Arabica and Robusta: what are the differences between these two types of coffee?

We often hear people talk about coffee, but there are a number of characteristics about it that are not well known to the general public, and which make it easy to distinguish between the two. What are these differences? In this article, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between them.

The Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea canephora) species are the most widespread coffee plants in the Coffea genus of the Rubiaceae family. Historically, the name Arabica derives from its place of discovery, the Arabian Peninsula, while the name Robusta comes from its robust nature, as we shall see later in this article.

The Coffea genus comprises almost 80 species and several hundred different varieties, some better known than others. Their first major difference is the coffee plants on which the beans grow. Many other differences arise from this first distinction:

  • Coffee origins: the two main species, Arabica and Robusta, originate in Africa, but in different places. Arabica coffee comes mainly from the high plateaus of Ethiopia, while Robusta coffee takes root more in Côte d’Ivoire, Congo and Uganda.

  • Bean shape: The two species have different beans, visually speaking: the Arabica bean is rather oval or elongated, while the Robusta bean is rounder and smaller, with a slight difference in color.

  • Altitude and maintenance: Arabica is the species that needs the most height, where soils are rich in minerals, at around 800 to 200 meters. In addition, it needs a mild, temperate climate, rather humid and shady. It is reputed to be a rather fragile and delicate species. Robusta is easier to grow and adapts to more specific and harsh climates at lower altitudes, between 0 and 800 meters. Being more robust than Arabica, it is not really afraid of disease, insects or certain climatic conditions such as heat or prolonged exposure to the sun. Robusta is therefore the easiest species to grow.

  • Caffeine content: There’s a big difference! Arabica coffee generally contains between 1.2% and 1.5%, while Robusta coffee contains almost twice as much, i.e. 3%, giving it a different taste.

  • Taste: Because of the difference in caffeine content, the flavor of the two species is different: Robusta is rather full-bodied and bitter, with a more powerful but less aromatic taste. Arabica coffee, on the other hand, is milder, less full-bodied, more fragrant and aromatic on the palate.

Now you know all the characteristics and differences between these two of the world’s most popular coffee varieties! But did you know that a third well-known species is also used? Coffea Liberica. We’ll be talking about it in a later article.