What is Robusta coffee?
As time goes on it seems like more and more labels get added on to every type of coffee. If you take some time to read the back of the tin you may find out that your favourite brand is eco-friendly, single-origin, ethically cultivated, or any other combination of descriptors. What is Robusta coffee and how does it compare to its competitors?
But one term that you may see popping up is Robusta and if your retailer really wants to confuse you they may even contrast it to Arabica. So what do these terms mean?
Due to its pervasiveness on the world scene, you’ve most likely tasted Robusta coffee before as it is most commonly found in Espressos and instant coffees. Additionally, many coffee blends combine both Robusta coffee and it’s more popular counterpart, Arabica coffee.
While it is possible to get a bag of 100% Robusta coffee, you’re most likely to encounter it mixed in with other, more palatable coffees as Robusta alone is generally described as acerbic and rubbery.
This doesn’t mean that Robusta is necessarily a bad coffee, if you give it a chance you may find that it does have some truly desirable qualities.
The best parts of Robusta coffee
You don’t get to be the 2nd most popular coffee on the planet without some redeeming qualities and Robusta has these in spades.
- The flavour – I may not have sold you on the taste when I said acerbic and rubbery but this coffee’s bitterness is only bad in its extremes. A small injection of Robusta coffee may give your favourite blend the precise sharpness you’re looking for. This is one of the reasons that it’s so plentiful in Espressos as the Italian drink isn’t known for shying away from strong flavours and a distinct finish.
- The crema – That telltale golden foam you see at the top of your Espresso is a direct result of the Robusta coffee. It is often added to give the drink its trademark creamy head.
- Caffeine – Robusta coffee is higher in caffeine than Arabica. How much higher, you ask? Almost double the amount! This is partly what gives it such a bitter taste but some coffee drinkers probably won’t mind if it comes with such a powerful buzz. If you’re looking for a caffeine kick, Robusta is definitely the way to go.
- Price – Robusta coffee comes from a plant called Coffea canephora which is a lot tougher than the Arabica plant. It boasts a higher yield and a higher tolerance to adverse weather conditions, insects and disease. This hardiness and abundance ensure that the coffee is quite a bit cheaper than the others.
Sadly, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the world of Robusta. It definitely has some downsides that any coffee fan should be aware of.
The worst parts of Robusta coffee
- The flavour (again) – While enjoyable in small bursts, there is no way around the fact that a full hit of 100% Robusta will be far too bitter for most coffee drinkers. Some individuals have even described the taste as being akin to ‘burnt rubber’.
- The quality – Thanks to its taste and plentifulness, Robusta has been relegated to the role of filler in the eyes of most coffee producers. Instead of using it on its own, Robusta is commonly used to increase the overall content of most blends while other coffees are added to mute most of its flavours. Consequently, high-quality Robusta is somewhat of an oddity and can be hard to verify.
- The availability – Didn’t I just call it plentiful? Well, yes, but because the focus is not on the taste, to begin with, Robusta beans and grounds in circulation are often of a low quality which means finding a high-grade brand of Robusta coffee will be challenging to say the least.
Should we give Robusta a chance?
Some coffee pundits argue that Robusta is not in fact a low-grade filler coffee but rather, a plant with a lot of potential that’s been left uncultivated. It should not be forgotten that high-quality Robusta, while hard to find, is by no means a bitter or unpleasant drink and can actually be more enjoyable than certain variants of Arabica.
An argument made by some Robusta advocates is that the plant is consigned to its secondary position before it’s grown, as such, they maintain that if more care is taken during its cultivation and subsequent brewing, we could have a brand new high-class beverage to sip on during our lunch breaks.
The best parts of Arabica coffee
We’ve heard enough about the second best coffee by now, so let’s move on to the pros and cons of its chief competitor.
- The flavour – Arabica doesn’t need to be given a chance in terms of taste. This bean contains more sugar and less caffeine giving it a smoother, less bitter and more pleasant taste.
- The quality – Arabica’s main selling point is its high quality flavour, thus when you buy a bag of 100% Arabica coffee grounds/beans from a reputable brand, you can be sure you’re not just getting a bag of instant coffee filler. Just remember that low quality Arabica does exist, it’s up to you to research which products are the real deal.
- Availability – With great taste comes great demand. You usually won’t need to drive to the next town to get your hands on a bag of Arabica coffee as it’s seen as a must-have for most retailers.
Arabica isn’t perfect though, as with everything else it has its shortcomings that must be addressed.
The worst parts of Arabica coffee
- The price – The demand of Arabica is high and coffee producers know it. If you want a cup of 100% high calibre Arabica, you had better be ready to pay through the nose for it.
- The scammers – For some people, Arabica has become a byword for quality, this is most certainly not the case as some low value Arabica grounds can attest to. Still, many retailers will still try their utmost to convince you that all Arabica is born equal and that their product is just as good as any other.
- The production process – As mentioned, Arabica is the less rugged of the two plants, it then follows that, following a period of adverse weather conditions, the price and availability of the product will see-saw dramatically. This is the reason why Robusta is generally seen as a more stable and reliable product.
Let’s sum this info up then to make it more digestible –
|Robusta||Flavour – While seemingly inferior, many people are fond of the bitter, sharp taste of Robusta|
Crema – Robusta produces the golden froth on the top of Espressos
Caffeine – More caffeine means more of a kick when you need it Price – High availability means a lower price (normally)
|Flavour – If you’re not a fan of the unique flavour it can be quite overpowering|
Quality – Most Robusta will be low quality as it’s not usually grown with that aspect in mind
Availability – If you’re looking for high-quality Robusta, you may have a long search in store for you
|Arabica||Flavour – Arabica is known for its strong, smooth taste |
Quality – While low-quality Arabica exists, the good stuff isn’t hard to find either
Availability – As the world’s foremost coffee, Arabica is usually never far away.
|Price – A high-quality product is going to have a corresponding price tag |
Scammers – Retailers will often try to pass off low-grade Arabica as a better, more valuable variant
Production – Arabica is a fickle plant and is very susceptible to negative weather conditions
In Conclusion – What is Robusta coffee and how does it compare with Arabica?
Robusta coffee is the second most common type of coffee on the planet. It is known for its resilience as a plant and its bitter taste as a coffee. Although usually viewed as the inferior, more affordable version of Arabica, it’s more popular counterpart, Robusta can be both high quality and delicious, unfortunately, the cultivation process of Robusta is often overlooked making its lower grade form more abundant.
Robusta coffee is normally found in Espressos and instant coffees and is responsible for the golden foam found in the former. It is harder to find a high quality version of Robusta but these products can be just as enjoyable as some forms of Arabica.
Robusta is most notable for being cheaper and more bitter than Arabica with a higher level of caffeine and a lower level of sugar. It is frequently added to coffee blends in order to ‘pad out’ the amount of coffee available to the consumer.
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