Ever find yourself wondering why everyone talks about Arabica coffee? This label is so prominent that many people can’t even name any other type of coffee bean. Yet still, these same people don’t seem to know too much about it. So, what’s the deal with this little bean? Is it Arabian? Arabic? What exactly does the word “Arabica” refer to, and what does this mean for the coffee you’re drinking?
The history of this fantastic little bean takes us back to around the 12th century in what is now known as modern-day Ethiopia. It was there, high up in the mountains, that the very first species of this bean were cultivated. The story goes that it was a goat farmer who started growing and harvesting the beans. Whether or not it did start like that, we can’t say for sure. However, what we do know is that it didn’t take long for this coffee bean to take over the world.
Arabica coffee represents about sixty percent of the current global coffee production. But back to our history lesson! So, around the 16th century is when this bean went global (or as global as the 16th century was) After the Ottoman empire conquered this area of the world which was known as the Arabian Peninsula, this new beverage was nicknamed the “Wine of Arabia” — hence putting forth the roots for what we know today as Arabica coffee. It continued its journey over to Europe through the Venetian traders and soon was a staple across much of the modern 16th-century world. This wasn’t lost on Ethiopia, who quickly made sure to cement their monopoly on the coffee market by making it illegal to export the plants. Now, of course, as soon as you make it illegal to do something, somebody is going to want to do it even more. Eventually, the plants were stolen and smuggled out of the country by the Dutch. From that moment on, this resulted in arabica coffee beans being produced all over the world from Indonesia to South America. The downside to this of course, was the denigration of the pure genetic code of the plant.
So, this was how it all began and why arabica beans are so highly coveted. But where are we now? In today’s modern world, there’s more than just the Arabica bean.
We tend to hear about two different kinds of coffee beans:
Arabica and Robusta.
Two different species and after the above history lesson, it’s easy to point out which is lesser quality species.
Both Robusta and Arabica are harvested, roasted, and brewed into coffee, but they differ in taste and quality. Think low grade versus high-grade coffee beans — the local diner on the corner versus a specialty brand coffee shop.
Differences between the beans
First, let’s talk about taste. Robusta’s flavours range from neutral to intense, and before roasting, a nut-based scent can be detected. Whereas, arabicas have a variety of tastes ranging from sweet to sharp and even tangy. Unroasted, they smell like blueberries, which makes for a sweet-smelling fruit like scent during roasting.
Next up is the farming differences!
Robusta beans come from a hardy plant that is resistant to pests and can grow quickly in many different areas as well as in low altitudes. This makes them easy to farm, and you guessed it, cheap.
Arabica, on the other hand, is a delicate and slower growing plant. It only grows in high altitudes of cold, subtropical climates, needs fertile, moist soil, and many other specifics to make it grow. The elevation is one of the most important factors when growing the plants that will produce Arabica beans. Typically, this means an altitude of 800 to 2200 meters. The flavour is more complex and depending on the altitude, the slower the growth of the plants. All of this results in a premium product that is being developed.
It’s interesting to note the reason why the Robusta plants are so pest resistant. It turns out, it is because of their higher amounts of caffeine and acidity levels. As well, the Robusta is a cross-pollinating plant, which results in more significant differences between the beans and, ultimately, the flavours. Whereas, the Arabica is a self-pollinating plant, which eventually permits for the continuation of more consistent bean production.
Like many things, the more special care needed to produce the result, the higher the quality that the result is. The same is true for coffee beans. Arabica started as the best the world had seen and still is today, the highest quality coffee bean on the market. This is why gourmet coffees are almost always made from high-quality arabica coffee beans. Some of those premium beans include coffee beans from Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and the blue mountains of Jamaica-but more on where they can be found later.
Want some visual help discerning the differences? Check out this fun video on the differences between Arabica and Robusta coffee beans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eadHZdzeM5U
More about the beans!
Coffee beans don’t start as beans. They start like many other foods that grow on trees-as a fruit. The coffee bean is actually inside the fruit-which is called the coffee cherry.
Ever wonder why a great coffee is often well paired with a sweet treat like chocolate or even nuts? That’s because the flavours in those sweet treats mimic the natural flavours in the high-quality arabica coffee. These gourmet coffee beans often have a slightly sweet flavour to them, just like chocolate, nuts, berries, and even caramel.
The beans, interestingly enough, are actually the seeds of the fruit and are found inside the cherries that grow on the Arabica plant. Harvesting is done when the cherry is dark red or purple. Typically, there are two beans to a berry, and they are covered in a thin coating that needs to be removed before further processing.
Where are Arabica beans farmed today?
Tropical climates around the equator are the best places to farm Arabica coffee beans. Pretty much Africa and South America are the best spots on the planet to grow this desirable little bean.
Some of the countries that grow Arabica coffee beans include:
- Colombia -everyone has heard of Colombian coffee! Want to know more about it? Check out our article HERE with all the details on Colombian coffee!
- Costa Rica
- Brazil -did you know that Brazil is where most of today’s coffee is farmed and harvested?
- Ethiopia -The birthplace of Arabica beans!
Different types of Arabica coffee beans
So, we’ve talked about how coffee beans come in either the delicious premium Arabica beans or the lower quality Robusta beans. We’ve outlined why Arabica is the best option, but there’s still more! Did you know that there are many different kinds of Arabica beans?
Here’s are twenty-one varieties listed in alphabetical order for you. May this list help you get to know your beans a little better!
- Typica -a clean, sweet taste. One of the first varieties to be grown.
- Bourbon -no connection to the alcohol, but instead, it boasts a fruity chocolate kick.
- Caturra -a hybrid of the bourbon but lighter and with a citric flavor.
- Catimor -one fourth Robusta, with a mellow flavor.
- Catuai -one part tangy and the other sweet.
- Gesha -one of the world’s most expensive coffees. Has undertones of tropical fruits and flowers.
- Jackson -delicate and acidic, a little edgy even.
- Jamaican Blue Mountain -light, creamy smooth and a bit sweet. Often easily enjoyed black.
- Jember -heavy and rich. Buttery and sweet at the same time.
- Kent -delicate and spicy floral flavors.
- Kona -another of the world’s most expensive coffees. Grown between volcanoes in Hawaii. Light and spicy, with underlying flavours of spices and nuts.
- Maragogypw -heavy and buttery with hints of citrus and floral
- Maracatu/Maracaturra -a crossbreed that has a bright fruity flavour.
- Mocca -the name says it all…chocolate flavoured!
- Mundo nova -another hybrid that is biter with a hint of subtle caramel sweetness.
- Pacamara -sweet acidity
- Pacas --sweet and spicy with hints floral.
- Pache -a popular smooth flat blend.
- SL-34 & SL-28 -a more scientific name but also called “blueberry bombs” have a fruity wine-based flavour.
- Villa Sarchi – medium body with a pronounced fruit flavour.
- Villalobos – a great mix of acidity and sweetness, very enjoyable to drink black.
So, after all this information about arabica coffee beans, what is the most critical takeaway for the average daily coffee drinker? If you retain nothing else from this article, be it that you only choose Arabica beans for your coffee! This doesn’t make you a coffee snob but rather a well-educated coffee aficionado! Arabica beans are the highest quality, most delicious tasting and all-around premium coffee beans on the market. Your coffee and your body deserves nothing less!
And now that you are well-versed in which beans to choose from, the next step is to learn the various ways to make an incredible cup of coffee. Think you already do? Take the brewing challenge and see if you can name all the different ways to brew coffee. We’re betting that you might learn a thing or two! Check it out over here