There are over 100 species of coffee plants, but Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora, which produce the famous Arabica and Robusta coffee beans, cover over 99% of the world’s coffee market. This week, we’re exploring everything you need to know about the two most common types of coffee beans, comparing: origin, flavour profile, roasting methods, and best brewing methods.
In our recent interview with NOC’s head roaster, Sam noted that many of the origins of beans he curates for his blends are sourced from regions in Africa. This is where we find the origins of both arabica and robusta beans.
In fact, it’s estimated that arabica coffee plants originated in the Southwest highlands of Ethiopia, around 10,000-50,000 years ago.
The Robusta variety comes from the central Western tropical parts of the continent, in the lowlands of Congo, Ivory Coast and Guinea. Even though the Robusta variety originated in lowlands (<500 m in altitude), this plant is very robust (hence its name) and can adapt to many different conditions.
Broken down to its fundamental parts, flavour is the result of chemical composition. Robusta and Arabica beans have a different chemical makeup that gives each bean a distinctive flavour profile. For example, Robustas have a higher caffeine content as well as lower lipids and chlorogenic acid (CGA) contents. This, in general gives Robustas a stronger taste than Arabica coffees.
The following are some of the more important flavour quality notes that distinguish each type of coffee:
Arabica Flavour Profile:
Robusta Flavour Profile
-Acidic and bitter notes
-Oaky and Earthy
-Spicy and Clove-like
Due to their flavour profiles, some consider Arabica coffees to be of superior quality to Robusta in terms of taste. In the other camp, coffee lovers lean towards Robusta to get a stronger caffeine hit. As with NOC’s signature fruity and nutty options, it comes down to preference – though we only serve Arabica beans right now.
After the coffee bean selection, roasting is probably the second most important part of the coffee process. It’s where most of the compounds associated to the flavour profile are formed.
Arabica beans can be roasted to various degrees to produce very different results. You’ll find anything from light roasted Arabica coffees that’ll have an earth-ier flavour, to dark roasted Arabicas with a more intense, almost burnt taste.
Robusta coffee is roasted to a darker roast (usually Full City to French roasts) than Arabica, to counteract the bean’s natural bitterness.
Best Brewing Methods
There are many different brewing methods out there, each with its own pros and cons. We strongly advocate that there is no right or wrong when it comes to each individual’s preference – there is no hierarchy because coffee should be a deeply personal experience. That said, there are some general rules that you can follow:-
Espresso or espresso-based black coffees can be made with either bean though will only work with certain Arabica variants that have stronger body. Some advocate an Arabica-Robusta mix, the former for flavour and the latter for the crema (that beautiful layer of foam at the top of your cup). We find that many customers prefer our House #18 in espresso because it has a smoother, more ‘nutty’ taste with less acidity.
For a pourover or cold brew, generally Arabica beans work much better than Robusta because they have more subtle, fruity flavour profiles that get picked up well with this method of brewing. This is the best way to try our single origin beans.
The French Press can generally handle both varieties well, displaying the interesting flavours of Arabica beans and allowing for the strength of Robusta to be adjusted to personal taste. Our house blends #18 and #34 are best suited to this home-preparation method, depending on whether you prefer a ‘nutty’ or ‘fruity’ taste.
Both varieties work with a Flat White or other milk-based coffees. More interesting flavours will come through with Arabica beans that have a higher acidity content and roasted darker so that the milk flavour doesn’t overshadow the coffee.
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