As we all know, coffee is a fruit. Just like a cherry or a plum, it contains a seed, pulp and skin. The difference is that in coffee we prefer to use the seed actually. And just like every other fruit, coffee is classified into many different varieties and cultivars. And of course, different varieties affect the flavour profile you get in the cup. Just remember the wine industry and all those complex flavour combinations different types of grapes can provide!
Today we are going to discuss the basic coffee varieties, without diving into the deep waters of genetics. These are Arabica and Robusta, or Canephora. And there is a huge difference between these two.
Arabica was born in Ethiopia and spread all over the world during last 3 centuries. Just imagine - all arabica trees growing globally trace back to one country! And nowadays, according to the International Coffee Organisation, more than 60 per cent of world coffee production comes from Arabica cultivators. Arabica, comparing to robusta, provides more delicate flavour, and tends to higher acidity levels and smoother, silkier body. It contains less caffeine, which is good for coffee lovers but not so good for the tree, as caffeine is a natural protection from insects. An Arabica shrub grows up to 15 feet (5m) tall but is usually pruned to about 6 feet (2m) to make it more commercially viable. It requires certain weather conditions and higher elevation (usually higher than 800 meters above sea level) for the best harvest and quality outcome. 100% of what we call specialty coffee comes from arabica trees. There are dozens, even hundreds of subvarieties and cultivars of arabica, both of natural and artificial (human-made) origin.
Robusta was also born in Africa. Actually, in Congo. This variety is commonly used for commercial espresso blends and instant coffee due to its “bold” and intense taste and overwhelming texture. But it definitely lacks complex multilayered acidity and fruity characteristics that arabica can provide. It’s also rich in caffeine and chlorogenic acid thus has more bitterness in the cup. Robusta exhibit greater immunity to disease and increased production capacity in comparison to Arabica. Growing well at lower altitudes, Robusta thrives in areas where Arabica would be devastated by fungus and other diseases and pests. That’s why farmers, especially those oriented on commercial-quality product, often choose robusta as a better cultivation option.
Nowadays coffee community talks more and more about the hybrids of arabica and robusta cultivars, that can be disease-resistant and still provide high quality. Such as Castillo, Sarchimor, Anacafe 14 and others.
Next time we shall go deeper explaining the difference between the most common arabica varietals. Stay curious, and love coffee!
Nowadays coffee community talks more and more about the hybrids of arabica and robusta cultivars, that can be disease-resistant and still provide high quality.