Coffee is coffee, right? Well, not exactly. By the time they have been harvested, sorted, roasted and sealed in bags, the different types of coffee beans are fairly indistinguishable by the untrained eye. By the time you grind them or disguise them in filters and pods, there’s no way you could tell the difference just by looking alone. There are actually dozens of different species of coffee plant, but there are only two which will have made it into your morning cup of coffee: Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica coffee, or Coffea Arabica to use its scientific name, is a species of coffee which was first discovered in mountainous forests in Ethiopia. It is widely believed to be the first species of coffee which was cultivated and harvested to make hot beverages, and there are records of using the plant which date back to the 12th century.
It is known to have a naturally sweeter taste, and tastes much more like a berry than Robusta coffee does. Arabica is fruity and sharp, with high levels of acidity and an almost wine-like aftertaste. It is much easier to drink without sugar and is often the preferred choice of species for coffee shops and restaurants. Robusta, by contrast, is a harsher coffee. It is much more bitter as the coffee flavour comes through much stronger than with the Arabica bean. This stronger flavour is widely regarded as inferior to the Arabica taste. Cheaper coffees tend to use Robusta beans as you don’t need as many of them to get the coffee flavour across. Having said this, for hardcore coffee fans, high-quality Robusta can actually be preferred as it has nearly double the amount of caffeine as Arabica beans. It is especially sought after for making espressos, as this bean can give an intense coffee that cuts through milk.
So if we mostly prefer Arabica, why do we still grow Robusta coffee?
Robusta, as the name suggests, is a very hardy plant. It can grow in a far greater variety of different environments than the Arabica bean, and it is less likely to be affected by insects, diseases, adverse weather conditions and harsh climates. Robusta can bear fruit soon after it grows, producing many berries per plant, whereas the Arabica plant needs a few years before it is fully mature and will never produce as much fruit per plant.
Unsurprisingly, these differences have an effect on the price of the coffee beans. Arabica beans need to be planted in certain conditions, more pesticides must be purchased and used to keep them healthy and you need more space and resources to produce the same number of beans. Arabica is therefore significantly more expensive to buy as a consequence and Robusta plants provide a cheaper, more reliable alternative.
If you buy your office coffee cheaply, it is likely to be a Robusta blend. A large proportion of instant coffee is made using Robusta beans as they are much more commercially viable at low prices. If this is the coffee that you know your staff love then there is no need to check the label next time you purchase coffee. However, if you’ve been struggling to find the perfect cup, look out for coffee made with Arabica beans next time. It might make all the difference.
For more advise on the quality on your cup contact us. We love to chat coffee and can even arrange a coffee tasting to help you choose your next office coffee.