Arabica vs. Robusta - 7 Differences
1. Arabica is Sweeter & More Flavorful
With 2x more fat & sugar compared to Robusta, you can imagine easily that bean-to-bean Arabica is more sweet and flavorful.
Robusta beans have a harsher more bitter flavor and can have burnt earthy undertones. While some people thing this may not be as pleasant for a black cup of coffee it can have benefits.
2. Robusta is Cheaper to Produce
As the name may imply Robusta coffee is very "robust" and hearty. It can survive higher temperatures, higher rainfall, higher altitude, and has a higher yield (i.e. higher production rate per hectare) and is more resistant to insects compared to Arabica Beans.
In fact Robusta beans gained notoriety in the mid-1800s because when Coffee Leaf Rust destroyed an Arabica Crop in Sri Lanka and Robusta production was increased because of its resistance.
The combination of these factors make it much more economical to grow Robusta Beans and can be preferred for extremely high volume production. Robusta beans are also often use to produce decaffeinated coffee as the decaffeination process adds additional cost.
3. Arabica has Less Caffeine
Although Arabica beans have higher sugar & fat content they actually contain roughly half the caffeine compared to Robusta Beans. Robusta has ~2.7% Caffeine while Arabica averages ~1.5%.
This gives Robusta beans a bit more of a rocket fuel effect, but since caffeine has a bitter taste this contributes to the overall bitterness of Robusta blends.
In fact Robusta beans can been blended with Arabica beans to add an additional caffeine kick as well as help deepen the flavor.
Believe it or not the higher concentration of the bitter caffeine also contribute to the insect resistance. I guess bug's don't like bitter either!
4. Robusta is Often Used as a Filler for Lower End Coffee
As mentioned earlier Robusta is less expensive to produce compared to Arabica so is often used as a filler in lower end coffee. For example, Instant Coffee is made form robusta beans as much of the coffee is lost during the process.
That being said, it's not always added purely as a cost down. It can be added give an extra kick of caffeine or a little depth in flavor. For examples, espresso blends are often times a 50/50 mixture of Arabica & Robusta.
5. Arabica are Oval while Robusta are Round
When identifying Arabica & Robusta beans you don't even need to do a tasting to spot the difference. A simple visual inspection can be used to identify the beans as Arabica generally have a more oval shape while Robusta tend to have a rounder bean shape.
If you buy whole coffee that isn't labeled you can actually do a quick visual check and determine if you've got an Arabica, Robusta, or a blend which can be helpful in determining a suitable brewing method.
6. Robusta is Better Suited for Heavily Flavored Drinks
Since Robusta coffee has a stronger more bitter & burnt flavor it's stands up much better to heavily flavored coffee beverages. For example if you enjoy a Vietnamese Coffee, brewed with Condensed Milk, the strong bitter Robusta coffee balances the sweetness of the milk better than a more delicate Arabica bean.
Robustas also work well with milk, sugary syrup, and other flavorings.
7. Arabica Tends to be More Suitable for Light Roast
Arabica beans often have more delicate light flavors. You can find floral and fruity notes which are accentuated by a light roast. If you were to do a dark roast on these beans you will get some caramelization but you'll kill the light delicate flavors. Not only do Arabica's do well in a Light Roast you may prefer using a pour over brewing method to persevere the subtle flavors.
So do you have an answer to the age old debate of Arabica vs. Robusta? Which one is better?
I personally think they both have their place in the coffee world. I'd love to hear what you think in the comments below.