Do you know that coffee is a fruit?
Coffea is a genus of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae. Coffea can be as small as a small shrub or as tall as a medium-sized tree, depending on the species and cultivar. Coffea has opposite leaves, which means the leaves branch out in matching pairs from the stem.
The fruit is a 2-seeded “drupe” fruit, commonly called cherry. The seeds are the coffee “beans”. However, if you squeeze to open the coffee fruit, you will find that there is hardly any “fruit” at all, but the two slippery seeds fill most of the drupe.
You can find only a single bean in about 5–10% of any crop of coffee fruits, this is called a peaberry, it is smaller and rounder than a regular coffee bean.
There are many different species of coffee, over 120, according to the World Coffee Research (WCR). Coffea Arabica is one of two species of coffee plants that are in extensive cultivation globally. The other is C. Canephora, commonly called Robusta. Arabica produces the highest cup quality.The Category below species is variety. Varieties refer to different variations within the species:
Species Coffea Arabica – Variety Bourbon.
Cultivated variants of species originating by humans. These could be selected from existing grown stock or wild populations.
Coffea Arabica, which is indigenous to Ethiopia, was transported out of its homeland into neighbouring Yemen. In the early 18th century, a few seeds or trees were introduced from Yemen to Java, which gave rise to the “Typica” lineage, possibly by the Dutch, perhaps with some transport by the mythical monk Baba Budan. French, transported the seeds from Yemen to the island of Bourbon giving the name to the variety.
These are varieties born in the forests of Ethiopia, where Coffea arabica originated, through a process of human-led domestication. They are associated with very high cup quality, but unfortunately, they are susceptible to significant coffee diseases.
In the 1920s, a C. Arabica and a C. Robusta plant on the island of East Timor sexually reproduced to create a Hybrid. This Arabica variety contains Robusta genetic material that allowed the plant to resist coffee leaf rust.
Difference between Robusta and Arabica Coffee
Here’s a list featuring some differences between the two coffee species:
- Taste. Often Robusta has its taste described as strong, with a peanutty aftertaste while Arabica beans tend to have a sweeter and softer taste with tones of fruit and berries. Robusta has lower acidity levels than Arabica coffee, meaning it generally tastes much less sweet. One reason that the taste isn’t as good for Robusta is that it has more caffeine compared to Arabica. Caffeine carries a bitter taste. The Robusta bean has 2.7% caffeine content, almost double the 1.5% of Arabica.
- Lipid & Sugar content. As mentioned here, Arabica contains almost 60% more lipids and almost twice the concentration of sugar than Robusta. This factor also probably has a big impact on why we prefer the taste of Arabica.
- Price. From a price perspective, green beans of Robusta are about half the price of Arabica.
- Growing Condition. The ideal growing temperature range between 15-24°C (59-75.2°F) for Arabica and 24-30°C (75.2-86°F) for Robusta. Robusta cherries take about 10-11 months to ripen, whereas Arabica cherries take about 9. The ripe Arabica cherries fall from the plant; the ripe Robusta cherries stay on the plant. An Arabica plant yields about 1500-3000kg of beans, while the Robusta plant yields about 2300-4000kg of beans. The optimum rainfall for growing Arabica is 1500-2000mm, meanwhile, for Robusta, that number goes up to 2000-3000mm. The optimum altitude (meters above sea level) for Arabica growing is 1000-2000 meters, and Robusta is 2000-3000 meters.
- Genetics. Arabica has 44 chromosomes, whereas Robusta only has 22. Arabica contains double the chromosomes of Robusta beans because of plant genetics.
- The Shape. Robusta beans are much more circular, whereas Arabica is more oval. Robusta beans are also darker and smaller than Arabica. The leaves on a Robusta are larger.
Robusta coffee accounts for 25% of the world’s coffee production, and it is mostly grown in Vietnam, West Africa, Indonesia and other parts of South-East Asia.
One thing to note is despite the association with Arabica of being higher quality, and Robusta as being lower quality; it’s not always the case. Top-notch Robusta coffee will usually taste as good as or better than low-end Arabica.
Arabica coffee is preferred for straight consumption. Robusta is excellent for blends (especially for espresso types). It provides body to the beverage but is not pleasant when drunk alone Arabica coffee has a worryingly low genetic diversity; it more susceptible to diseases, and it could even become extinct in the future. It’s predicted that by 2050, this could lead to a 10-20% decrease in coffee crop yields.
Have you ever wondered about the origin of the most famous drink in the world? Discover with us the history of coffee.