Arabica vs Robusta Coffee Beans – What Is the Difference?

With climate change and global warming hanging over the future of Arabica while the demand for Robusta slowly climbs, the Arabica vs Robusta debate is more heated now than ever.

Comparing Robusta and Arabica Coffee Beans

Whether you’re a worried fan of Arabica, a delighted lover of Robusta, or just someone who needs to wake up and stay awake, grab a cuppa and read on. Like a good roaster, we have something for everyone.

Where Are They Grown?

Coffee beans are grown in the tropical and subtropical regions around the equator.

Arabica needs exceptional conditions to flourish, including volcanic soil and certain levels of humidity, rainfall, and elevation. This narrows the regions where it can grow successfully. Latin America produces most of the world’s Arabica. Brazil is the top Arabica-producing country, followed by Colombia and Ethiopia.

Robusta is hardier and can handle a harsher climate and a lower elevation. South-East Asia and Africa supply the majority of the world’s Robusta. The top three Robusta-producing countries are Vietnam, Brazil, and Indonesia. Your beloved java gets its name from the Indonesian island of Java, where the Dutch planted coffee in the 1600s.

Arabica accounts for approximately 60% of the world’s coffee. Robusta makes up almost all of the remaining 40%.

Which One Is More Flavorful?

The flavor starts in the field and continues to be affected all the way up until the beans are roasted and brewed.

One whole year before Arabica seedlings are even placed in the soil, shade trees are planted to protect the fragile Arabica from sunlight and frost. Arabica grows at a higher elevation than Robusta, meticulously guarded against diseases, pests, and insects.

That airiness makes Arabica’s flavor smoother, sweeter, and more delicate, with plenty of nuanced light, fruity notes.

Robusta grows at much lower altitudes than the fragile Arabica, sometimes in full sunlight. Thanks to its higher caffeine content, it needs little protection against disease, pests, and insects.

Robusta’s flavor is darker, earthy, and grainy, with hints of cocoa, with an aftertaste of peanuts and very little nuance.

Do They Look and Taste the Same?

Arabica beans are elliptical and larger than Robusta beans, which are smaller and stouter. Arabica has double the sugars of Robusta and 60% more fats. It tastes brighter, fruitier, and sweeter than Robusta.

Robusta has a much sharper, intense, bitter flavor with nuttier tones. People who dislike it often find it tastes like burnt rubber and too bitter to be palatable. If you’ve tasted Vietnamese coffee, it was probably Robusta.

That said, fans of Robusta do exist. There’s even a World Alliance of Gourmet Robustas. High-end Robusta still tastes distinctly different from Arabica, but Robusta lovers describe it as clean, nutty, and far richer than the milder Arabica.

Why Is It Called Arabica Coffee?

Even though coffee was first grown in Ethiopia, Africa, it wasn’t brewed to be drunk as a hot beverage. Instead, local nomads crushed it, mixed it with fat, and ate it as a pick-me-up.

Coffee only started to be drunk as a hot beverage when it reached modern-day Yemen, part of the Arabian Peninsula. Soon merchants on the famous Arabian ancient trade route passing through Yemen sampled the delicious elixir, and Arabica was named after the part of the world it was born in.

Are Robusta Beans Cheaper Than Arabica?

Arabica is extremely vulnerable to pests and disease and changes in weather only mature after seven years, and yield fewer beans per year than the sturdy Robusta. This makes Arabica much more expensive.

Robusta, on the other hand, is extremely resistant to pests and disease thanks to its higher caffeine content. Its yield is much greater than Arabica. It’s also remarkably easy to care for and its specific taste is far less popular than Arabica. This makes Robusta much cheaper.

Are Robusta Beans Cheaper than Arabica?

Do Arabica Beans Have More Caffeine Than Robusta?

Robusta contains 2.4 to 2.8% more caffeine than Arabica, where caffeine percent is about 1.5%.

Caffeine is naturally toxic to pests, which makes Robusta less vulnerable than Arabica.

To compensate for Arabica’s lower caffeine content, manufacturers add a small percentage of Robusta beans to Arabica, usually at a ratio of 20% Robusta to 60% Arabica. This gives Arabica the kick and depth it sorely needs and complements its flavors.

Is Robusta More Common Than Arabica Coffee?

Arabica beans are the most common beans used to make coffee. Arabica is by far the most popular type of coffee worldwide.

Robusta is more common in instant coffee, grocery brand coffee, and as a filler for Arabica blends.

Do You Use Arabica or Robusta for Dark Roast?

When roasted correctly, Robusta lends itself to dark roast better than the milder Arabica. Light roasting is enough to bring out Arabica’s subtle, bright flavors.

Is Robusta Used for Espresso?

Espresso is typically a blend of Robusta and Arabica. Robusta’s darker more intense bitter taste goes well with the method of making espresso and the preferences of its lovers.

Whether or not your shot was made according to computational chemist Chris Hendon’s scientifically developed model, you have Robusta to thank for that thick, mousse-like Crema that tops your espresso. Robusta’s strong flavor is also the reason why the taste and aroma of espresso linger for a good 20 minutes after you’ve drunk it.

Are Arabica Beans in Instant Coffee?

Until a few years ago, very few manufacturers would waste the much more expensive Arabica on instant coffee. Instant coffee is widely considered the cheapest and most inferior form of coffee, so the cheaper Robusta was used to make it.

This is now changing, with Starbucks, Nescafé, Waka Coffee, and other brands offering 100% Arabica instant coffee as well as Arabica and Robusta instant coffee blends.

Can You Roast Robusta or Arabica Beans at Home?

You can roast both Arabica and Robusta at home. Keep in mind that a light roast is enough to bring out Arabica’s airy flavor.

Robusta beans are more suited to dark roasting. This masks the burnt flavor and brings out the darker, more intense notes. You’ll need to roast Robusta for a little longer than the traditional 12 minutes. You’ll also get a lot more smoke than when roasting Arabica.

More people are used to roasting Arabica successfully at home. It’s recommended to age Robusta before roasting.

Is Starbucks Coffee Arabica or Robusta?

Starbucks has stated they only use Arabica and never Robusta. After having the second-highest caffeine content among competitors in 2013, Starbucks now faces a class-action lawsuit claiming it’s stingy with caffeine. This certainly supports the coffee giant’s zero-Robusta claim.

The type of coffee bean is just one among several factors that determine caffeine content, such as roast style, brew style, and serving size.

Is Colombian Coffee Arabica or Robusta?

Colombia exports a healthy 15% of the entire world’s coffee, so your favorite Colombian coffee is likely all Arabica.

Colombia’s geography makes it a unique coffee-growing region that gets to harvest coffee beans twice a year.

Colombia also uses a superior, age-old method of harvesting where they literally cherry-pick each berry by hand. They examine the berries and only pick the perfectly ripe ones. This refreshingly personal touch is probably why your favorite Colombian tastes so heavenly.

Some coffee lovers even fly to watch the coffee harvest in Colombia, where you can pick the fruit and eat it right away.

In contrast, other coffee-producing countries are increasingly using machine harvesting. This means cherries are picked at various degrees of ripeness, which makes for a less flawless taste.

If you’re wondering, both berry and cherry are the names used for the fruit of the coffee plant. Each fruit contains two seeds. Those are the coffee beans you buy.

Is Colombian Coffee Arabica or Robusta?

Does Maxwell House Use Robusta or Arabica Beans?

Some Maxwell House coffees are 100% Arabica. Others are Arabica Robusta blends. They don’t specify Arabica content and percentage with every product.

100% Arabica

According to the website, these coffees are 100% Arabica:

Arabica and Robusta Blend

The Decaf Original Roast Ground Coffee is described as an “Arabica Robusta blend”.

Unspecified Arabica

Their International Pumpkin Spice Latte Beverage Mix has Arabica, no percentage, in the product description.

MAX Boost 1.75X more Caffeine will get you up and moving with 1 3/4 times the caffeine of Arabica coffee.

Undisclosed Blends

These coffees just have “blend”, unspecified, in their description:

  • Original Roast K-Cup Pods
  • Master Blend Coffee K-Cup Pods
  • Intense Bold Coffee K-Cup Pods
  • Vanilla Ground Coffee

Just Coffee

Their House Blend Coffee K-Cup Pods are interestingly billed as “a masterfully roasted medium blend coffee”. The House Blend Ground Coffee 11.5 oz. Brick is simply “100% coffee”.

Is Kona Coffee Arabica Beans?

Kona coffee is a term used for Arabica beans grown exclusively on the slopes of the Mauna Loa and Hualalai volcanoes in North and South Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Kona’s extremely labor-intensive conditions make it extremely expensive. In Hawaii (although not in the rest of the US), coffee must contain 10% Kona at least to be considered a Kona coffee blend. The label must also show the percentage clearly.

Coffee geeks recommend trying the 100% Kona to find out for yourself what the fuss is about.

Final Thoughts

Robusta gives you the strongest kick but takes getting used to it. Arabica gives you an easier, milder drink. Maybe Arabica just grows delicious. Maybe it’s the loving care it receives.

We recommend enjoying your favorite cuppa but using some of that java energy to try a new coffee every now and then. Like chocolate, the world of coffee is full of new surprises every day. Happy roasting!

Comparing Robusta and Arabica Coffee Beans
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