If you’re keen to get to grips with speciality coffee, then learning the basics of beans is a good place to start. We grilled our Head of Coffee, Will Corby about the two main species of coffee and why he’s Team Arabica all the way.
First off, did you know there are four different species of coffee bean? Excelsa and liberica are basically inedible and the tiny amount of coffee they produce is bitter and flavourless. Then there are robusta and arabica, the two big players in the coffee bean arena. Here at Pact we only ever buy arabica beans. It’s something Will, our Head of Coffee, feels extremely strongly about. Here’s why…
Meet robusta. It’s a hippopotamus of a coffee. It’s heavy-duty, powerful and plentiful but lacking in finesse.
The reason for these blunt, punchy characteristics is that robusta grows on great plains between sea level and 800 metres above sea level. At this altitude conditions are warmer and so the trees grow faster. That means they deliver a higher yield in a shorter space of time, but they do so at the expense of delicate flavours.
Obviously robusta is cheap to produce, so cheaper to buy. That’s why it’s sometimes used to ‘bulk out’ an arabica coffee, thereby increasing the profit margins of the coffee companies who choose to use it.
Meet arabica. It’s a samurai of a coffee. Its flavours are both delicate and quietly powerful. There are hundreds of varietals of this elegant species, each of which has either come into being naturally over decades or carefully through lab-based cross-pollination.
Arabica grows on picturesque plots high in the mountains, between 800 and 2000 metres above sea level. Temperatures here range from just 15°C to no higher than 22°C, so the coffee trees’ rate of growth is slower. This allows the beans to develop subtle sweetness and aromatic flavours, which will differ depending on the variety of arabica and the location of the farm.
As you might imagine, growing arabica is far more costly than growing robusta, and requires far more expertise. Their mountainous home makes picking arabica cherries much harder, since it all has to be done by hand. There are also fewer cherries per tree and transporting the green beans from the farm via mountain passes is more costly too. But all the effort and expense is worth it when it comes to getting a cup in your hands. Freshly roasted, freshly ground and freshly brewed, this stuff is the cat’s pyjamas.
So as you can see, comparing robusta to arabica is a bit like comparing a Ford and a Porsche. It’s like grape juice versus a fine wine. It’s rubbish coffee versus really excellent coffee. And – as you know – we don’t deal in rubbish coffee.
Any bean-related or coffee questions? Pop them below…