Not sure why I want to know, but I was wondering what everyone's personal taste is. Robusta or Arabica? If you don't know the difference between these, this is the difference.

 

There are two basic categories into which all species of coffee trees can be sorted. Although there are several varieties of each—each variety having its own character—this division into two large categories is useful for understanding the difference between a gourmet cup of coffee and an ordinary cup. High quality blends consist of 100% Arabica beans. Lower quality, cheaper blends may have some proportion of Robusta beans, or they may consist entirely of Robusta. Arabica beans produce a superior taste in the cup, being more flavorful and complex than their Robusta counterparts. Robusta beans tend to produce a more bitter brew, with a musty flavor and less body. This distinction being made, you can see why high quality coffees should consist of 100% Arabica beans.

Coffea Arabica Plant

So why use Robusta at all? Well, there are several reasons these beans are grown and used. First of all, we have the economical concerns driving the farmer to grow the crop. Robusta coffee trees produce their first crops within about two to three years of being planted. Arabica trees require about four to five years to produce any fruit. So the farmer has an inducement to grow the faster growing variety to take advantage of upswings in the price of coffee. Also, the Robusta coffee tree can grow under a larger variety of environmental conditions than can the Arabica. It is more tolerant of cold and grows well in a wider range of altitudes. Second, roasters buy the beans because they are generally cheaper than the Arabica beans. They can be sold to less discriminating consumers in the pre-roasted, pre-ground, pre-staled cans of supermarket “coffee”. They can be brewed and freeze-dried to make instant “coffee” without worrying about degrading an already questionable flavor (sorry to use the quotes again, I just can’t help myself). They can be used in blends with Arabica beans to make the blend cheaper for the roaster while still being able to make the claim that the blend includes Arabica beans. Finally, Robusta beans are higher in caffeine than Arabica beans and fuel the addiction many of us already suffer from. Of course, all of what I write here is a gross oversimplification but since it’s all I know about these beans, it will have to do.

But I haven't quite exhausted my knowledge yet. I do know a little about Arabica beans and how they differ from Robusta. Arabica beans grow more slowly than Robusta but demand a higher price on the coffee commodity market. They are more limited in terms of where they can be grown, demanding a very precise temperature range and annual rainfall. I don’t know the exact range or I would tell you what it is. Also, they tend to do best, and produce the best bean, at higher altitudes. In fact, high altitude beans carry an extra premium because they are thought to contain more of the substances that make coffee so complexly flavorful than beans grown at lower altitudes. Perhaps this is because they grow more slowly the higher up the mountain they are planted. Varieties of Arabica beans are grown all over the world and the different flavor characteristics produced by each growing region are distinctive. Flavor can vary within a growing region due to factors such as weather, altitude, soil type, soil richness and whether there are shade trees on the finca (or coffee plantation). In addition, a coffee’s flavor can be affected by the processing methods used to separate the beans from the fruit. It is these varietal characteristics of the Arabica bean that makes it such a sought after product and many of the finer small roasters cup (that is, roast and taste) batches of coffee before purchasing it. For all of these reasons, the Arabica bean is good coffee.

But hold on, you say, don't the French and the Italians use Robusta beans in their fine blends of coffee? Actually, yes they do, and I'm delighted that you pointed it out. This is where we leave the realm of the coffee drinker who believes there is one true 

Chicory Plants

way to caffeinated salvation and enter the realm of the coffee agnostic. I know intellectually that coffee I don't like can be good, but I'm just not sure I believe it. In France (so I have heard) they sometimes use a blend of beans that is 55% Arabica and 45% Robusta. To each his own. This is also the country where they willingly add roasted chicory root as an adulterant. They like it that way so for them it’s an acceptable blend of coffee. The Italians, too, use Robusta in their blends, probably because of its purported ability to improve the crema head on a cup of espresso. I don’t know what blend is most common in Italy but I have read that a 10% inclusion of Robusta can have the desired effect on the crema of your espresso.

 

If you wish to see where I got these facts you can go to http://kaffee.netfirms.com/Coffee/robustavsarabica.html

 

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I would love to get my hands on some pure robusta beans and have them professionally roasted. In all my years in the coffee industry, the only forms of robusta that I've had already started from a bad place by being in tin cans with filler (i.e. Folgers). I guess part of it is my fault though because in all these years I've never asked for anyone to get me pure robusta beans.

 

Great question to make us think about.

 

Thanks and Cheers,

Chase.

Interesting.  Check out this recent bX discussion on a Robusta espresso blend.
I haven't ever had pure Robusta beans either, although a friend of mine had pure Robusta and said that it's the best Coffee he's ever had. I drink my coffee Black to get the taste and the natural Acidity and ect..I would love to try pure Robusta beans. I'm very curious to see how it is.

I tried 100% "high quality"* Estate Indian Robusta at a recent WBC, it was brewed like a normal drip over, I found it almost undrinkable.  Diesel perhaps dirty rubber were the best descriptors.     

 

Here in Sweden the South Italian Espresso blends with 10-50% heavily roasted Robusta are pretty popular among traditionalists who can't stand any acidity.  Many homebaristas that want "easy and forgiving" espresso that produces lots of crema and taste consistent (-ly bad?) even 6 months after roasting use it.    I guess you either love it or hate it. 

 

The best chance of trying 100% Robusta is probably bigger Coffee Tradeshows where the Indian Coffee Trade Association sometimes promote Robusta.    

 

I believe no Robusta is "specialty grade"?

Indonesia, where my company is based, is the second largest producer of robusta behind Vietnam. Most of it is poor quality and it would not matter how it was roasted, it would not cup very well. Recently there has been a move to try and produce better quality (polished or washed) robustas- especially from Central JAva, East Java and Flores. The East Indonesian robustas are slightly sweeter than those I have tried from other parts of this immense country. Most robusta here is shipped to Europe, where it is used as a blending bean for espresso. Theremainder is roasted for either instants (Nestle, Indocafe) or roast/ground for kopi tubruk (Kapal Api/Excelso). I am an arabica guy but still enjoy trying robusta, especially if I have roasted it myself.

Oscar, was your last line a question, "I believe no Robusta is "specialty grade"?"

or an asumption? As a coffee roaster, coffee shop owner I had the good fortune of attending the last SCAA event in California. I pickup up as many samples of Robusta as I could. In my limited experience as a coffee professional (5years) I will say that the Robusta from India is specialty grade coffee. The samples I got were very nice. The top shelf Indian Robusta is like no other. Expensive and not easy to get.

 

Oscar Nyman said:

I tried 100% "high quality"* Estate Indian Robusta at a recent WBC, it was brewed like a normal drip over, I found it almost undrinkable.  Diesel perhaps dirty rubber were the best descriptors.     

 

Here in Sweden the South Italian Espresso blends with 10-50% heavily roasted Robusta are pretty popular among traditionalists who can't stand any acidity.  Many homebaristas that want "easy and forgiving" espresso that produces lots of crema and taste consistent (-ly bad?) even 6 months after roasting use it.    I guess you either love it or hate it. 

 

The best chance of trying 100% Robusta is probably bigger Coffee Tradeshows where the Indian Coffee Trade Association sometimes promote Robusta.    

 

I believe no Robusta is "specialty grade"?

Hey Joseph, it was more of a question, I am not an experienced cupper. Maybe you or someone else knows? Can Robusta really be specialty grade (80+) according to SCAA?

 

http://kaffee.netfirms.com/Coffee/SCAASpecCofDef.html

 

Did you buy any of the high quality Robusta you tested, how did you brew it, how did you and your customers like it?   

 

 

I've had some experience with 100% robusta. I was lucky enough to find a small lot straight from a Finca some years ago in the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. I brought it in, did the dry-milling myself and roasted both for cupping as for different profiles. I have to say that side by side with robustas I've tasted from other parts of the world the Guatemalan robusta I got was pretty fair. It's obviously on a completely different scale than the Arabicas most of us roasters in the new continent are used to, but I wouldn't go ahead and disqualify it completely. Roasted lighter it tends to have a soil, sort of grassy flavor that immediately kills most of the acidity of an Arabica. Why would anyone blend it? I don't know. I did it for experimental purposes and most of all to find out if the "crema enhancement myth" was true, but according to my experiments and humble opinion, it isn't. I've had more crema out of my beloved SHB's.

 

Hope it helps to the discussion.  


Oscar Nyman said:

Hey Joseph, it was more of a question, I am not an experienced cupper. Maybe you or someone else knows? Can Robusta really be specialty grade (80+) according to SCAA?

 

http://kaffee.netfirms.com/Coffee/SCAASpecCofDef.html

 

Did you buy any of the high quality Robusta you tested, how did you brew it, how did you and your customers like it?   

 

 

I make a robusta espresso blend, and though I do not see it mentioned in that article I do it because of fat content in the robusta. 

 

Espresso is an emulsion, and the higher fat "soluble" content in robusta helps create a thicker and richer crema.  I am going to post a link here from coffee geek which talks about robusta and fat, but my experience in the WHY it produces a thicker crema came from two classes I took at coffee fest, and I cannot find anyone who actually posted a chemical breakdown of robusta vs arabica offhand to show that it does indeed have a higher emulsifiable oil under the conditions in which we make espresso.  

 

From my personal experience and opinions, my bus. part (whose a chemical engineer) and I sat around and played with a Panamanian robusta as an SOE, in a blend, and then tested it against the same blend without it in it.  For us the results were clear (and we blind baited a few friends), the robusta was richer, and thicker in shot form than the arabica blend, was undrinkable in SOE form due to its...potency/thickness?, pulled through in basic mixed drinks more than its counterpart, and the biggest case we could make for using robusta was how it lingered.  The flavors that it left on your tongue were amazing, and it felt complex over time (as though it shifted from berries to chocolate to citrus in waves!).

 

We theorized that it left a longer and more complex aftertaste due to a slower oxidation of complex flavors trapped in the oil, but I cannot prove this at this point.  In short the reasoning is sound to use robusta, and the results spoke for themselves.  However, the tricky thing becomes finding a good robusta to use, and that is something that we at times struggle to find.  I am only able to make 400 lbs of espresso with my current robusta stock, and FYI for home roasters I pre blend and move slow (over 18 min roast).

 

here are some links:

http://coffeegeek.com/opinions/barista/10-14-2006

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emulsion  note the in food examples

http://www.coffeeshrub.com/shrub/coffee/panama-guyami-indian-robust...  current robusta I am using in examples and blend

http://www.roaste.com/product/Old-World-Cafe/Old-Wwworld-Exotic-Esp...   robusta blend developed as mentioned above

 

 

p.s.

Lastly, we drank the robusta straight as a drip cup and made drip coffee with the espresso blend.....it compliments milk well and is not my preference in black form.  I cannot think of a better term than harsh to describe it, the concentrate of flavors is to much and it just comes across as being unpleasant on the tongue in my opinion.  The espresso blend just felt like the cup was missing something and had something in it that it should not.

 

Cheers!

 

This is actually a very good analysis of the situation with robusta (thanks for the links), and what Luke is saying here is true, it does prove to have a interesting lingering effect on the tongue with complex flavors. Good robustas as the one you used can do that. 

 

It would be interesting to read about "a chemical breakdown of robusta vs arabica offhand to show that it does indeed have a higher emulsifiable oil under the conditions in which we make espresso;" but it all comes down to the the idea that one does this according to ones likes and depending on what you're looking for in an espresso; and for that there are opinions as many as there are espresso blends.

 


luke hudek said:

"but the biggest case we could make for using robusta was how it lingered.  The flavors that it left on your tongue were amazing, and it felt complex over time (as though it shifted from berries to chocolate to citrus in waves!)."

-I encourage anyone with interest in robustas to search online for Ken Davids' presentation at EAFCA-Mombasa, Kenya, 2010 entitled "Toward A Common Protocol For Roasting Fine Robusta Coffees"  It contains important info related to roasting and cupping outcomes      -There has been a dramatic commitment to and increase in the percentage of world coffee production devoted to robusta.  -Robustas will deliver higher soluble solids for coffee beverages, oz. per oz., versus arabicas.....particularly washed arabicas. Robustas are less bright and more bitter, so they can add body without increasing pucker-a real downside in espresso-and will pleasantly enhance the sweetness of other coffees in a blend.
Thank you so much for the links. Very insightful, and you had some very interesting things to say and opened my mind up a little bit. Thank you very much.

luke hudek said:

I make a robusta espresso blend, and though I do not see it mentioned in that article I do it because of fat content in the robusta. 

 

Espresso is an emulsion, and the higher fat "soluble" content in robusta helps create a thicker and richer crema.  I am going to post a link here from coffee geek which talks about robusta and fat, but my experience in the WHY it produces a thicker crema came from two classes I took at coffee fest, and I cannot find anyone who actually posted a chemical breakdown of robusta vs arabica offhand to show that it does indeed have a higher emulsifiable oil under the conditions in which we make espresso.  

 

From my personal experience and opinions, my bus. part (whose a chemical engineer) and I sat around and played with a Panamanian robusta as an SOE, in a blend, and then tested it against the same blend without it in it.  For us the results were clear (and we blind baited a few friends), the robusta was richer, and thicker in shot form than the arabica blend, was undrinkable in SOE form due to its...potency/thickness?, pulled through in basic mixed drinks more than its counterpart, and the biggest case we could make for using robusta was how it lingered.  The flavors that it left on your tongue were amazing, and it felt complex over time (as though it shifted from berries to chocolate to citrus in waves!).

 

We theorized that it left a longer and more complex aftertaste due to a slower oxidation of complex flavors trapped in the oil, but I cannot prove this at this point.  In short the reasoning is sound to use robusta, and the results spoke for themselves.  However, the tricky thing becomes finding a good robusta to use, and that is something that we at times struggle to find.  I am only able to make 400 lbs of espresso with my current robusta stock, and FYI for home roasters I pre blend and move slow (over 18 min roast).

 

here are some links:

http://coffeegeek.com/opinions/barista/10-14-2006

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emulsion  note the in food examples

http://www.coffeeshrub.com/shrub/coffee/panama-guyami-indian-robust...  current robusta I am using in examples and blend

http://www.roaste.com/product/Old-World-Cafe/Old-Wwworld-Exotic-Esp...   robusta blend developed as mentioned above

 

 

p.s.

Lastly, we drank the robusta straight as a drip cup and made drip coffee with the espresso blend.....it compliments milk well and is not my preference in black form.  I cannot think of a better term than harsh to describe it, the concentrate of flavors is to much and it just comes across as being unpleasant on the tongue in my opinion.  The espresso blend just felt like the cup was missing something and had something in it that it should not.

 

Cheers!

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