Those of us that are immersed in the coffee world day in and day out take certain information for granted. I am willing to bet that most people have no idea that there are two main types of coffee beans however, for me that is common place. I truly believe knowledge is power and knowing what type of beans your coffee is made from is very important when making your purchasing decision.
There are actually dozens of varieties of coffee beans grown in the world but, the primary two that are harvested and processed for consumption are arabica and robusta. There are significant differences between the two that will absolutely affect the quality of coffee you will receive.
- grown on the eastern hemisphere primarily in Africa and Indonesia
- very easy to grow
- it is very hardy, and not vulnerable to pests
- the fruit grows very quickly and produces a large yield per tree
- in general robusta beans are machine harvested requiring little manual labor
- grown in tropical climates such as Latin America, new Guinea and primarily Colombia
- requires a lot of TLC and protection from the elements and pests
- the fruit grows significantly slower than robusta beans (about twice as long)
- has much lower yield per tree
- generally harvested by hand obviously requiring an incredible amount of manual labor
You can easily come to the conclusion based on these factors that arabica beans are more expensive than robusta, in fact they are usually sold for about 25% more.
Is the higher cost worth it?
Absolutely. Robusta beans have come to be known as the cheaper, lower quality bean that produces a harsh tasting cup of coffee. In fact most robusta coffees are blended with some arabica in order to make them tolerable. Instant coffees and super market generics are usually a robusta blend.
Most coffees that you see labeled as gourmet are a 100% arabica bean. The taste is generally much smoother and slightly sweet. There are very few people who would choose a robusta over an arabica but, I am sure there are a select few out there. Choosing arabica is not a guarantee that you are getting a superior cup of coffee but, it is a step in the right direction.
What does this mean for you?
In my opinion, there is only one option- when buying coffee you should only buy those labeled 100% arabica. Yes, you can save a few dollars by switching to a cheap robusta but, chances are you will not enjoy it.
I have good news for K-cup users, as of this date all K-cups that bear the Keurig brewed seal are made with 100% arabica beans. Since Keurig only partners with high quality roasters, I can not imagine that ever changing.
For additional information our friends at Espresso Perfecto have provided a great resource, "Arabica vs. Robusta Coffee Beans| 5 Key Differences."