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All You Need to Know About Robusta Coffee

20 January 2021
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You’ve probably heard of Arabica coffee, the world’s most popular coffee bean. Second to that is Robusta coffee, which makes up an estimated 40% of global coffee production.

When combined, Arabica and Robusta make up close to 99% of coffee beans produced each year, with the rare Liberica making up for the remaining 1%.

However, despite Robusta coffee’s high production, it is known to be the “least popular” option in the coffee world. But why? Read on to find out.

Growing Conditions and Characteristics

Robusta coffee beans are harvested from the plant Coffea canephora, which is easy to care for and has higher crop yields than Arabica coffee. Robusta coffee is mainly grown in Vietnam, which accounts for 40% of the world’s Robusta exports, followed by Brazil (25%) and Indonesia (13%).

Robusta coffee grows at low altitudes, ranging from sea level to 600 metres. Arabica plants often grow between 2.5-3.5 metres in height compared to the taller Robusta plants, which reach from 4.5-6 metres.

Robusta plants are robust just like its name – they can withstand high temperatures and large amounts of rainfall. Moreover, all it takes is 11 months for the Robusta plant to mature and be harvested.

Caffeine Content

red coffee cherries on a coffee plant
Robusta coffee cherries are packed with caffeine, which acts as a pesticide. Photo from Ricardo Arce.

Robusta coffee is one of the most resilient plants as it is highly immune to pests and diseases that damage crops. But that immunity results from its high caffeine levels which act as a natural pesticide in coffee cherries.

In fact, a Robusta bean has 2.7% caffeine content, which is almost double of an Arabica bean, which has 1.5%.

Taste

The growing conditions and origin are elements that influence the taste of each bean. As a result, some Robusta beans may have varying taste notes.

Nonetheless, due to its high caffeine levels, it carries an overly bitter taste. That is why coffee made from Robusta beans tends to be bitter, earthy, and acidic, with nutty and chocolatey notes.

Is your coffee tasting more bitter than usual? Here’s why and how to fix it.

Price

a coffee roaster scooping roasted coffee beans from the roasting machine
Some coffee roasters use Robusta coffee as an inexpensive substitute for Arabica coffee in coffee blends. Photo from Tim Mossholder.

Due to its ability to grow in harsher conditions, Robusta plants are easier to tend to and produce a higher yield.

This makes Robusta cheaper than its counterparts on the commodity market, selling at half the price. In 2018, Robusta was sold for USD1.87/kg, whereas Arabica was sold for USD2.93.

For this reason, Robusta coffee is often used as an inexpensive substitute for Arabica in many commercial coffee blends.

This began back in the 1900s when coffee roasters wanted to reduce costs and increase profits. Subsequently, the quality of coffee blends deteriorated, giving Robusta its ill-famed reputation of producing “bad coffee”.

Why You Should Still Drink Robusta

Despite Robusta coffee being known for its low-quality brews, that is not always the case. Top-notch specialty Robusta coffee tastes just as good, if not better than commercial Arabica coffee.

As a matter of fact, Robusta is still widely used in Italian-style espresso blends as it gives the perfect crema, which is hailed as the mark of an excellent espresso. Furthermore, Singapore and Malaysia’s famed kopi (coffee) is made from Robusta beans.

If you haven’t, try single-origin coffee blends that are made from 100% Robusta beans. The resulting brew offers a distinctive and unique flavour profile with a creamy finish.

Now that you have learned about Robusta coffee, find out more about Arabica and Liberica.