You’ll be surprised to know that there are actually dozens of varieties of coffee beans, however, when it comes to your average cup of coffee there are only two varieties that really matter to the average consumer, arabica and robusta. What is the difference between these two beans though? and does it really matter which one of them makes it into your brew? well there is in fact a vast difference in flavour between the two beans, partially due to the climate they are grown in.
Robusta beans are easier to grow (they grow at lower altitude) and they are reasonably hardy, resisting pests and weather conditions very well. They also produce their fruit quickly and yield more beans per tree. This all sounds very good, and is actually very useful to the coffee industry, however, there robust nature and rapid growth time does result in a considerably more bitter flavour, and many drinkers document a grainy taste. These factors naturally make Robusta beans a cheeper option hence they are found in instant coffee and lower quality ground coffee. Robusta beans have approximately double the amount of caffeine per bean, however, it is vitally important to note that caffeine content is not intrinsically linked to a higher bean quality, in fact the two factors are completely independent of each other. The major producers are Africa, Brazil, and countries in the western hemisphere (the top producer being Vietnam).
Arabica beans are more oblong in shape than the rounder robusta bean and are almost exclusively grown in the America’s with Brazil being the major producer. They are difficult to grow, (they have a relatively low yield, only grow well in altitude, and are susceptible to pests and extreme weather) hence they are more expensive, but their expense also derives from a higher quality of flavour. It has fewer bitter undertones, and a softer sweeter taste due to there higher lipid concentration. The result of this is that arabica beans are found in high quality ground coffee which is essential in making good espresso with that all important seal of quality, the crema.
Although robusta beans are somewhat cheeper it is worth investing in arabica beans due to their smoother and sweeter qualities. There are many UK suppliers that can provide top quality roasted arabica beans (whole or ground) at reasonable prices, we’ve collated the best of them in our coffee bean directory.