Drinking coffee during the pandemic: Arabica, Robusta, or a nice, sultry blend?


In the midst of a global existential crisis, there’s more time to ponder things you promised yourself you would explore---one day. And as distractions go, learning about the differences between Arabica and Robusta coffee is a worthy pursuit.

At Starbucks, where the only coffee served is Arabica coffee. 


Arabica versus Robusta—is one better than the other?
There are over 100 species of coffee, but the two main species marketed for consumption are Arabica, (grows in South America, as well as some parts of Africa) and Robusta (grows in Vietnam, Indonesia, and also in some parts of Africa).

What’s the difference? Arabica and Robusta are different in many ways, but the short-version answer is that Arabica is a higher quality coffee than Robusta. Any coffee that is touted as “100% Arabica” is considered the gold standard by self-described coffee connoisseurs. For the most part, that’s true---but not entirely. There are some really good Robusta blends out there.

Compared with Arabica’s fruity essence and its high-acidity, slightly sweet flavor profile, Robusta is bitter and earthy. Robusta has even been referred to as having a burnt rubber taste (I disagree, but haters gonna hate). Compared with Robusta coffee, Arabica has 60% more lipids, and almost twice the concentration of sugar.

 However, for all of you caffeine lovers, ounce for ounce, Robusta has almost 2 times the caffeine as Arabica (2.7% to 1.5%).

The difference starts at the green bean level, before any blending and roasting is done. Arabica beans are generally bigger than Robusta beans, which are not only smaller, but also rounder and thicker.  Despite this size advantage, Arabica beans are more fragile and harder to grow than Robusta beans, which mature twice as fast as Arabica beans (2 years versus 4 years).  Robusta beans can fend off damage from insects because of their high level of caffeine and can grow in different altitudes. Arabica beans tend to grow best in high altitudes with volcanic soil.

Can Robusta get a little love?
Starbucks brags that all of its coffee is 100% Arabica.  There are a lot of very good Arabica blends. We know that. I mean, even Maxwell House, which has been a largely Robusta-based brand (with a bit of Arabica mixed in), announced last summer that it would be transitioning to a 100% Arabica blend.



But Robusta has a place in the pantheon as well. There are some high-end 100% Robusta blends from companies like Death Wish Coffee, Biohazard Coffee, and Café Borbonne.  They are super-caffeinated and dank—but a lot of people like them. 

And then there are blends, like Lavazza Crema e Gusto, which combines 70% Robusta with 30% Arabica and has hints of chocolate, a LOT of caffeine, and an espresso-like sensibility with a hint of sweetness. Speaking of espresso, a lot of espresso blends are made with Robusta beans—and Robusta makes for very good crema (that yummy, fluffy foam on top of a well-made espresso).

Hopefully, this summer, I will be drinking coffee on my patio with friends, or maybe even at one of the outdoor cafes in my neighborhood. In the meantime, I will be trying some new Robusta blends. I hope that you too will try Robusta and find as much comfort in coffee as I do. 

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