequently. Therefore, in this article, we will focus on the differences between Arabica and Robusta coffee beans, since these are most likely the ones you come across day to day.

Arabica Beans

So, what are Arabica coffee beans? This variety is the most popular type of coffee bean, making up over 60% of the world’s coffee. Despite being the most common, Arabica beans are renowned for being really high quality, too.

Arabica beans were first grown in Ethiopia, but now can be found growing in South America and Africa more widely. These beans need to be grown in high altitudes and thrive in areas with consistent rainfall and sufficient shade.

Arabica beans are not too difficult to grow, as long as they are kept at a high altitude to avoid any diseases. They have two sets of chromosomes, meaning that they are capable of self-pollination. This is really handy, as it means that Arabica beans’ characteristics remain consistent, as the chances of cross-pollination are unlikely. The trees can grow up to 15ft (5m) but are usually kept to about 6 feet (2m) to harvest the beans more efficiently.

Characteristics of Arabica Coffee

The taste of Arabica coffee is considered superior by most. The beans typically produce smooth, sweet coffee, with undertones of chocolate, sugar, fruits and berries. Many coffee brands will choose to promote the fact that they use 100% Arabica beans due to the popularity of its complex flavor.

Robusta Beans

Robusta beans are the second most common type of coffee bean, making up around 25% of the world’s coffee. This variety originated in sub-Saharan Africa, and can now be found growing across Africa as well as in Vietnam.

Robusta plants are considered much hardier than Arabica, as they can be grown at lower altitudes without becoming diseased. The plants can grow up to twice the size of an Arabica plant, but unlike Arabica, the Robusta plant relies on cross-pollination by wind and insects in order to reproduce.

Characteristics of Robusta Coffee

Robusta coffee is considered less refined than Arabica, but it completely depends on the characteristics you value in your morning brew. Many people find Robusta coffee harsher tasting, as it is typically quite bitter. Its aftertaste is sometimes a little burnt, or peanutty, depending on the variety.

The Robusta bean is often found in expresso blends since it is known for producing a better crema (the creamy layer on the top) than Arabica can. Robusta coffee is packed with naturally occurring antioxidants known as chlorogenic acids, and it contains about twice the caffeine that Arabica coffee does. If you love a strong, dark and bitter coffee, then Robusta beans are the perfect choice for you.

Differences between Arabica and Robusta Beans

So, we’ve briefly covered some differences between Arabica and Robusta coffee beans, but let’s break it down a little further.

Physical Differences

If needed, you can tell the difference between Arabica and Robusta coffee beans based on their physical appearance. Arabica beans are oval-shaped and tend to have a pronounced center crease and are longer than Robusta. Robusta beans are normally paler with a less pronounced center crease. They are more circular and normally a little smaller too.

Growing Conditions

Arabica and Robusta plants are grown in different places for good reason, they require specific climates to thrive and produce the best coffee beans. Arabica plants need to be grown at a high altitude in an area with plenty of shade and rainfall in order to survive, whereas Robusta plants tend to be a little less fussy. They can be kept at lower altitudes and higher temperatures, as they can fight off diseases better than Arabica coffee beans.

Caffeine Content

This might be an important one to consider if you love a serious caffeine hit. Due to its more complex chemical structure, Arabica coffee contains significantly less caffeine than Robusta, which has upwards of 25% more caffeine.

Taste

This is perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind when comparing the two. Arabica coffee is known for its sweetness, it has a higher acidity with pleasant notes of fruits, florals, chocolate and nuts. Robusta beans create a more bitter, woody taste, with a flavor that is often described as burnt or even rubbery. This might not sound particularly pleasant, but if you really want to understand the difference between the two the best way to do this would be a taste test, as some people love the strong, peanutty taste of Robusta bean coffee!

Cost

Generally, Arabica coffee is more expensive than Robusta, given its global popularity and the added factor of it being a little harder to grow. You can expect Robusta coffee to be at least a third cheaper than Arabica.

The Last Drop

Though it may seem that there are endless different blends of coffee to try, these flavors that we love so much typically originate from these two types of bean, Arabica beans and Robusta beans.

You might already have your preferences when it comes to coffee beans, or this article may have even inspired you to deviate from your usual coffee bean choice to try something a little fruitier, sweeter or stronger. Trying coffee blends with different ratios of the two most common types of bean allows you to get the best of both worlds, if you’re looking for the serious caffeine hit Robusta can provide, but with the added smooth sweetness of Arabica.

The amazing variance in characteristics of Arabica and Robusta beans means that we can get ample amounts of delicious coffee types and tastes from them, so there really is something for everyone!