We know that family members can be so different from one another despite being related, don’t we? The same goes for coffee beans! No single coffee bean is essentially the same as another, especially if they come from different types.
If you’re an avid coffee drinker, you’re probably already familiar with the names Arabica and Robusta, and there must have been an instance where you’d wondered what’s the difference between the two.
The most common coffee species for commercial purpose, Arabica makes up over 60% of all global coffee consumption. Now, this is the majority of coffee that you’d find in your favourite cafe, and probably every other cafe in the world.
Arabica beans come from the Coffea Arabica plants which were first found growing naturally in Ethiopia in 1753. Even so, Arabica is actually the most delicate out of the three most common beans as it’s easily influenced by the environment and prone to disease. Since Arabica is one of the more popular beans, it’s typically grown in large quantities—which means there’s a higher risk for the crops to be exposed to outbreaks and possibly ruined entirely.
Good quality Arabica beans should have a sweet chocolatey flavour with a bit of caramel and fruity aroma. According to Ernesto Illy from the world famous Illycaffè, coffee made from Arabica beans has an intense yet intricate aroma that can be reminiscent of flowers, fruit, chocolate, caramel, and more.
On the other hand, Robusta has a rubbery, bitter, and grain-like flavour which leaves a dry aftertaste. This is due to a high concentration of caffeine and chlorogenic acid, as well as lower sugar content.
But don’t let this scare you! The harsher taste of Robusta is actually a great complement to Arabica, giving it more depth, flavour and also crema that’s important when brewing espresso. Additionally, when the processing and washing of the coffee beans are given more focus, higher quality Robusta can be superior to lower-quality Arabica.
Most Robusta beans, which come from Coffea Canephora plants are grown in Vietnam. However there’s also plenty of Robusta farms in Africa, where the beans originated from. Robusta is the second most produced coffee in the world.
As the name suggests, the Robusta varietal can withstand myriad altitudes and endure unfavourable conditions, but particularly requires a hot climate where rainfall is irregular. It’s also much more resistant to diseases and pests—all thanks to the high amount of caffeine it possesses which acts as the plant’s very own self-defense mechanism.
Now, how many of you have heard of, or had the opportunity to try Liberica beans?
Liberica is harder to come by these days, and it has less than 1% of global consumption. It’s comparable to Robusta, though it has a slightly lower caffeine concentration. It’s said that coffee that comes from Liberica beans has a unique aroma, consisting of floral and fruity notes, with a full body that possesses a smoky taste.
Since the Liberica cultivation requires a certain climate, it mostly grows in Africa and Asia—more specifically the Philippines and Malaysia. The trees can grow up to 20m with huge leaves, making its beans significantly larger than the others and often asymmetrical.
The next time you’re ordering coffee at your favourite coffee place, or purchasing beans to brew your own at home, you might want to take a closer look at beans type and try to identify the flavours and aromas from each type.