Differences Of Arabica And Robusta Coffee. Does It Matter In Your Cup?

What’s in your cup? Is it the nasty, bitter stuff that requires you to add cream, sugar, or a plethora of other add-ins to make it taste like something it doesn’t without? Is it even possible for coffee to taste good without all that other stuff? You’ve been drinking it to the point of addiction, even though it doesn’t taste good? Is it reminiscent of when you started smoking and got nausea, but you kept at it anyway? Yeah, been there…done that.

So the real question, can coffee taste good without all that other stuff added in? Chances are you’ve just never had the opportunity to know what a really great cup of specialty coffee, single origin, tastes like. Even more, you’re least likely to find that at your local supermarket. So let’s get down to facts.

Real coffee comes from arabica beans. This is what came from Ethiopia nearly 1000 years ago. The Arab countries hoarded this coffee for centuries, on penalty of death to anyone caught trying to take it outside their borders. The history of arabica coffee is long, varied, anything but boring.

Harvesting Coffee In Olmedo, Loja Province, Ecuador.
Harvesting Coffee In Olmedo, Loja Province, Ecuador.

To the average coffee hound all this is just a lot of unnecessary verbiage. Who really cares what it’s called? There really isn’t any reason to get all educated about this…right? No, not necessarily. It could be compared to knowing the difference between dark and milk chocolate. Who really cares. Truth?

So great! Is there anything worth knowing about arabica coffee to make this a must reading? That depends on if you have the slightest interest in knowing how to get the best cup of coffee. Maybe you would like to know why some coffee tastes so bitter and burned. That would definitely apply to coffees blended with robusta. Don’t know what that is? Keep reading. The only thing robusta is used for is as a filler to create instant coffees or blends. Roughly 70-80% of instant coffee is robusta.

If you’re interested why others are smooth and glide across the tongue with a great aftertaste, then you do want to know about arabica. Because those are some of the nuances it offers to coffee. So now you have names of two different coffees, one of which it’s almost guaranteed you’ve never heard of, and the other only if you have ever been curious enough to Google it.

Better said, coffee IS arabica. Nothing else tastes like it.
Getting past all the complexities of what arabica is, it may be easier to say what it is not. Sour it is not. Bitter relates to burned. Harsh usually is poorly processed. Ultra high in caffeine it is not. Believe it or not the darker arabica is roasted, as in espresso or French Roast, the less content of caffeine.

What is more interesting is that espresso blends which have traditionally used robusta to create the “crema,” or foam created by the oils in coffee espresso is known for, are now finding that certain arabica beans can do the job just fine. So roasters are now switching to richer blends of all arabica beans for amazing espresso blends, eliminating the bitter aftertaste with robusta.

There is no such thing as a bad arabica coffee, just poorly harvested, processed or roasted. That cannot be said for robusta, which is why no one in their right mind would ever want to drink it full strength by itself. This coffee by itself is very bitter, and that alone is reason enough to never drink it, in anything. There is probably a group in the world that would, but to each their own. Those would be a definite minority.

Arabica coffee is simply the very best. Whether it’s Hawaiian Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain from the Wallenford Estate, Tanzanian Peaberry, Kenya AA, Ethiopian Harrar or Yirgacheffe,  Costa Rican Minita de Oro, or Colombian Mesa de Los Santos to name just a few of the more well known specialty varietals. They’re all 100% arabica. It’s also Specialty Coffee. Don’t settle for cheap blends that claim to be what they are not. It may taste OK, but who wants just “OK?”

Keep in mind that arabica coffees are like any other product. There is always the good, better, best. Some coffees demand a high price when they are no better than a good Colombian blend. Many times it’s about marketing. Mexican Chiapas, Selva Negra de Nicaragua, Brazilian Santos, Peru La Florida and the list goes on. Discover arabica coffees sooner than later.

Try your first cup black. Why? You will be amazed just as I was by how bitter it’s not! Don’t judge by what you’ve been drinking for years, that you have to add cream and/or sugar to drink it. Do you add those ingredients because the coffee tastes bad otherwise? Right! So the challenge here is to try your first cup of a truly, specialty, non-blended single origin coffee black. Because if you never have, then you don’t know coffee…yet!

Give yourself the opportunity to taste real coffee without the added stuff. Is this going to apply to everyone? Not a chance unfortunately. Why? Because your taste is going to be unique to you. On the other hand, you will never know until you try it.

One thing can be guaranteed! You can say you have had the experience of tasting genuine coffee with nothing added. No frappes, carmelatos, or whatever name they come up with for a distorted version of some coffee drink. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with flavored coffees. If that’s where you are then none of this will matter to you. Wanting to raise the level of your coffee experience? Then definitely pay attention to all the article.

Then you can share with anyone willing to listen your knowledge about the differences between arabica and robusta coffees. There’s a good chance you’ve heard some others talking about this coffee or that shop where you get some great java. Possibly you thought they were talking about some drink with all the fluff and stuff, when in fact they were discussing specialty coffee.

Above there were several names of specialty coffees listed. The caution is many attempt to imitate those well known names with what are called blends. Costco would be well known for one they have carried for years that appears to be Jamaican Blue Mountain. It may have the added word “reserve” or something akin to that. Searching the label of ingredients you will discover that maybe only 10% is actually from the Blue Mountain range in Jamaica, and has nothing to do with the coffee that originates from the Wallingford Estate.

The same can be said for Hawaiian Kona, and any of those specialty brands mentioned. Quite simply, a blend is what these coffees are. This means that say 30% can be Hawaiian Kona or something from that region, and the rest can be any other inferior coffee. But this is talking about those that can really classify as coffee.

The end of the story here is when inferior coffee that is not good enough to classify as “specialty coffee” is blended with the robusta to create what the giant roasters such as Maxwell House, Folgers, and others put on grocers shelves. While they’ve had to up their game in the last 15 years, for decades the stuff many consumed was undrinkable, without adding something to it.

There’s more to this story which will be covered in subsequent articles, so sign up to follow this blog for more, that is if you’re tired of just ordinary coffee. Here’s lookin’ for the bottom of the cup!

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Alan Written by:

Alan is retired and resides in Quito, Ecuador. Writing is a passion which has resulted in two eBooks thus far, with more in the works. Married 47 years with four sons and 13 grandchildren, provides potential grist for the mill! Alan is a charter "Boomer", a Viet Nam veteran, committed to roasting his own coffee and writes about whatever pops into his mind. He loves to build and ride recumbent bikes, play racquetball, writes almost daily, travels Ecuador, and talks to anything that does not move fast enough! The twinkle in his eye is a combination of the sun, and an active sense of humor. His desire to encourage others to write is being answered through his articles on the Internet.