What is Arabica Coffee?
Here's a quick Botany lesson on coffee that should help explain what it means when we see a coffee in the supermarket that says "100% Arabica".
Family: Rubiacea This is the "coffee" family. Within this family, there are over 450 Genus' that have very similar characteristics, but the genus we are interested in is the "Coffea" genus.
Genus: Coffea There are over 100 different species within the coffea genus, but only two are used for commercial coffee production, "Coffea Arabica" and "Coffea Robusta".
Species: Coffea Arabica This species makes up approximately 70% of the worlds coffee production.
Coffea Robusta Makes up 30% of the worlds coffee production.
Varieties: The Coffea Arabica species is further broken down into the genetically distinct variations that have been developed over the years, all of which can trace their lineage back to original wild Arabica trees growing in Ethiopia. Of these varieties, there are perhaps a dozen or so that are used in coffee growing today. Some are "cultivars" which are nothing more than cultivated variations (genetically selected on purpose), while others are simply mutations discovered growing in the wild.
- Typica: This is the original variety from Ethiopia and Yemen that the Dutch spread throughout the world. All other varieties either mutated or were genetically selected from the Typica variety. Deep red fruit, great cup quality, and low yield typify this variety.
- Bourbon: This variety naturally mutated from Typica and was first discovered growing wild on the island of Reunion. In the early 16th century, the Portuguese first discovered the island but in 1643 it was claimed by the French who established a colony on the island and named it Bourbon. In 1708, the French planted the island with Typica trees given to them by the Dutch, and years later, it was discovered that the trees had mutated into a distinct variety. The yield was better than Typica and the coffee a little sweeter. Another difference was the addition of both orange and yellow colored fruit. This variety is still highly prized and has gone on to father other varieties of its own.
- Caturra: This is one of the natural mutations of Bourbon. It is widely grown in Colombia and Central America where it is popular not only for its cup quality but also for its small size. It is a low-growing or semi-dwarf variety that makes picking by hand much easier. Its yields are typically average, but do increase with higher altitudes. Fruit comes in both red and yellow varieties.
- Other varieties: There are quite a few other varieties, many of which have been developed to be more resistant to disease or pests, or to improve yields. Unfortunately, while these varieties are being welcomed in some parts of the world as a result of classic varieties being replaced as the trees reach old age, the cup quality is subsequently not as good, and in some cases, quite poor. At the same time, farmers who are dedicated to producing a quality product, realize that the higher prices they can command for better quality coffee can offset the lower yields and the added husbandry costs associated with disease and pest control.
There are several differences between the Arabica and Robusta:
- Taste - Where Arabica beans have a mild, balanced, softer taste, often with fruit and nut flavors and hints of natural sweetness, Robusta has a much more harsh, strong flavor with a lingering bitter aftertaste.
- Caffeine - Robusta beans (2.7%) have almost twice the caffeine content of Arabica beans (1.5%), which helps explain much of the bitter taste in Robusta coffee since the chemical compounds found in caffeine are indeed quite bitter.
- Cost - Robusta beans on average, cost roughly half that of Arabica beans. It's not hard to see why the temptation is great to use Robusta when possible in an effort to lower costs. Currently, Robusta coffee beans are still widely used in the instant coffee industry as well as in some of your cheaper large commercial blends. Some espresso blends will also incorporate a small percentage (15%-20%) of Robusta in an attempt to increase the amount of crema (creamy dense foam) in a shot of espresso. Robusta in espresso seems to be more popular in Italy than elsewhere.
- Ease of growth - Robusta trees tend to produce a much higher yield per tree than Arabica as well as being much less susceptible to disease and insect infestations.
All coffee offered at Blue Coulee is 100% Arabica coffee.