10 differences Between Robusta & Arabica Coffee

You may have noticed that some coffee bag labels brag about the fact that their coffee beans are 100% Arabica. Although it does sound like something magicians say, it isn’t gibberish – it refers to the type of coffee species in which the beans are from.

There are over 100 coffee species, however the two main ones that are widely produced and sold are: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora (also known as Coffea Robusta).

Brewing Happiness

Here’s a list featuring 10 differences between the two coffee species:

  1. The most commonly known: Taste. Often Robusta has its taste described as burnt tires or rubbery, which… sounds disgusting (can you imagine one of our taste swatches on the front page being a burnt tire?). Why the bad taste?
  2. One reason that the taste isn't as good for Robusta is that it has more caffeine compared to Arabica. Which may sound like a positive thing but caffeine carries a bitter taste which makes it an unpleasant drink. In fact the Robusta bean has 2.7% caffeine content, almost double the 1.5% of Arabica.
  3. 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.
  4. From a price perspective, green beans of Robusta is about half the price of Arabica green beans on the commodity market. (Robusta vs. Arabica)
  5. Robusta is easier to tend to on the farm, has a higher yield and is less sensitive to insects - the extra caffeine is a chemical defense for the coffee seed as the quantity in the Robusta is toxic to bugs.

All of these factors help bring up the supply and lower the input costs for farmers to produce. With this more attractive price point, a lot of roasters back in the day would add Robusta to their blend in an attempt to reduce their costs and increase their profits. When coffee was initially sold in the 1900s the quality of coffee slowly and slowly deteriorated in an effort for companies to squeeze the most profit.  

  1. Where you’ll find it: Nowadays, it’s not often you’ll find Robusta in a coffee blend. If you’re drinking instant coffee? Well, that’s probably all Robusta… but you probably don’t care very much about taste. In your espresso blend? That’s a mixed bag. Literally. Oddly enough, Robusta is still widely used as part of espresso blends – specifically Italian style blends. It is said to help improve the Crema. However, generally at a detriment to the taste, which in our opinion the priorities may be out of wack.

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 specialty Robusta coffee will usually taste as good as or better than low end Arabica. However, high end Robusta isn’t widely used or available. Rather, Robusta is usually used as a filler or cost reducer.  

  1. The Shape: Robusta beans are much more circular, whereas Arabica are more oval.
  2. Plant Height: Arabica usually grows between 2.5 – 4.5 meters compared to the 4.5 – 6 meter height of Robusta.
  3. Chlorogenic acid (CGA) content: This picture unfortunately, isn’t true – however something that is actually a part of coffee is CGA. It’s a significant antioxidant and an insect deterrent. Robusta is 7-10% CGA and Arabica has 5.5-8% CGA.
  4. Cultivation: About 75% of the world’s coffee production is Arabica, about 25% being Robusta. Brazil is the most significant Arabica producer and Vietnam produces the most Robusta.

Well, this post ended up being a bit more robust than intended. 

#badpuns.

P.S - Want to read some brewing tips for your coffees? We highly recommend this awesome brew guide by Geoff Woodley, 2011/2012 Central Regional Barista Champion & current lead coffee roaster at Detour Coffee!


Suneal Pabari
Suneal Pabari

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25 Comments

Wes
Wes

September 30, 2016

I am in Cambodia right now. Since the mountain elevations in Cambodia are not high enough to grow arabica, some of the local roasters do a good job with robusta.
JonasOfToronto
JonasOfToronto

September 24, 2016

I’d swear to Elvis that Starbucks began adding a LOT more Robusta to their Espresso in the past 3 years.

SB was (for a big chain) sweet and mellow espresso I enjoyed for probably 20 years and sometime in 2013 or 2014 it was like a big switch was flicked, and suddenly they were making espresso with what tasted like cheap French Roast – acrid, bitter, burnt, harsh with no nutty roasty delectable flavor.
HOW much sugar and whipped cream are people putting in in to tolerate this pricey yet now questionable brew?
Robusta is in this case NOT good-tasting Espresso, and sadly I can’t tolerate SB anymore, I simply never go there after the shocking change. I won’t do it.
I’ll say it again, Starbucks stopped making a product and started marketing pure image.

paul
paul

September 12, 2016

Wow, that’s great. I’ve been drinking coffee for 30 years and had no idea about the difference between those beans. Thanks for the info!

Aleem
Aleem

June 08, 2016

Recently I met a coffee owner, he explained me the difference between arabica, and robusta.
My point is the article is true.
This two species r the backbone of coffee.

Shelley
Shelley

April 15, 2016

Recently I was tested and found out I was 100% allergic to arabica coffee. I have no idea why??? could it be the roasting process, although I am allergic to preservatives, cleaning chemicals, fly spray and Crude benzene, exhaust gases. I cant work it out, i love my coffee.

Sarah
Sarah

April 13, 2016

Great article! I finally know the difference after drinking coffee for so many years. Thank you :)

Huai Bin
Huai Bin

April 06, 2016

Interesting…so this is why instant coffee always give me gastric if I drink it black but I can drink espresso based drinks from small cafes and Starbucks/CBTL without problems. I found out Nescafe instant coffee is particularly harsh on the stomach lining, it’s so acidic I’ll always have problems unless I cut it with a lot of milk.

Cma
Cma

March 21, 2016

Thank you so much for the help with coffee. I have used Folger’s Classic Roast/medium for years and it has been tasting lousy to me for the last few months. Read online that they are using the less expensive beans in their mix. Throwing it out and won’t buy again. Ordering 100% arabica coffee from Amazon and hoping I can love my allowed one cup a day coffee again every morning…

Flavia
Flavia

March 13, 2016

Thanks a lot for the share

Peter
Peter

March 11, 2016

I am getting lazy in my old age & bought a Nespresso machine based on family & friends rave reviews. Their coffee has Robusta in it, which is probably why it tastes so harsh and acidic. What a mistake this purchase was! I can barely stomach any of their varieties.

I’ll continue taking my time, hand-grinding the Trebilcock beans (Chalo’s Colombian ATM) for a coffee as smooth as silk, that I could drink all day long!

Jl
Jl

March 05, 2016

Great information! I just came back from Costa Rica and unfortunately was unable to take the coffee tour. I brought back several different varieties of coffee from Costa Rica but did not understand the difference. This article helped me a lot! Thank you!

kapla
kapla

January 20, 2016

Very clear and easy to understand. Thanks a lot

Paige
Paige

January 18, 2016

Additionally, Starbucks’ espresso likely uses robusta beans, as they have a higher caffeine content—and who knows, for a big business, it wouldn’t surprise me if they threw some in with their regular arabica.

Paige
Paige

January 18, 2016

@perkside, if anyone scrolls down far enough to read this, Starbucks’ coffee is actually usually arabica, not robusta! It’s bitter because their coffee is essentially exclusively a dark roast, which is achieved by roasting (burning) the beans longer. They do this because they buy the low end arabica from whomever sells it cheaply (possibly with some good stuff in there), mix it all together, and burning the beans gives it a more consistent flavor (even if that flavor is burnt).

FYI: This is usually why brands will have a dark roast. A dark roast usually isn’t very good and, more often than not, is ruining the coffee.

Preety
Preety

January 02, 2016

Great info. Clear, concise, easy to follow. Thanks!

Perkside
Perkside

December 29, 2015

So this explains why Starbucks is bitter? They must be using cheaper Robusta beans! More caffiene but taste is not always good!

Abayneh abebe
Abayneh abebe

October 31, 2015

Thank you! Your explanation able me to understand the different bitween coffee arabica& Robusta

marc lucero
marc lucero

October 29, 2015

very well explained

mohammad hosein
mohammad hosein

October 24, 2015

hi dude
that was very useful article.
thanks for very good info.
good luck

martin
martin

October 18, 2015

Thank you for demystifying the dark corners of the coffee world. Now drinking coffee in Bangkok having come from Ho Chi Mhin city. This blog has explained what I was drinking in Vietnam-hot water dripped through burnt tyres-yet addictive in an acquired sort of way.

Lakshmi
Lakshmi

October 06, 2015

You are awesome. Thanks. This was SOOOOO USEFUL. Do you specialize in coffee research?

samad
samad

September 26, 2015

thanks buddy I’m glad you shared this info…I’m enjoying my cofee and it’s all arabica :-)

JonboyBeijing
JonboyBeijing

September 22, 2015

Wow, I’m now drinking a 80/20 mix and now understand why it tastes so good. Thanks

Sol
Sol

September 13, 2015

I like to add 20% Robusta to the blend, just for the kick,no more otherwise i find it starts to taste muddy, but like you said its hard to find quality Robusta.
Also i live in far north Queensland Australia and have a classic strain of Arabica growing in my back yard,and have picked washed shelled and dried it myself “hard to evenly roast” but quite rewarding. Oh, and how about musk rat coffee,has anyone tried it?

KS
KS

August 03, 2015

This is very informative article. Thank you for sharing.

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