You’ve probably heard someplace or another about arabica coffee and how it’s “better” than robusta coffee. But why is that so? Is it true? This post is intended to answer those questions.
Arabica coffee originated from the Arabian Peninsula, hence its name. But it also comes from the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia and southeastern Sudan. Interestingly, arabica coffee accounts for 75-80 percent of the world’s coffee production, while robusta coffee accounts for about 20 percent. Although arabica is the most widely produced coffee plant, it is not easy to grow.
Wild arabica coffee plants grow to about 9 – 12 meters tall, and take about seven years to fully mature. The plant thrives best when it receives around 40–59 inches of rain per year and usually grows between 1,300 and 1,500 meters in altitude. Unlike robusta coffee plants, arabica plants prefer to be grown in light shade (which is good because the coffee “cherries” are protected from the hot sun and more hidden from birds). Arabica coffee plants are difficult to cultivate and coffee bean production can vary depending on each tree’s characteristics, and also depending on the climate conditions it grows in.
As you can see, arabica coffee plants are very high maintenance – but they are still a valued cash crop nonetheless. This is because of arabica beans’ generally noticeable quality and flavor superiority over robusta beans. Why is that so? It is presumed that the higher the coffee is grown, the better the flavor. The idea behind this is that the slow growth and maturation of high-grown coffee allows more time for the coffee plants to soak up all the nutrients in the soil, adding more flavor characteristics to the coffee beans. There are also other perks to arabica beans such as the fact that they are usually shade-grown and more naturally protected from the elements, yielding better beans and less need for pesticides.
We are not trying to “demonize” robusta beans, as there are some high-quality robusta beans that can be used to make good espresso. But the point is to show that all of the above characteristics set arabica beans apart from robusta beans, and that is why coffee lovers tend to agree that arabica beans taste better than robusta beans.