Arabica and Robusta – The Great Coffee Debate

coffee beans on gray steel wok

Of all the coffee beans grown in the world, the Coffee Association of Canada estimates that 70% are Arabica beans and the remaining are Robusta beans. The Arabica beans are more expensive and are used in the higher quality coffees. The Robusta beans are less expensive and are used where price is a consideration. The question of taste and preference are very much a part of the discussion.

Warm Sweet Beverages

Most of the coffee we drink is a blend of various varieties of coffee. We might be drinking a beverage which contains both Arabica and Robusta beans from countries anywhere on earth. If you add lots of cream and several spoons of sugar, it really doesn’t matter what kind of coffee you have in your cup – you will be drinking a warm sweet beverage without many taste characteristics other than cream and sugar.

After-taste – Good or Bad

If, on the other hand, you drink your coffee black with little or no sugar or prefer a straight espresso, the quality and taste of the coffee will become a definite consideration. Most coffee leaves an after-taste in your mouth which can be pleasant or have you running for a mint. One of the few coffees that doesn’t leave an after-taste is Viennese Espresso, according to Reinhold Sharf, of Sharf Coffee. This is very different from most espresso which does leave a slight after-taste which can be a pleasant reminder of a wonderful demitasse or a memo to yourself to never return.

Geography of Coffee

At this point, we need a quick Geography lesson. Arabica coffee grows at altitudes of over 2,000 feet and Robusta coffee is found at altitudes lower than 2,000 feet above sea level. This means that countries like Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica, Ethiopia, and Kenya among others grow a good quality of Arabica beans because of their climate and altitude. Countries like Nigeria, Uganda, Angola, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, and Vietnam grow mostly Robusta beans for the same reasons.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

Each of these countries grows coffee which has its own particular taste. Ethiopian coffee is a rich strong coffee and is treasured for its special taste. Since Ethiopia is credited as being the origin of coffee, it holds a special place in the hearts of coffee lovers. If you are ever in an authentic Ethiopian restaurant, order a coffee prepared in the customary Ethiopian manner.

The last time I was treated to this ceremony, the chef started with green Ethiopian coffee beans and roasted them in a shallow pan over low heat. As they started to brown, they gave off this delightful aroma that filled the small restaurant. When they began to ooze oil, the beans were ground and mixed with water in a clay pot which was then heated to prepare the coffee. The taste was memorable, the aroma unforgettable and the result never to be forgotten.

Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee

Jamaica produces an amazing coffee bean in the Blue Mountain region which is prized all over the world and priced accordingly. I have had some as a special treat but the price prevents it from becoming an everyday coffee even if it has an outstanding taste and aroma. This is coffee good enough to make you forget the cream and sugar.

Robusta Coffee

Robusta is grown more for a purpose than an outstanding taste. It has higher caffeine content, grows faster, ripens earlier and can be sold at a lower price. It is often used in instant coffee or in lower priced canned coffee. There is a slightly bitter taste in the beverages brewed from Robusta and if you usually drink a “double-double” you probably won’t notice. Many blends are part Robusta because it brings the average price down but it still has that coffee taste.

Blended Coffee

On the other hand, Robusta is often used in French and Espresso coffees where it is valued for its qualities. In an Espresso, Robusta increases the crema or frothy light coloured liquid which sits on top of an espresso. French coffee with Robusta has a particular taste which is favored in France. It is not uncommon to blend an ingredient with a slight bitter taste with coffee. In New Orleans, there is a famous blend of coffee and chicory which draws people in droves to the coffee shops serving it.

Coffee as You Like It

Coffee, like everything else in food and beverage is best enjoyed the way you like it. If you like a slightly bitter coffee with a bit of a jolt, Robusta is the one for you. If you like a smoother coffee with a thicker body, try one of the Arabica coffees. If you like a varietal from a single country like Ethiopia or Jamaica, stick with this type of coffee. We are very fortunate to have this great variety of different coffees available to us without travelling the globe to find them. Visit your local coffee shop and enjoy.

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